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Conserving a Korean painting: Dhratarastra, Guardian King of the East

This very large Buddhist painting from Korea is one of a pair that would have originally been placed inside the entrance of a temple. The condition of the painting was partly determined by this environment: it had been exposed to dust and dirt, insect damage and a range of temperature and humidity levels.

Initial examination revealed that the paint had been applied thickly onto a silks support and over time had become very dry and friable (crumbly). There were many paint losses, exposing a loosely woven hemp support layer below. Upon close examination, it was clear that the painting would require consolidation to fix the flaking pigment to the surface. Areas of loose pigment were reattached to the surface of the painting using a refined gelatin in a very dilute solution. The general condition of the entire surface could then be more accurately assessed.

The painting had clearly been on open display for a long period of time and had an uneven coating of grime and thousands of fly spots. There were a number of areas where both soot and wax from candles were evident. However, as much of this dirt related to the paintings use within the temple, due consideration had to be given to the fact that this was an inherent feature of the painting. To thoroughly clean this painting would be to deny part of its history.