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Conservation Treatment of The Tale of Shuten Doji (F1998.303.1, .2, .3)
Color, ink, gold and silver on paper,
Kano School, 17th century

Detail: A section of the third handscroll from the set of The Tale of Shuten Doji
A section of the third handscroll from the set of The Tale of Shuten Doji.

The set of three hand scroll paintings were all in fairly good condition with a few minor issues affecting the paper support. The scrolls were cockling, and had areas of creasing with delamination of the support and seams. Light stains, insect damage, and pigment exfoliation were also noticeable. It was decided that minor treatment of the paper support was sufficient to stabilize the Shuten Doji handscroll paintings. Flaking pigments were consolidated with a solution of animal skin glue. Delaminating areas of the support and seams were reattached with wheat starch paste and conservators applied Mino paper reinforcement strips to severe creases from the verso of the scrolls. The scrolls were slowly humidified and carefully flattened while drying under weights. This not only made its scrolls stable, while preserving their original condition, but made them more flexible and safer to handle.

Researching the Mounting Fabric

However, the most urgent problem was the gold-threaded brocade scroll covers. The silk covers had darkened considerably and become unstable due to the iron mordant used during the dyeing process when the fabric was originally woven. Many of the silk threads had already worn away or continued to break and powder off when the covers were handled. Of greater concern, the acidic and mechanically unstable cover fabrics endangered the scroll paintings they contained. The covers were no longer structurally sound and could not protect the scroll paintings. Even worse, the acidic silk threads threatened to stain the paintings. Because of these concerns, it was decided that the fabrics could not be reused but would need to be replaced with reproduction fabrics.

The acidic silk threads have darkened and are flaking off the surface of the fabric, exposing the gold threads beneathA micrograph of an area of damaged and weak silk threads
A handscroll cover from the set of Shuten Doji handscrolls. The acidic silk threads have darkened and are flaking off the surface of the fabric, exposing the gold threads beneath (left). A micrograph of an area of damaged and weak silk threads (right).

Preliminary analysis and discussion with conservation scientists, curators and textile experts from Japan and China suggested that the silk covers may have been original to the seventeenth century production of the scrolls. As well, the gold threaded multi-colored brocade contained a 'chrysanthemum in a well' pattern that is similar to the crest of the Egawa family of Izu, Shizuoka prefecture. It was felt important to research this possible connection to the Egawa family at the Egawa Library Foundation, which manages documents relating to this family. It was hoped that through this research new information would be discovered relating to the production of these handscrolls. Unfortunately, extensive scientific and historical analyses were both inconclusive in determining the age and country of production for the silk fabric. This serves to highlight the need for further research not only for these particular textiles, but in the field of East Asian mounting textiles in general.

Jiro Ueda visited the Egawa Library Foundation to determine if a connection could be established for the fabric and scrolls. Though members of the Egawa family lived in Kyoto during the early 17th century, which is when and where the scrolls were produced, no related documentation was found in the archive related to the family crest in the fabric or the production of these scrolls.

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Reproduction of the Scroll Cover Fabric

The Freer Gallery's East Asian painting conservators worked closely with Mr. Yoichi Nakajima to reproduce the fabric for the covers. After much analysis and numerous discussions with Mr. Nakajima, the weave structure and pattern of the fabric was translated to suit an appropriate loom, and thread colors were chosen from numerous samples. EAPCS conservators carefully adjusted the final color of the fabric using dyes to match the age and tonality of the paintings. The original fabrics are preserved separately for future study.

pattern drawing
A pattern drawing used to reproduce the gold threaded brocade for the Shuten Doji handscroll covers.
weave structure
A micrograph used to analyze the weave structure of the original silk before reproduction.

Finally, the fabrics were used to remake the hand scroll covers. Andrew Hare dyed and prepared the newly reproduced fabric. Jiro Ueda completed the mounting process

Conservator Andrew Hare
Conservator Andrew Hare cutting the newly reproduced fabric before lining with Mino paper.
Conservator Jiro Ueda
Conservator Jiro Ueda attaches a secondary lining of Misu paper to support one of the new handscroll covers.

The original gold leaf frontispiecesThe original gold leaf title labels
The original gold leaf frontispieces (above left) and title labels (right) were used again to complete the remounting of the handscroll covers.

One of the newly completed covers for the Shuten Doji handscroll paintings.
One of the newly completed covers for the Shuten Doji handscroll paintings.

The generous grant from the Sumitomo Foundation supported the production of custom repair paper and mounting fabrics in Japan that were essential for the successful conservation treatment of four important Freer collection paintings. The newly produced materials enabled conservators to maintain the historical context and mounting aesthetic of each artwork, while restoring the structural stability of the paintings and enhancing the overall impact of the painted images. This conservation project also allowed Freer Gallery and Asian conservators, scientists, and scholars the opportunity to collaborate and conduct research on traditional Asian textile used in mounting.

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