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Marking World Heritage Day today we are focusing on the ancient Japanese art of picture conservation and mounting known as Hyōgu.
1923 woodblock print after the earliest known image of a hyōgushi priest and his assistant Original by the 14th century Japanese painter Fujiwara Takakane
Private collection Great Britain
Hyōgu and the hyōgushi
The art of restoring and mounting works of art on paper and silk has been practiced in the Far East for nearly two millennia. Originating first in China at the beginning of the Christian era, conservation techniques and materials then spread to Japan where they developed into the refined art that we now know as Hyōgu.
The word Hyōgu means a picture or piece of calligraphy lined with paper and mounted as a hanging scroll. The words hyōgushi, hyōguya and kyōji refer to the mounter/conservators of Japan who not only repair and mount hanging scrolls but also conserve other forms of pictorial art such as the handscroll, screens, sliding doors, murals etc.
The hyōgushi of today is required to undergo a long and strict period of training. During this time he or she learns not only the skills which will enable him to conserve scrolls, screens etc, but also the knowledge and sensitivity required to present them in their correct context. He must know the appropriate style of mount used for any subject and be aware, for example, of the meanings associated with the patterned silks used with such mounts. He or she must also know how and where an object will be used as this will often dictate the materials and techniques employed in its conservation.
Like the Western bookbinder, the hyōgushi is responsible for objects which must be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The objects he is conserving are made to be opened and closed, rolled and unrolled and, apart from the demands of conservation and aesthetics, the hyōgushi must always bear in mind that they are to be constantly handled and not merely viewed.
St Andrew’s Church Coke House, Normanby, North Yorkshire, England
St Andrew’s Church, in the little village of Normanby in North Yorkshire, once had two coke-fired stoves burning in order to keep its congregation reasonably warm during those cold, north country winters of yesteryear. The coke fires in the church have long since gone but the church’s coke house still remains. Though in relatively good condition, this elegant little building needs some consolidation to its roadside foundations, as well as a new wooden door on its east side and a new wooden hatch on its west.
Deteriorating roadside foundations and wooden hatch
The Taisho Photographer’s House by Hamish Campbell
Hidden in an old and collapsing home, an incredible discovery sheds light on the lives of a Japanese family during Japan’s Taishō Period (1912–1926). As this remarkable family home, and its contents, slowly disintegrates and disappears Australian photographer Hamish Campbell captures what still remains.
The Heritage Trust strongly urges the appropriate Japanese authorities to take steps to protect and preserve this unique and invaluable house and its contents for future generations.
Nexus – Genkan I
A superimposed image showing the condition of the Taisho Photographer’s House today, with a Taisho family bride entering the house’s genkan (hallway)
Image credit Hamish Campbell
The northern façade of the Church of Yemrehanna Kristos. Seen here within the cave which houses it
Image credit Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund
Martin Bailey, writing in The Art Newspaper, reports that a team of British conservators will help preserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings. The paintings are in the twelfth century Church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Northern Ethiopia –
A project to conserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings, which experts believe date to around 1100 or soon after, is due to begin this month. They are in the church of Yemrehanna Kristos, a full-sized building constructed inside a cave in the Lasta Mountains at an altitude of 2,700m. The cave is above a valley of juniper trees and, until recently, could only be reached by a day’s journey on foot or mule from the town of Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia. The church’s interior is so dark that international specialists did not note the paintings’ existence until the 1990s; the first published account was in 2001.
The London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, with support from the World Monuments Fund, is undertaking the project. The conservation team consists of two British specialists, Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby; the latter describes the paintings as being in a “highly vulnerable and threatened condition”.
The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three- dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.
The hoard has recently been moved and now housed in the museum at La Hougue Bie. Since its discovery, by two metal detectorists, conservators have been removing on average about 500 coins per week out of the estimated total of possibly 50,000! But it’s not only coins making up this most amazing mass, for once coins started being removed, gold torcs and jewellery began to reveal themselves and to date seven torcs have now been exposed! An estimated value of the whole package has been put at over £10m which is a phenomenal amount! Even though they were just recording on the day I was there, you are able to observe the conservators at work as they painstakingly take the hoard apart, cleaning and conserving the contents as they go.
A notice informs you that the coins are made from a mix of silver and copper and why they are now dark green
Also hidden in Jersey’s eastern countryside at La Hougue Bie and within its grounds, lies one of Europe’s finest prehistoric monuments. At the heart of this tranquil site stands a medieval church atop a prehistoric mound under which lies a 6,000-year-old Neolithic Cruciform Armorican Passage Grave. Without a doubt this is the Channel Islands jewel in the crown and an absolute ‘must see’.
Now that the hoard is safely housed in the purposely built lab it is more reason to pay the site a visit. You certainly won’t be disappointed that’s for sure, but do take a torch along with you to view the inside of the passage grave as the lighting is minimal! Alternatively, check out this excellent website that displays the chambered tomb superbly.
Jersey Heritage itself has a very informative website here and here. Within the museum is a fascinating geology and Ice-Age area aside from other coin hoards, axes, swords and spears belonging to Jersey’s Neolithic community.
As a reminder of more recent times, especially to the islanders (not that they need reminding that is) is a command bunker built during the German Occupation of Jersey and turned into a memorial dedicated to the slave-workers brought to the Channel Islands by invading Nazi forces during the Second World War and treated abominably. Personally, I chose not to enter this ‘museum in its own right’ as I find it too depressing and in a way not in keeping with the wonder of the other exhibits. Family memories and all that!
That aside, there is a large picnic area where you can enjoy a day out amongst the beautiful surroundings of this mainly peaceful and spiritual site.
A closer look at the hoard through the glass screen of the purposely built lab
A fantastic aerial view of the church atop the mound. The entrance to the passage grave can be observed to the left of the mound
The wonderfully constructed entrance to the passage grave
Both the grave and the church are orientated east/west, the tomb entrance facing east in common fashion. And just when the excitement of discovering the Celtic hoard at Grouville couldn’t have been more, this was then discovered at Trinity …again by a metal detectorist!
Say what you like about metal detectorists but without a doubt they have been responsible for re-writing much of our history by the finds they have made. In many cases it has been in areas not even considered by archaeologists so unlikely to have ever been discovered without their help. Such a shame that they are not given the credit due to them because of a small minority not playing by the rules and getting more attention than they deserve in certain quarters.
Two 15th century painted panels in Holy Trinity Church, Torbryan, Devon, England before the theft. The two figures on the right, in the left panel, went missing.
Photo credit: The Churches Conservation Trust
Nearly two years ago we reported on the theft of two priceless 15th century painted oak panels from a church in Devon, England (feature here). The panels are said to be of national importance but had been viciously hacked out of a screen in the church and stolen. The panels were feared lost forever but now, thanks to a collector who recognised them from media coverage and who reported their illegal online sale to the police, the panels have been recovered and are currently in safe storage in Bristol.
Sadly, the damage done to the panels when they were hacked from the screen will cost in the region of £7,000 to repair and conserve. The Churches Conservation Trust therefore has launched and appeal to help restore this priceless masterpiece. Details here.
West Midlands History explores a mystery object from the Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard
After hours of research, this is an object which still baffles the team of Anglo Saxon experts in the project team. As far as they know no comparable piece has ever been found and it has no immediately obvious use.