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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, 17 January 2012

Painting by numbers....?

Previously we have mentioned how closely our work shadows that of the original artists' and calligraphers' and recently we discovered another fascinating insight into how the scrolls were produced.

The Princess stares wistfully at the moon
When we first examined the hand scrolls we were intrigued to see  minute characters (3mm high) written in an archaic Japanese script on the kimono sleeve of the Bamboo Cutter. It was found where  there had been loss to an area of brown pigment.

This was the only place on any of the paintings where any such calligraphy was visible.


A detail of the inscription seen from the front of the painting 

However, during the removal of lining papers from the back of the paintings, on a light table, we noticed another tiny inscription! Even though it was impossible to translate, it was still clear enough to see that it was reversed and had originally been written on the front of the painting prior to any colour being applied. As old paper linings were removed from the paintings many more tiny notations gradually became apparent. 

These images have been flipped so we can see how the characters were written beneath the current paint layer

The top character on image 1 reads as 'small' which is pronounced 'shou' which might be abbreviated from ryokusho (malachite green). The lower character though is a Chinese character for the figure '6' -  this also appears elsewhere on its own - (image 2). To confuse matters further, images 3 and 4 seem to have had different instructions but have had the same colour applied.

It seems likely that these were instructions to a team of artists on what colour to apply? With such a commission it would not be unusual that an artist sketches out the painting first and is then assisted by others to apply colour and further decoration.

We will continue to research their possible relevance and hopefully confirm our supposition.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrew & Sydney, I'm following you! Love reading about all these little details and keeping up with what you are doing. Cheers from Denise in France.


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