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Conserving a Japanese scroll: Nehanzu (The Death of the Buddha)

This large painting on silk, which dates from the fourteenth century, had suffered from extensive silk and paint loss. Several factors had to be considered before deciding how to approach the conservation of the painting.

After conservation approximately 25% of the restored painting would consist of new repairs. The colour of the painting varied enormously from one area to another and so it was not possible to use a single representative colour for the repairs. Instead, each repair was dyed according to where it would be placed in the painting. A standard tone of brown silk was selected as a base colour, and each repair was then adjusted to harmonize with its surrounding colour. To ensure an even application of colour during retouching, especially on silk paintings, the object is rotated periodically so that colour cannot collect unevenly in the weave.

The overall effect of the finished painting was further enhanced by lining it with Japanese paper dyed using yasha, an extract prepared from alder cones. It was critical to select an appropriate colour for the lining paper as it would show through the open weave of the silk and affect the overall tone of the painting.