In July 2019, Factum Foundation was invited to carry out two recordings at the British Museum’s Hirayama Studio – a specialist studio for conservation of East Asian paintings. Conservators at the Hirayama Studio employ traditional East Asian scroll-mounting techniques combined with digital technology and contemporary approaches to cultural heritage conservation.
Recording Amida sanson raigo zu with the Lucida 3D Scanner: the painting is attached to a karibari drying board for the scanning. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence
Hirayama conservators were working on an exquisite 14th century Japanese scroll-painting – Amida sanson raigo zu (BM 1938,0108,0.1) – depicting Amida (the Japanese name for the celestial buddha Amitābha) on a lotus pedestal, with two attendant bodhisatvas. The painting falls within the Japanese raigō-zu genre, in which Amida, accompanied by bodhisatvas, descends on clouds to greet the dying. The Hirayama Studio were particularly interested in using 3D scanning to investigate the cut-gold leaf, or kirikane, used to decorate the figures’ garments.
Factum Foundation used the non-contact Lucida 3D Scanner to record the surface of Amida sanson raigo zu. The scanner ‘removes’ colour from the surface, allowing conservators to see subtle relief patterns in detail. It is also capable of dealing with different types of materials, including shiny or reflective surfaces, which made it the ideal technology to capture the texture of the kirikane. Mapping colour and infrared data provided by the British Museum onto Lucida data will give conservators a comprehensive tool they can use to study the Amida painting and develop their understanding of the techniques used to produce it.
Recording the colour of the 19th century screen painting © The Trustees of the British Museum. Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence
A second object was also recorded at the Hirayama Studio: two panels from a 19th century Korean screen (BM 2016,3028.1) of pyeongsaeng-do (scenes of daily life) depicting successful stations in a man's life. Pyeongsaeng-do consists of six or eight painted scenes. This two-panel screen is likely parts of a larger screen: the right panel is of a 60th wedding anniversary, left panel commemorates the 60th anniversary of an official’s passing the civil service examination. The screen is of particular interest to conservators because it retained its original cotton mount. High-resolution 3D and colour data provided by Factum will serve above all as a precise record of the screen’s condition before conservation; but the recording, and associated digital browser, will be equally useful for the study of this unique painting in its original mount.
With thanks to Kyoko Kusunoki, Meejung Kim Marandet, and Matthias Sotiras at the Hirayama Studio; and to Joanna Kosek at the British Museum Conservation, Department of Collection Care.
Factum Foundation: Eva Rosenthal, Elizabeth Mitchell, Gabriel Scarpa, Teresa Casado, and Osama Dawood.