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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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Friday, 2 December 2011

Privilege !

Front view of painting before treatment

Painting viewed through transmitted light

We thought it might be interesting to show just how different the same painting can look during the conservation process. The painting at the top is photograped from the front prior to treatment.  The second photograph shows the same painting after being been dampened and turned face down on support papers ready for the removal of the old lining papers.

Viewed through transmitted light we are then presented with a very different image.

For example, the tiling on the rooftops and intricate patterns on the drapery are no longer visible, we can see only  the body colour which was applied prior to the details.The darker oxidised silver is also more evident. This information provides a very privileged insight into how these these extraordinary paintings were made,  usually only  seen by conservators.   


Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Sumitomo Foundation

We were very pleased recently to welcome to the Restorient Studio, Dr Sumitomo and Mr Niiyama from The Sumitomo Foundation in Tokyo. Joining us from Dublin were Fionnuala Croke the Director of the Chester Beatty Library, Jessica Baldwin, Conservation Manager at the CBL and her colleague Rachel Sawicki. 

We very much appreciated this opportunity to explain the progress made to date and the various stages of conservation involved. There is still some way to go but work is on schedule for completion in Spring 2012.

Monday, 17 October 2011


Firm even strokes in the same direction as the grain of the paper

Kusaki-zome is the long established tradition in Japan of using dyes from plants and other natural sources. The dye color can be affected by such factors as the plant variety, the timing of the plant cutting, the dyeing season, and the dyeing technique. 

Those especially useful in scroll mounting range from peach bark, gardenia pods, kihada bark for yellows. The latter was also a recognised deterrent for insects and so often important documents would be treated with the yellow kihada dye. The dye which is the most commonly used in scroll mounting is made from boiling Alder cones (yasha) in water. This produces wonderfully warm shades of brown and is especially suitable for dyeing papers which will harmonise with older antique papers when used for repair or linings. The paper which was prepared using the alder cone dye for the first linings of the hand scrolls was a fine mulberry fibered paper called Mino-gami.

The sheets were dried on felts after dyeing. They were then washed in cold water before being rinsed in a weak lye solution to fix the colour. One further rinse, dried again and then they were ready for use. 

Thursday, 25 August 2011


The 'Tale of the Bamboo Cutter' is a very convoluted story and in part details the obscure and difficult tasks set by the Princess Kaguya-hime for her five suitors to prove their worth. Pictured is the retainer Ono no Fusamori who has supplied a fake robe of Fire Rat fur to the The Minster of the Right, Abe no Miushi, the third suitor, (unfortunately when tested the robe burned when it should have been fire-resistant !).

However a number of sources have indicated that there were sections of text and paintings which were incorrectly placed in the last restoration of the handscrolls. The task of the second suitor was to find the stone begging-bowl of the Buddha. This image had been placed prior to the scene of the five suitors of the Princess Kagua- hime when they were allocated their individual tasks.

We wanted to take this opportunity during the conservation to correct these anomalies and are fortunate in being directed by Dr Masako Watanabe, Senior Researcher at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. We are very grateful for her guidance and are looking forward to being able to place the story in the correct sequence . 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Scoop !

There will be a number of different Japanese handmade papers used in the conservation of "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter". The first linings are a handmade Mino type paper. This term used to mean a paper made in the  province of Mino, Gifu Prefecture but it has now become more of a general term for a high quality, thin, mulbery fibred paper. The best papers are made in winter when the pure cold water keeps the fibres tight and compact during sheet formation. It is labour intensive, hard physical work. 

We thought we should include this video link as it seemed a concise way of explaining how this remarkable paper is made. In future blogs we will explain why an understanding of how this paper is made relates to its use in conservation. 

Friday, 17 June 2011


Increasingly scholars are turning to pictorial evidence which often quite literally illustrates a wide variety of subjects. A couple of years ago we were approached by a scholar of envelope and letterfolds who was trying to identify from Japanese paintings and prints some of the traditional folds used for letters in Japan. Fortunatley courtesans clearly received a lot of mail so there are many different examples especially in Japanese woodblock prints.

The Bamboo Cutter delivers a folded message to Kaguyahime
A recent visitor to the studio was Dr Mari Akazawa from the National Institute of Japanese Literature. Her interest in the 'Tale of the Bamboo Cutter' was not confined to pure art history, it was also the architecture of the various buildings within the scrolls. She is studying a wide variety of sources to see what information can be gathered from the historic depiction of buildings. These are often incredibly detailed and can lend fascinating insights into the construction of buildings over the centuries.

