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Replica of the early 8th century Anglo-Saxon Franks Casket by sculptor Andrew Lilley
Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum has commissioned two replicas of the early 8th century Anglo-Saxon Franks Casket by sculptor Andrew Lilley. “One option presents the casket in similar colours to the whalebone we see today, while the other has been hand painted in colours that represent how experts believe it may have looked when made.”

The original is on display at the British Museum. The right-hand side of the casket is a replica; the original is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy.

More on the Franks Casket here.


The Star Chart on the ceiling of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in western Japan
Image credit Yuta Takahashi for the The Asahi Shimbun
The famous Takamatsuzuka Kofun (高松塚古墳) burial mound exhibition closes today (8 November 2015) in Asuka village, Japan. Built during the Asuka Period, between the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century, it lay unopened until 1972. Excavations of the mound then revealed an interior on whose walls stunning murals of Asuka Period ladies, astrological representations and a golden star chart were found. The gold disks, making up the chart, measure some 0.8 centimetres in diameter and are connected by red lines
Designated as a National Treasure this was the first time the general public were able to view the chart.
More here.

The Cotton MS. Augustus II. 106 of the Magna Carta. One of only four surviving exemplifications of the 1215 text Source Wikimedia Commons

The Magna Carta: “The greatest constitutional document of all times; the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

Lord Denning.

See also our earlier feature Encasing the Magna Carta.


Rievaulx Abbey with Chapter House ruins in foreground
Image credit Antony McCallum. Source Wikimedia Commons
English Heritage has set itself a series of ambitious financial targets so that it can become a self-financing organisation in eight years’ time. Its plans were outlined last week ahead of English Heritage splitting into two on 1 April 2015. The English Heritage Trust, a new independent charity, will look after the National Heritage Collection, which comprises more than 400 historic sites across England including Stonehenge, Dover Castle and parts of Hadrian’s Wall. It will retain the English Heritage name. Historic England will be the new name for the public body that champions and protects England’s historic environment.
A number of new museums and exhibitions will be developed as part of the new English Heritage Trust’s plans. The art deco Eltham Palace in Greenwich will be restored. And to mark this year’s bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, there will be new exhibitions at those sites associated with the Duke of Wellington: Wellington Arch and Apsley House in London and Walmer Castle in Kent. Next year, a new museum will open to tell the 900-year story of Rievaulx Abbey in north Yorkshire.
More here.

Great Gold Cross from the Staffordshire Hoard

Discover the hidden secrets of the Great Gold Cross, one of the Staffordshire Hoard’s most iconic objects. View other films in this series and find out more about the history of the West Midlands, on the History West Midlands website:


The Didcot Iron Age Mirror
In May this year we reported that the Iron Age Didcot Mirror (discovered near Didcot in southern England by a metal detectorist) had been sold to an anonymous overseas buyer. Due to its historical importance however Culture Minister and Wantage MP Ed Vaizey temporarily blocked its export to see if a buyer could be found in the UK. Vaizey was reported as saying, “The Didcot Mirror is a beautiful object dating from the Iron Age and would be a tremendous addition to any one of our many outstanding national, regional and local museums. I hope the export bar I’ve placed allows time for a UK buyer to come forward and secure it for the nation.”
We learn today that Oxfordshire County Council’s Museums Service has been successful in its appeal to raise £33,000 to purchase this rare bronze Iron Age mirror. They report that –
The mirror, which dates from the 1st century BC, is decorated with a highly unusual and beautiful curvilinear La Tène style pattern. These particular mirrors are unique to Britain and only 18 complete ones are known to exist. The only one to have been found in Oxfordshire, the mirror was discovered near Didcot some years ago, by a metal detector user and was recently sold to an anonymous bidder and would have been exported had the appeal not reached its target.
Hours to spare
The Friends of the Oxfordshire Museum had until September 12 to raise the local funds needed to keep the mirror in the country and to put it on display in Oxfordshire. The target was therefore met with only hours to spare. The Appeal, launched by the Friends of the Museum, remains open to receive further donations to contribute towards the costs of conserving and displaying the Mirror and undertaking further research which aims to reveal more of its hidden story.
For further information or to make a donation please visit –
To make a donation online through Just Giving –
Full Oxfordshire County Council’s Museums Service press release here.
4,000 year-old Japanese dogū figurine
A 4,000 year-old figurine, found in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, 14 years ago, has been officially designated as a National Treasure by the Japanese Government. Known as dogū, the figurine stands 34 centimetres tall and weighs 2.7 kilograms. Made of coiled clay it was found in an almost perfect condition in Nagano’s Nakappara site on the  23 August 2000. The figurine is thought to date from the end of the Jōmon Period (12,000bce-300bce). The Japanese Council for Cultural Affairs recommended that the figurine be designated a National Treasure in March.
The figurine is currently on display at the Togariishi Museum of Jōmon Archaeology and will appear at the National Treasures of Japan exhibition to be held at the Tokyo National Museum from 15 October – 7 December 2014.

