Kory Berrett, Sara Wolf, & W.T. Chase
VALERIEDORGE AND F. CAREYHOWLETT, ED.PAINTED WOOD: HISTORY AND CONSERVATION. PROCEEDINGS OF A SYMPOSIUM ORGANIZED BY THE WOODEN ARTIFACTS GROUP OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR CONSERVATION OF HISTORIC AND ARTISTIC WORKS AND THE FOUNDATION OF AIC, HELD AT THE COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG FOUNDATION, WILLIAMS-BURG, VIRGINIA, NOVEMBER 11–14, 1994. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute: J. Paul Getty Trust, 1998. 539 pages, softcover $75. Available from Getty Publications, (800) 223-3431. ISBN 0-89236-501-3.
This long-awaited publication delivers for reference and a wider audience the 1994 conference “Painted Wood: History and Conservation,” which drew praise as a theme-based symposium and collaborative undertaking worthy of emulation. The organization and publication of conference proceedings at this high level of publication quality and scholarship are no small task, accounting for the span of four years between the symposium and the debut of this book. Despite the production lag, the information contained in the book reflects the current state of conservation for these materials. The editors included references with end-notes that reflect publications and other developments as recent as 1997. The text also contributes fresh art-historical background for many of the unique objects addressed in these studies.
The committee of conference planners (listed in the lengthy editors' acknowledgments section) began in 1992 with two stated goals: to look at paint and wood as interdependent and interactive materials, examining the preservation problems these interactions present and to consider painted wooden objects within a cultural context, exploring the interpretive roles of all involved in their study and care. Preservation issues form an undercurrent throughout the work, and authors provide enough scientific focus to keep the material grounded. The degree to which art-historical research informs these studies was surprising to this reviewer and should make the publication one of interest to historians and artisans and the expected audience of curators and conservators.
Most of the papers presented at the symposium and appearing in the proceedings were drawn from an initial pool of more than 70 submissions. The clear majority of the papers in the publication, 29 of 40, concern art in the Western tradition; nine papers are science-based, and two discuss works from cultural traditions outside our own. The decorative arts form the largest sub-group of papers with 20 entries. Twelve of these are about furniture, with subjects as diverse as the 16th-century tester bedstead from Agecroft Hall (featured on the cover), technical studies and conservation of japanned cabinetry, pigment and media analysis of Shaker painted furniture, and conservation treatment of gilded neoclassical masterpieces. The other eight decorative arts papers include works on diverse topics including picture frames, mixed works under the rubric of folk art, and two about horse-drawn vehicles. After decorative arts, basic and applied sciences are the largest subject area. Five of the nine papers were invited to ensure coverage of the basic science underlying material identification and behavior. Architectural projects are represented with six papers, including technical studies of ecclesiastical interiors, faux finishes, and challenging restorations of elaborate exterior paint schemes. Three authors have polychrome sculpture as their focus, and the two remaining papers concern issues in the conservation of ethnographic artifacts from Native American cultures.
The papers are divided into six major sections. The first, “Understanding and Identifying Materials,” includes articles by Bruce Hoadley, David Erhardt, Richard Newman, and James Martin that were commissioned for the text. These authors provide useful reviews of the physical and chemical nature of the materials discussed in subsequent papers, in addition to describing applicable techniques. Some of the more sophisticated science in this section may be lost on readers without a previous foundation, but, overall, these papers should help refresh these topics for conservatiors. Hoadley's paper sets the stage with basic vocabulary of wood types, structure, and clues to identification. His text links wood anatomy, environmental response, and behavior to observed difficulties in paint film such as staining or failure to bond. Erhardt's review of drying oils and triglyceride chemistry offers a concise review describing the effects of processing and aging on oil films, the implications of conservation treatment, and the logic behind analytical techniques for identifying and differentiating oil films. A few editorial errors occur in this paper. For example, a pair of graphs (figs. 2a and 2b) repeats the first image twice. The correct second graph can be found in Jia-sun Tsang and David Erhardt's, “Current Research on the Effects of Solvents and Gelled Aqueous Cleaning Systems on Oil Paint Films,” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 31(1):88, fig. 2. Newman's contribution includes a thorough discussion of nondrying-oil media by type, providing an introduction to protein-containing media (animal and fish glues, egg white and yolk, and casein), plant gums, resins and shellac, and waxes. For each of these types there is a discussion of the chemistry, analysis, and degradation. In an appendix to the text, Newman describes the potential and limitations of binding media identification. In the last paper of the section, Martin describes the application of microscopic examination techniques, including sample preparation and the underlying operating principles of various instruments.
