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Conserving a hanging scroll painting: Ding Yunpeng, The God of Literature

The importance of the use of Chinese black ink (Mo) in traditional Chinese painting cannot be over estimated. The ink of the Sung period (AD 960-1279) was made from pine soot mixed together with animal glue and other ingredients such as incense. This ink was jet black but often lacked lustre. Since the Ming period (AD 1368-1644) Chinese painters have preferred ink made from lamp black. This ink has a slightly bluish tone and has an almost metallic gleam.

Within the last fifty years synthetic black dyes have been available to Chinese artists and these have been adopted gradually. This shift from the traditional technique to a more modern medium has had a potentially disastrous effect on any future conservation treatments. Whereas the traditional Chinese ink contained a proportion of adhesive which helped to stabilize the ink on the paper, the modern synthetic ink continues to remain highly sensitive to any aqueous conservation processes.

Similarly, the traditional vermilion pigment, known as cinnabar, used to print the artist's seal on the painting also has a modern synthetic alternative. This too has a high sensitivity to water and great care must be taken during any conservation treatment.