The Didcot Iron Age Mirror

Leslie Webster, from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), has described this rare and beautiful mirror as, “…an outstanding example of Celtic art in the later Iron Age… particularly unusual in the way that its delicately incised ornament challenges some of the conventional design rules for the decoration of these high-status objects.” Now, unless some £30,000 can be raised to buy the mirror for the Museum of Oxford, it risks being taken out of the country.

The Oxford Mail reports that the mirror was discovered near Didcot by a metal detectorist and has now been sold to an anonymous overseas buyer. Due to its historical importance however Culture Minister and Wantage MP Ed Vaizey has temporarily blocked its export to see if a buyer can be found in the UK. Vaizey is reported as saying, “The Didcot Mirror is a beautiful object dating from the Iron Age and would be a tremendous addition to any one of our many outstanding national, regional and local museums. I hope the export bar I’ve placed allows time for a UK buyer to come forward and secure it for the nation.”

Below we reported on Cambodia’s campaign to have seven precious stone statues returned to their country from the United States. Today we report on the possible loss to the nation of this rare British Iron Age mirror – an object that could very well be ‘exported’ to an overseas buyer if funds cannot be raised to keep it in Britain. This surely cannot be right. The Japanese have a system of designating important works of art as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Other countries have similar designations and such objects are not only prohibited from being exported but must also be conserved and preserved to the highest standards. Is it not time for Britain to have similar standards to protect its cultural property?

Those interested in securing the mirror for the nation should call 0845 300 6200 for further information. See also the fund raising event organised by Dumnonika at the Museum of Oxford on Saturday, 12 July 2014. For more on Celtic mirrors Celtic may be of interest.


Murasaki: A Man Fascinated by Colour

Directed by Kawase Mika (2011). 77 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
ATMK Co. Ltd.

Murasaki: A Man Fascinated by Colour is a documentary film following a natural dyer, Yoshioka Sachio and his natural dyeing studio in Kyoto, Japan. Yoshioka is the current head of the natural dyeing studio ‘Sometsukasa Yoshioka’, which has been established since the end of the Edo era (mid 19th century). Upon inheriting his family’s studio, Yoshioka has decided to make a return to the old techniques of procuring natural dyes from the environment. Colours produced with organically grown plants and pure spring water in Kyoto are far more beautiful and enchanting than any chemically produced dye in the laboratory. In his daily routine, Yoshioka teams up with his long serving natural dyeing specialist, Fukuda Denshi, to run the natural dyeing studio, something which has become increasingly rare in the 21st century.

Part of Yoshioka’s work involves the restoration of ancient textile works and decorative materials. He researches the techniques employed to create some of the National Treasures of Japan and traditional gigaku (ancient Chinese performing arts) costumes kept in the Shosoin treasure house (the Imperial treasure house built in 8th century), recreating those same techniques in order to restore artifacts to their original glory. Yoshioka says that it is not modern science, but traditional methods that should be used to authentically restore ancient pieces of artwork. Fukuda Denshi works daily in the studio using ancient Indian sarasa (silk or cotton printing) and kyokechi (wood binding) dyeing techniques. However, Yoshioka and Fukuda do not always succeed, and there are still ancient techniques that even they have yet to uncover.

Presented by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures.

Venue: Cinema City (Screen 2), St Andrews Street, Norwich NR2 4AD England on Monday, 2 June 2014 from 6-8pm. The screening will be followed by a question and answer session with Yoshioka Sachio, the head of the natural dyeing studio ‘Sometsukasa Yoshioka’ who is featured in the documentary.

More here.

江戸時代から続いている京都の染色家「染司よしおか」の当主である吉岡幸雄にスポット­を当てたドキュメンタリー。化学染料の使用がポピュラーとなっている昨今、植物だけで­染め上げることにこだわり抜く染色家としてのプライドや、正倉院に収蔵された美術装飾­品の復元者というもうひとつの顔を通して、職人の生き方、ものづくりのあり方、人間と­自然の向き合い方などを問い掛けていく。メガホンを取ったのは、博多出身のロック・ミ­ュージシャンたちを題材にした『BIG RETURNS』で注目を集めた川瀬美香。
配給: エーティーエムケー
Atmk. Co. Ltd. 2006-2011. All rights reserved.


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.

UNESCO assess damage to Cairo Museum of Islamic Arts
Video by Rowan El Shimi for Ahram Online

Daily News Egypt reports that –

Members of the UNESCO delegation said it was especially shocking to see the museum in its current state, but praised the quick response of the rescue team. “We were so pleased when we saw in Paris the response of the rescue team,” the delegation said. “This team of 11 people were trained for two years by the Ministry of Antiquities, UNESCO and the International Council of Museums.” Another member of the delegation added; “This museum is so important for us, and when I say ‘us’, I mean anyone who cares about culture; this is the mother of all Islamic museums. Its artefacts are important, but the building itself is equally important. Excellent work has been done here in the aftermath of the explosion, but more will be needed in this coming time. We will connect the conservation specialists in Cairo to other conservation specialists abroad so Egypt can have the best technical support and these artefacts could be seen by you, your children and visitors here in Cairo.”

