Conservation in Action: Preserving Nirvana, April 2016

Conservation and Collections Management

Before the scroll can be dismantled, unstable pigments are first consolidated with a diluted animal glue solution applied with a fine brush. This treatment required repeated applications, at several stages throughout the process.

With the paint layer stabilized, the scroll is dismantled. The gilt metal fittings are removed from the wooden top stave and every metal brad is saved. Removal of the wooden bottom dowel reveals an inscription (see below) dating the scroll to 1713, which suggests that the dowel may be original to the scroll.

Japanese inscription on wooden dowel
Inscription on wooden dowel

Next, the upper and lower silk sections of the scroll mounting are removed, making the overall size of the painting more manageable. Usually all the silk sections are systematically detached, but in this case, the two calligraphic inscriptions on the reverse of the scroll need to be removed first in order to preserve these important pieces of documentation. The scroll is turned face down, and as pictured below, the outermost lining papers on which the inscriptions were written are carefully detached with the aid of bamboo spatulas, tweezers, and scalpels.

conservator detaches lining paper from scroll
Conservator detaches lining papers from scroll

The remaining sections of the silk mount are then detached from the painting (see below), to be followed by removal of subsequent paper linings.

conservator detaches silk mount from painting
Conservator detaches silk mount from painting

Preparatory work on the silk mounting sections is the next focus and will be carried out prior to moving into the gallery. When treatment continues in the gallery, attention will turn to the painting itself. The lining that is attached directly to the painting will be removed and replaced—a painstaking process that will take several weeks. During this process the creases, tented cracks, and delaminating paper layers can all be corrected.