A Study on Conservation of Painted Panels on the Outer Walls of the Yomeimon Gate of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine

On-site study of painted wall panels of the Yomeimon Gate
Positioning of a device for X-ray imaging

 As part of the Study of Traditional Techniques and Materials Used in Cultural Properties, the Center for Conservation Science and Restoration Techniques is currently conducting a study in line with restoration of the paint pigments on the Yomeimon Gate of the Toshogu Shrine. Large Panels with a Relief Sculpture of a Peony Design that were created in 1796 are currently installed on panels on the east and west walls of the Yomeimon Gate. According to historical documents, however, the walls had contained paintings produced by a technique known as “tung oil sprinkled with Makie” in much earlier years, such as 1688 and 1753. During restoration of these Panels in 1971, the east wall was removed, revealing a painting of 3 Zebra Finches Perching atop a Japanese Plum Tree on a Crag with Bamboo Grass that is thought to have been produced in 1753. The painting was studied by the Department of Conservation Science at the time. In addition, X-ray imaging at the time also revealed a painting of Nesting Cranes in a Pine Tree atop a Crag with Bamboo Grass beneath the panels on the western wall. However, the wall panel overlaying it was not removed, so the actual painting was not visible. The current study removed the overlaying panel on the western wall in order to restore its paint. Its removal revealed the painting beneath for the first time in 218 years or so. However, the painting had deteriorated markedly, as was evident from its discoloration and peeling. Thus, the Center examined the painting’s materials and its deterioration in cooperation with the Nikko Toshogu Shrine and the Association for the Preservation of the Nikko World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples in order to prevent further deterioration. In addition, X-ray imaging was done so that researchers in the history of painting could verify that traces of paintings from earlier periods were beneath the painting (Photos 1 & 2). Results of this study will help to reveal the state of paint pigments that have adorned the Yomeimon Gate since the Nikko Toshogu Shrine was completed in 1636. Results will also help to maintain the works in somewhat better condition.

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