UNESCO has confirmed that it is setting aside $100,000 in emergency funds to help rebuild the Museum of Islamic Arts.

Full article here.


Video Heritage Channel of Korea

According to Wikipedia –

Cheomseongdae (첨성대)  is an astronomical observatory in Gyeongju, South Korea. Cheomseongdae means star-gazing tower in Korean. Cheomseongdae is the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia. It dates to the 7th century to the time of kingdom of Silla, which had its capital in Gyeongju. Cheomseongdae was designated as the country’s 31st national treasure on December 20, 1962.

A Ten Won Korean banknote showing the 1,300 year-old Cheomseongdae observatory

Rummaging through some old papers this morning I came across the banknote above which I‘d saved from a trip to Korea some forty years ago. It jolted my memory of Cheomseongdae (shown on the left of the banknote) which I’d visited back then and thought the attached video might be of interest to some of your readers.


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The National Treasure Twelve Devas and the World of Esoteric Buddhist Rituals
In Jowa 1 (834), the Shingon master Kukai (774-835) began the Rites and Austerities of the Latter Seven Days, (Goshichinichi no mishiho), in the Imperial court. This ritual to pray for national protection at the beginning of the year continues to be practiced at the Shingon temple To-ji in Kyoto to this day. The Kyoto National Museum has a complete set of twelve deva paintings. This exhibition features this set in its entirety along with related paintings…
The exhibition runs from Tuesday, 8 January to Monday, 11 February 2013 in the Special Exhibition Hall of Kyoto National Museum. More here.

A Dogū (土偶) from the Ebisuda Tajiri site in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. 1000–400bce. Source Wikipedia

Writing in the Sainsbury Institute’s e-magazine, Nakamura Oki, guest curator of the Dogū, a Cosmos: Ancient Clay Figurines exhibition now being held at the Miho Museum in Japan, explains that the exhibition (ending 9 December 2012) extends over ten galleries and is the first large-scale show of Jōmon dogū ever held in the Kansai (Western) district of Japan.

Among the 320 objects on display are twenty one Important Cultural Properties and three National Treasures; the ‘Jōmon Venus’, the ‘Dogū with Palms Pressed Together’ and the ‘Hollow Dogū.’

A particular feature of this exhibition is that many of the Jōmon dogū are in good condition, so their extraordinary charm can be readily accessed and enjoyed. Visitors can also discover more about the crucial archaeological characteristics of these figurines, such as the significance of their poses, the meaning of their numerical content and changes in style over the period of their production.

During the Middle Jōmon period from 3500 to 2400 BC dogū were created in some distinctive postures. Dogū in the arms-outstretched pose have been found widely throughout eastern Japan, from the Chūbu to the Tōhoku district. The ‘Jōmon Venus’ and slab-formed dogū from the Ishigami site, an Important Cultural Property, share the pose of having both arms held horizontally out to the side .The presence of large numbers of dogū with arms hanging down in the Kantō region from the same period suggests that the arm pose was a cultural choice. It seems clear that the arm poses were not the result of technical limitation but were rather part of the symbolic meaning of the figurines.

Full article here.

Master Naohachi Usami, 8th generation head of the Kyoto Shōkaku-dō Conservation Studio, at work in 1978 on a Japanese painting

It is with very great sadness that The Heritage Trust reports the death this morning of Mr Naohachi Usami, 8th generation head of the Shōkaku-dō conservation studio in Kyoto – one of only a few studios in Japan accredited with conserving and restoring Japanese National Treasures and other pictorial works of national and international importance.

Beginning with his father, Naoyuki Usami, Naohachi Usami continued and promoted a policy of accepting and training foreign students in the centuries’ old Japanese tradition of mounting, restoring and conserving works of art on paper and silk. Some of those students studied at the Shōkaku-dō for only a few weeks, while others trained tirelessly there for a decade or more, eventually taking back to their respective countries skills and techniques which are now being used to conserve our precious heritage of Far Eastern pictorial art.

In Asia, Europe and the United States there are national museums and private conservation studios that have conservators, trained at the Shōkaku-dō, who are now working at those studios or running them. The Hirayama Asian Pictorial Art Conservation Studio at the British Museum is just one example which has grown out of Naohachi Usami and the Shōkaku-dō’s open-door policy towards training foreign students and will remain his abiding legacy to the world of Far Eastern pictorial art conservation.

Naohachi Usami was 86, he is succeeded by his son at the Shōkaku-dō, Mr Naohide Usami.


From The Kyoto Shimbun

宇佐美直八氏死去 前宇佐美松鶴堂社長






May 2022
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