Mural of the Asuka Beauties painted on the west wall of the stone chamber in the Takamatsuzuka Burial Mound (kofun) in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, Japan
Photo taken in August 2013 after the mural had been cleaned
Image credit the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs
Kazuto Tsukamoto, Staff Writer for The Asahi Shimbun, reports that –
Stunning murals painted 1,300 years ago in the stone chamber of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound, currently under repair, will continue to be preserved in an outside facility. The government panel that made the decision March 27 said the colorful wall paintings can stay “for the time being” outside the stone chamber even after the decade-long repair process winds up. A key reason for this is the lack of established technology to prevent mold from re-emerging and destroying what is left of the paintings.
The murals created a huge buzz when they were discovered in 1972 at the burial mound in Asuka, Nara Prefecture. “Given existing technologies, it would be difficult to return the mural paintings to the burial mound, although we will continue our research for doing so,” said Yorikuni Nagai, an adjunct professor of education policy with the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, who chairs the 17-member panel, which reports to the Agency for Cultural Affairs. “We will have to build a solid preservation facility if the process is going to take 20 to 30 years to complete.”
The Agency for Cultural Affairs initially envisaged returning the mural paintings to the Takamatsuzuka burial mound once the repair work was finished. The panel’s decision represents a departure from established policy, which is based on the notion that archaeological finds should in principle be conserved on site. “It would be appropriate to preserve, maintain and display the mural paintings at an appropriate location outside the burial mound for the time being,” said part of a draft plan the agency presented to the panel, which subsequently approved it.
The Takamatsuzuka paintings, designated a national treasure, include the famous “Asuka beauties,” or a group of female figures originally found on the west wall of the stone chamber. The entire stone chamber was removed in 2007 from the tumulus, which dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century and is designated a special historic site by the government. A similar decision had earlier been reached on colorful mural paintings from the Kitora burial mound, another government-designated special historic site in Asuka. They are being preserved outside the tumulus, which also dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century.
While preferable to preserve artefacts, works of art etc in their original context it’s surely impossible (and probably undesirable) in this case. Since their discovery forty years ago the Takamatsuzuka murals now show signs of degradation and, given their delicate nature, perhaps should have been moved to a controlled environment from the beginning. Even the poor quality press cutting below shows loss of facial (and other detail/degradation) in the paintings since the 1970s.
Press cutting from the 17 March 1972. Compare with the more recent Agency for Cultural Affairs photograph above (top)
Original article here. See also our feature on Asuka here.