Investigation of Buddhist statues at The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

X-ray image of the head of Indra (The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco)

 Tsuda and Sarai of the Department of Research Programming studied two Buddhist statues (Brahma and Indra), which were made in Japan during the Nara period, and collected relevant materials at The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco from March 10 to 12, 2008 as part of the Department’s project on the study of art materials and techniques. These statues had originally been at Kohfukuji in Nara, but were bought by an American collector after they passed into private hands.
 The two statues were made by a special technique that was used in the Nara period, hollow dry lacquer technique. The outer frame is composed of hemp cloth and urushi (lacquer) and the inside is left hollow except for an inserted wood that functions as support. Since a great amount of lacquer, which is very expensive, was needed and since such statues are not structurally strong, there are not many examples of hollow dry lacquer statues remaining today. In that sense, it may be said that these statues are extremely valuable.
 A photograph taken at Kohfukuji some time around 1905 shows, among many damaged Buddhist statues, these two statues, also greatly damaged. Among the documents at The Asian Art Museum related to these statues are X-ray images that provide some information concerning the restoration of the statues. For example, while the head of Indra is missing in the Kohfukuji photograph taken in the Meiji period, X-ray image of the statue unexpectedly shows the possibility that the head is that of the original. Knowledge obtained in this investigation needs to be further studied from many angles. We hope to continue the study of the technique and style of hollow dry lacquer statues with the cooperation of The Asian Art Museum.

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