The title of the second section is “Historical Perspectives.” The first paper in this group, by Myriam Serck-Dewaide, describes a complex scheme of sculpture in the round and in relief, with elaborate polychrome and gilded decoration from the mid-15th and 16th centuries. While this paper is a competent technical study in its own right that discusses and contrasts prominent northern European workshops of the period, the complexity of the subject and text makes a difficult transition into the larger body of papers. It is unfortunate from an art-historical perspective that there was no submission dealing with ancient (and perhaps simpler) painted wooden artifacts, such as Egyptian funerary figures or the Roman wax portraits of Fayum. The second paper in the section, by Nancy Ravenel, provides a study of painted Italian picture frames that expands our knowledge of this understudied group of decorative objects. Ian Bristow's paper offers a short catalog of 17th- and 18th-century English interiors in which wood has been faux-finished to resemble all manner of exotic woods and stone. This contribution would have benefited from illustrations of the historic interiors that display these features. James Yorke describes and documents the work of Philip Bromfield, decorator to Charles I, one of the earliest known furniture painters in England. Elizabeth White's paper on 18th-century garden furniture cites period references and provides illustrations from early design sources. The section ends with Susan Buck's study of 19th-century Shaker paints, a very complete and readable text that provides a benchmark reference for future analysis and authentication of similar objects.
The first paper of the third section, “Historical Materials and Techniques,” is Hans Portsteffen's study on Bavarian polychrome sculpture. The author offers interesting case studies and technical detail and opens an interesting discussion regarding the guild system and divisions of labor. The paper ultimately raises more questions than it answers, pointing the way for further research. The technique of bismuth painting introduced by Renate Gold was completely new to this reviewer. One hopes that Gold will go on to complete the analysis of known bismuth-decorated boxes, identify additional bismuth-inked manuscripts, and expand the database. Margaret Ballardie describes some of the complexities of japanning techniques and warns against the dangers of uninformed treatment. Laurence Libin's paper describing painted harpsichord soundboards also cautions about the fragility of these decorated surfaces and their vulnerability to ill-conceived treatment methods. Frances Safford's study describes early painted furniture from Massachusetts and Connecticut workshops. Through connoisseurship and materials analysis, it expands the body of comparative literature for these and related pieces. Luiz Souza and Cristina Avila provide an exceptionally complete and somewhat surprising study revealing chinoiserie wall decoration in 18th-century Brazilian church architecture. Their work reflects the transfer of this Asian-inspired style and confirms a European approach to materials selection and application techniques. Chris Shelton provides a very readable period literature review, and analysis of well-documented objects to describe the surprising richness and variety of 18th-century white painted furnishings in the rococo and neoclassical styles. Jonathan Thornton provides a clear and instructive paper on dyes, their varieties and uses, permanence and histories. His paper features a quick reference guide to this complex subject that is likely to prove useful beyond the scope of wood decoration. Robert Mussey's paper on verte antique reveals great variety in faux bronze finishes derived from metal lacquering, gilding, and marbleizing traditions. Nancy Odegaard's paper concerning indigenous cultures of the North American Southwest reminds us that approaching ethnographic artifacts is always more complex than it seems. Understanding the materials, techniques, and intentions behind these objects draws upon an unusual combination of tangible and intangible issues. She calls for more study to correct misconceptions proliferated in earlier work by archaeologists and ethnographers. The last paper in the section, by Mark Harpainter and Christopher Augerson, puts the arts and crafts furniture production of Arthur and Lucia Mathews in context. But having whetted the reader's appetite for detailed surface views and technical exposition, they do not deliver; perhaps the conference presentation included more of this visually oriented material.
