Cleaning a stoneware figure of Budai ('Laughing Buddha')

During many years on open display, visitors found this jolly Buddha's rounded belly so appealing that they would often rub or touch it. As a result, the unglazed and porous stoneware became darkened in colour; the accumulation of grease and grime was readily absorbed into such a surface.

To remove the unsightly dirt and restore the Buddha's natural complexion, British Museum conservators covered the porous exposed flesh with a poultice of very pure and fine wet clay. As the poultice dried out, it pulled the ingrained dirt from the figure into the clay. Conservators removed the poultice once the clay had dried and cracked. The surface of the figure was cleaned using cotton wool swabs moistened with distilled water to ensure that all of the dirt, and poultice, was removed. After treatment the Buddha's body, hands and feet were impressively restored to a bright, cream colour.

The Buddha is now back on open display. Its new position is raised and a low barrier has been erected to ensure that the Buddha's cleaned up image remains untarnished.

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