Conserving Saraha: conservation of a Tibetan thangka

In summertime 2019, a lovely Tibetan thangka concerned the British Gallery’s Hirayama studio. It was in inadequate problem, with light-damaged silk boundaries as well as flaking paint, so it required to be dealt with by conservators before maybe shown securely in the upcoming exhibition Tantra: enlightenment to transformation (23 April– 26 July 2020). During conservation, an amazing prospect emerged to likewise perform scientific evaluation to find out more concerning this religious item and also its beginnings.

Thangka portraying the Mahasiddha Saraha, after preservation.
Thangkas are portable spiritual objects with a main repainted photo, typically repainted on a cotton fabric prepared with a ground layer, surrounded by extremely attractive silk brocade borders. Wood poles are connected to the leading and also bottom to permit hanging as well as a silk veil shields the picture. Thangkas are typically stored rolled and afterwards unrolled for screen– this triggers damages to the paint layer and also fabric with time.

This thangka shows the Mahasiddha Saraha– who you can find out even more concerning in our ‘What is Tantra’ blog. Abnormally, this thangka has a stupa (Buddhist shrine) repainted on the back as well as a set of hand prints from when it was consecrated.

Teresa Heady as well as Alice Derham getting rid of the silk boundaries.
As spiritual items, thangkas require utmost care and also regard during conservation treatment. In the past, initial brocade borders were often removed from thangka paintings by art suppliers, and also sometimes paints were restored utilizing methods typically made use of for easel paints. At the British Museum, we take a holistic technique to dealing with thangkas as well as use contemporary preservation methods from both East Oriental Art and also fabric conservation self-controls.

The first step in the treatment of the thangka was to very carefully unpick the sewing that joins the silk brocade border to the painting. The boundaries were after that separated from the painting so the breakable silk could be stabilised. To our pleasure, this exposed vibrant pigment tests in the margins around the painting.

Pigment examinations in the margins of the thangka painting.
During initial evaluations of the painting we observed considerable underdrawing in locations where the pigment had been lost. Scientific imaging was performed to investigate the complete underdrawings, in addition to identify the nature of the pigments in the painting and also just how they related to the pigment tests in the margins. This was a special possibility that will not be feasible after the textile boundaries are reattached. With a combined technique of multispectral imaging (noticeable, ultraviolet-induced noticeable luminescence, infrared-reflected, infrared-reflected false-colour) followed by non-invasive evaluation it was located that the combination was in-line with typical thangka painting practices of the 17th and also 18th centuries.

The red pigments (red lead and also cinnabar) were clear in the infrared-reflected photo, so it was feasible to ‘see’ the carbon-based paint underdrawings listed below the repainted surface area. In the image below you can see just how the folds of the material on the left arm of the number have actually been changed in the final paint.

Information from the noticeable as well as infrared-reflected photos of the thangka, showing a revision of the underdrawing under the red paint layer.
Additional reworkings were disclosed using X-radiography, which utilizes a source of radiation that penetrates also more under the paint layers than infrared light. In the X-ray photo listed below, two sets of gold lines can be seen radiating from the Mahasiddaha Saraha, suggesting that the musician selected to cover up the very first collection of lines with blue azurite pigment and after that apply new gold lines in a much more higher instructions. You can also see the wide brush strokes utilized to use the fluid red pigment, along with the stupa from the back of the painting.

Detail from the visible image and also X-Radiograph of the thangka. The last shows two sets of gold lines emitting from the Mahasiddha Saraha.
Complying with scientific evaluation, pigment combination was carried out to re-adhere any kind of loosened or raising media to the cloth support below. The powdery pigments were secured by applying a synthetic cellulose-based adhesive (Bermocoll ®– ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose) as a great mist, using an air-brush spray. Under the microscope, a somewhat higher concentration of the same adhesive was used with a tiny brush to stick loose flakes of paint.

Settling unpredictable pigments under the microscopic lense.
Some locations of the light-damaged textile were dividing and really weak, so these locations were sandwiched in between 2 different support products– hand-dyed silk crepeline as well as a great nylon netting, which were covered in advance with a synthetic heat-set adhesive (Lascaux 498). The crepeline was put behind each damaged location and connected to the textile by using heat with a spatula, and after that the fine nylon netting was placed on top of the damaged area and also affixed in the same way. Some sewing was resolved all three layers to make certain the repair work would certainly withstand future rolling as well as unrolling of the fabric. To complete the therapy, the boundary as well as paint were sewn back together.

Reattaching the silk boundaries to the paint making use of a long running-stitch.
Throughout treatment it was possible to see the within the boundary, where the dyes used to colour the fabric continue to be as bright as they would have looked originally prior to comprehensive fading. Dye evaluation exposed that light-sensitive all-natural dyes, including safflower, indigo, pagoda, sappanwood and possibly turmeric, usually in combination, were made use of to develop the vivid colour scheme. To guarantee that the dyes do not discolor even more, the thangka will get on display screen for a limited amount of time just, at reduced light degrees (listed below 50 lux).

Light-sensitive all-natural dyes on the reverse side of the silk boundaries.
All of these components of close interdisciplinary research study and also exam were crucial in planning and accomplishing a reliable therapy of this sacred piece. The work implies that the thangka can be enjoyed in all its radiance when it goes on display as part of Tantra: knowledge to transformation in Room 35.

We would like to say thanks to Kevin Lovelock (Elder Professional Photographer), Joanne Dyer (Colour Scientist), Daniel O’Flynn (X-ray Imaging Researcher) and also Diego Tamburini (Postdoctoral Fellow, Scientific Research) for every one of the scientific imaging and evaluation accomplished during this job.

A complete record of the discoveries accomplished as a result of clinical analysis will certainly appear in an honest publication.D

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