So, whilst we continue the conservation, every beam, joint and roof truss in the scrolls will be closely examined to see if they can offer any further insights into the construction of Japanese buildings.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


As the removal of previous lining papers continues on the hand scrolls we should mention what is happening all around the area. Leiden is on the edge of the famous Dutch bulb fields and this time of year the fields are crammed with tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. The roads are also packed with visitors...........

The Semper Augustus tulip
The popularity  of tulips in the early 17th century caught the attention of the entire nation "even to its lowest dregs". By 1635, a sale of 40 bulbs for 100,000 florins (also known as Dutch guilders) was recorded. By way of comparison, a ton of butter cost around 100 florins, a skilled laborer might earn 150 florins a year, and "eight fat swine" cost 240 florins. People were selling or trading their other possessions in order to speculate in the tulip market, such as an offer of 12 acres (49,000 metres square) of land for one of two existing Semper Augustus bulbs. Unfortunately the extraordinary beauty of Semper Augustus is the result of a viral infection which 'breaks' the single block of colour normally displayed on tulips, adding a stunning striation of white or yellow coloured strips. The virus would make it difficult to  propagate. Eventually the bulb would lose its strength and eventually wither to nothing - ending the genetic line. Consequently the famous, colour broken Semper August bulb no longer exists.

As is the nature of all bubbles this one did indeed burst leaving a badly bruised economy and some very overpriced tulip bulbs. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Paper thin....

As we mentioned previously the papers made from the gampi fibre have a wonderful lustre and a smooth shiny surface. The papers are quite rightly highly respected by artists and calligraphers, however the scroll mounting studios are extremely cautious of it. Unlike those made from mulberry, papers made from gampi fibre are very prone to shrinkage and distortion. Worse still they have a tendency to delaminate during conservation; this seems to relate to the long fibre length and the method of manufacture.

viewed against transmitted light the areas of thinning are all too clear
As the linings were being removed from the reverse of the hand scrolls they being continually checked on the light table. This was to give advanced warning of any areas of skinning to the paper which might have happened during previous conservation. We started to see signs of exactly this problem once the thick, coated maniai-shi lining had been removed.

Unusually there were two more layers of a mino-gami type paper present rather than the more usual misu-gami and as these were removed the extent of the previous damage was revealed. Although this damage does look rather dramatic against transmitted light it is not visible under normal lighting conditions. Prior to any new linings being applied each area of damage will be given additional paper to compensate for the loss.


We would like to add that following the recent terrible events our thoughts and sympathy go out to everyone in Japan at this difficult time, and we wish them strength and resolve in coming to terms with this tragedy.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


the 'gampi' bush

Native to mountainous areas of Japan and resisting attempts to cultivate it, the 'gampi' bush is called the 'king of washi'; it remains the rarest and most expensive provider of 'washi' (traditional handmade paper) fiber. It was paper made from gampi fibre which was often used for handscrolls and the 'Tale of the Bamboo cutter' scrolls proved no exception.

In removing the smooth, ivory coloured outer paper linings of the handscrolls we found it was indeed a clay loaded maniai-shi paper made from gampi fibre from Najio, Hyogo Prefecture.  

                              rolling creases at the end of scroll A

The choice of paper used for the last lining of the handscrolls seems to have been rather thick and inflexible. This has meant that towards the roller end of each scroll there have been more and more rolling creases which developed as it  followed the narrow roller. Not only will the new linings be thinner, we will also be using a roller clamp to increase the diameter of the scroll to ease the stress on the paper and pigment.


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Deer !

We have blogged previously about separating joints in the scrolls using special spatulas made of bamboo (hera). Sometimes the joints can be too firmly attached and therefore it is necessary to soften the  starch adhesive first using water.

For this we would use  a  traditional Japanese water brush called a mizubake. The handle is made of split Japanese cypress which traps the tightly packed  hair. This is secured at the edges with cherry bark and sewn  into the handle with oiled silk cord . The hair is from the summer coat of deer.

The profile of the brush hair is fan-shaped and can hold  a considerable quantity of water. The flow of water  is controlled by the angle of use with more water being released when the brush is used vertically. The flow of water can effectively be 'switched off' by lowering the brush so that it lies horizontally. The use of a  mizubake allows a great deal of precision over the application of moisture.

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