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The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin with the continued support of The Sumitomo Foundation in Tokyo, have now commissioned Restorient to conserve three more of their most treasured Japanese paintings. Dating from the early 17th century this set of hand scrolls chart the epic tale of "Hunting the Ogres" It will be possible to follow the conservation of these magnificent hand scrolls here on this blog. We at Restorient are delighted to have the opportunity to share this remarkable project, and to offer some insights into this type of specialist conservation.

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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Bows



In the early scenes from the first scroll our intrepid Samurai are shown with their Japanese bows and arrows. These were integral to the arsenal of weapons available to Samurai and a thorough understanding of kyujutsu (bow technique) was considered essential.

The bow (yumi) is made of a laminate of woods and is asymmetrical with the top being much longer than the bottom. This design assisted archers on horseback as they could more easily fire from either side of the horse. 

The arrows (Ya) are traditionally made of bamboo. Every Ya has a gender (male ya are called haya; female ya, otoya); with the fletchings being made from feathers from alternate sides of the bird, the haya spins clockwise upon release while the otoya spins counter-clockwise. The feathers from eagle or hawk were preferred.


Binding the fletchings onto the arrow shaft

Once the arrow is released, the grip on the bow is loosened allowing the bow to spin in the left hand so that the string stops in front of the archer's outer left  forearm. This action is a fascinating combination of technique and the natural working of the bow. It is unique to kyujutsu.

Below is just one of many clips on Youtube featuring traditional Japanese archery:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZNdx_g_mr8 












Friday, 25 April 2014

Tension !


An important piece of studio equipment are the Japanese drying boards - karibari. These are constructed using a Japanese white cedar lattice covered with many layers of strong mulberry fibred paper. This is then coated with a fermented persimmon juice called kaki-shibu. The kaki-shibu comes from the astringent persimmon rather than the sweet culinary version and has a high proportion of tannin. This gives a semi porous coating which allows the paintings to dry from both sides in a more balanced way rather than from one side only. 

The karibari are light and portable considering their size and essential in helping condition and flatten the paintings. To attach the sections of hand scroll wheat starch paste is applied to a fold of excess paper lining so that the painting is effectively floating. The paintings are left under tension on the karibari to condition for many weeks.
 


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Doji of the day



 




It seems inevitable that an Ogre who is very fond of Sake and is able to transform from Ogre to human form at will would prove difficult to portray.

There have been many attempts to represent this foulest of beings. Above are two triptychs (wood block prints) and two examples from hand scrolls showing the diversity of this very special Ogre.

The Chester Beatty Ogre however is by far the most dramatic and that which involves the most blood loss !

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Soy size


Scroll one during retouching

Whilst the condition of the three hand scrolls is generally very good there are inevitably some areas of loss and damage which have occurred during their four hundred year history. Any missing areas are repaired with a matching gampi fibred paper. However before we can apply any colour to  harmonise the repair with it's surroundings it needs to be sized.

The traditional way of doing this is to apply a very dilute solution of freshly prepared soy milk. This prevents the colour from being absorbed too quickly by the paper and allows a much greater degree of control when applying any colour.


The stages of preparing the soy size



The soy beans are soaked overnight - around 10 beans to 100ml of water. These are then ground to a pulp (in this case using an earthenware Japanese grinding bowl -suribachi), strained to separate the liquid from the pulp and then diluted with more water for use.  

Contemporary artists also find this soy size very useful when working with absorbent papers.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Happy Horse !

Detail from Scroll 1

As we enter into the "Year of the Horse" (Umadashi) we should take this opportunity to consider the horses belonging to our Samurai. Although much of the hunt for the Ogres was conducted on foot due to the mountainous terrain it would have been important that the artist stressed the status of our Samurai by including a reference to their undoubted skills as horsemen. 

However the Japanese horse at this time would have been quite small, more like a wiry pony and not best suited for carrying the weight of an amour clad Samurai into battle.

Horses were later imported to increase the size and strength of the indigenous Japanese horses available, and there are records showing that the Dutch East India Company were bringing Western horses to Japan as gifts to the Shogun. The horse below clearly shows evidence of this imported bloodstock.  


A Sacred White Horse at the Kamigamo Shrine, Kyoto

As the horse is a symbol of nobility, class, speed and perseverance it promises to be an auspicious year for hunting Ogres..........

Restorient would like to wish all the followers of this blog a Happy New Year and our very best for 2014.  






Thursday, 5 December 2013

Fish !



Our Samurai with their swords



Emperor Meiji abolished the Samurai class during the reformation of Japan in favour of a Western style military. In the summer of 1869 the population was formally reclassified as Nobles, former Samurai and Commoners.
 
By 1876 ex-warriors were even deprived of the right to carry swords. The effect of this shift was far reaching. The craftsmen who supplied the many thousands of Samurai with swords were left without customers and this in turn affected a number of professions. These included the suppliers of all the various component parts such as the silk braid weavers, the fish skin suppliers as well as the metal workers all of whom suffered.

The skin of a Stingray wrapped around a sword handle
 

A sword handle wrapped with silk braid






















































































































































Here in the studio there is a reminder of this proud tradition. Hammered onto the surface of a modern kogatana is an interesting pattern. It has been put there by a family who still use today the visual ray skin reference to remind everyone that they were traditional metal workers whose ancestors made swords for Samurai.

The Kogatana




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