Fri, May 29, 2020

Repair work of ‘Raigo of Amida and Twenty-five Attendants’ under way

Take a quick look at how its done!!

Chion-in administrator Shoshin Maeda, third from right, is briefed on the condition of “Raigo of Amida (Amitabha) and Twenty-five Attendants” by a restoration expert. (The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Repair work of “Raigo of Amida (Amitabha) and Twenty-five Attendants,” a designated national treasure owned by the Chion-in temple in Kyoto, is well under way under the Tsumugu Project. Let’s take a quick look at what the conservators are doing to help preserve the precious artwork.

Kyoto National Museum (April 11, 2019)

The three-year program to repair the hanging scroll from the Kamakura period (13th-14th century) for the first time in 85 years was initiated in April 2019. The artwork was sent to the Conservation Center For Cultural Properties at the Kyoto National Museum on April 11, 2019, and hung on a wall for restoration experts from Koei-do (a restoration service company in Kyoto) to examine its condition.

The experts right away saw the fine technique employed to produce the hanging scroll and that the artwork indeed needed repair work. In their eyes, the coloration of the background of the painting had dimmed considerably from surface dirt.

Inspection (April – September 2019)

The color on silk painting is backed with five-layer washi, or Japanese paper. The experts used infrared cameras and other devices to locate and chart silk damage.

(Photo courtesy of Koei-do)

They found that the silk had worn off around the Amida’s cheeks, and that color was later added directly on to the washi. Silk will be replenished where it had worn off.

Disassembling the hanging scroll (Oct. 25, 2019)

Actual repair work started on Oct. 25, 2019. The painting was carefully separated from the mounting with a knife. The expert who handled the task said he felt nervous running his knife along the edge of the painting.

Sealing the surface (October 2019 – January 2020)

(Photo courtesy of Koei-do)

Pigments of mineral origin lose adhesive strength over time. Glue dissolved in water is used to seal cracking and flaking paint. After the painting is cleaned with water, the surface is sealed with the glue solution again and again for about a month. Experience is required to deal with flaking paint as the type and condition of the pigment used can vary.

Cleaning the painting (November – December 2019)

(Photo courtesy of Koei-do)

Water filtered to remove iron and other substances was sprayed on to the surface of the painting. Blotting paper was placed underneath the painting to absorb surface dirt.

Cleaning is necessary before the month-long sealing process of cracking and flaking paint. The work is done with utmost care so as to prevent the surface dirt from smudging the white color of clouds and flowers in the painting.

When the work was done, the change was obvious. The painting brightened up, and the trees and the waves in the background became vivid.

Removing the backing paper (December 2019 – )

Renewing the mountings is a part of the repair work. In March 2020, the Chion-in temple decided to mount the hanging scroll with lotus pattern fabric.

(Photo courtesy of Koei-do)

Since April, the experts have been working to remove the backing paper from the painting. Of the five layers of washi constituting the backing paper, or urauchigami, handling the layer closest to the painting, or hadauragami, is the most painstaking. It has never been replaced and mostly fibrous. Experts meticulously remove the layer with tweezers as they moisten it with a brush.

New silk will be applied to where it had worn off. Experts explained how it will be done to members of the Chion-in temple in December 2019.

Chion-in administrator Shoshin Maeda said that “Raigo of Amida” was the starting point of Jodo Buddhism in that the painting makes the teachings of Honen — the founder of Jodo Buddhism — easy to understand. He has great expectations for the outcome of the repair.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun May 3 issue) 

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