Section four, “Investigations and Treatment,” begins with a paper about polychrome sculpture by Michele Marincola and Jack Soultanian. The authors restore the “Standing Bishop” to the medieval period with an exemplary technical study that expands our understanding of monochrome versus polychrome surface treatments from the 15th and 16th centuries. Anna Hubert's restoration of a medieval church demonstrates an effective blend of traditional techniques with innovative problem solving. The author describes an effective remounting system for large-scale painted ceiling panels displayed behind elaborate tracery. Claude Payer et al. provide a progress report on the conservation of the interior of Ursuline Chapel in Quebec City. Although a second phase remains for this large-scale project, the paper documents a model of art-historical and technical teamwork in research, documentation, and execution. Art historian Elizabeth Schmidt's study describes a unique, late-16th-century painted bed and a companion chest, in association with architectural evidence for their original placement. This is solid detective work, placing these objects squarely in space if less certainly in time. Marianne Webb's paper on japanned cabinets demonstrates complex and perplexing fabrication and conservation issues. After depicting the challenging conservation problems of her second and third examples, it would have been gratifying to see after-treatment photographs. Andrea Gilmore's description of the Hunnewell cottage restoration goes beyond the author's stated project goals of preserving existing original paint while accurately restoring the house's complex original color scheme. The paper demonstrates that a pragmatic approach can be conservative as well as cost-effective. Marc Williams, Merri Ferrell, and Jennifer Baker's contribution regarding technology and conservation of horse-drawn vehicles provides a clear and informative summary of period texts and magazines describing carriage painting that can otherwise be among the most obscure, complex, and self-contradictory historical sources. Their description of the conservation treatment of a Concord Coach reviews decisions that reflect the complex problems of multiple historic paint layers. The following related paper, Ferrell's case study of the Grace Darling omnibus, validates the benefits of a conservative approach concerning historic vehicles over more typical restoration, or worse, deaccession. Stephen Ray and Julie Reilly propose a classification of folk art by construction types for the purposes of conservation but offer such inclusive lists of joinery, repair, damage types, and treatment options as to render their scheme overly general. Rick Parker and Peter Sixby explore methods used to reveal original paint schemes on repainted American carousel horses and argue against the use of stripping and sandblasting techniques where evidence of a historic finish remains.
The fifth section, “Ethical Considerations,” opens with a paper by Andrew Todd on the conservation of Northwest Coast totem poles. The author invites the reader to consider that aboriginal view of these objects, their meaning, and their preservation do not conform to the cultural bias of the European-based conservation profession. In addition to evaluating familiar treatment approaches for totems, Todd discusses the application of infrared photography to reveal decoration and cultural information without disturbing the objects. Wendy Samet's contribution brings the aesthetic reintegration of painted furniture into focus by contrasting her approach to these decorative and utilitarian objects with the aesthetic compensation of easel painting. Samet's discussion of both philosophy and technical practices considers the issue from a wide variety of perspectives and opens the topic for broader consideration. Reich Hunt's discussion of folk art treatments at Shelburne provides a thorough and clear review of the issues with concise and descriptive examples. Lynne Hastings and Deborah Bigelow's paper concerns the treatment of the relatively unadulterated neoclassical furniture in the Hampton collection. The authors present a collaborative effort to address stabilization and compensation problems for a large group of objects with a minimum of intervention. The focus of Deborah Gordon's article is the restoration of cornice decoration at Olana, the home of Frederic Church, a well-known 19th-century American landscape artist and the designer of the decorative scheme in question. The author discusses techniques used to reveal the evidence and the decision-making process underlying plans for reconstruction.
The sixth and final section of the book, “Scientific Research,” begins with an invited paper by Marion Mecklenburg, Charles Tumosa, and David Erhardt that provides scientific modeling for the environmental response of wood, glue sizing, and gesso and predicts through experimentation the conditions required to induce permanent damage in these materials, singly and in combination. Although their arguments are accessible for the conservation audience, the 34 graphs and handful of abstract equations may overwhelm uninitiated readers from the community of art historians, artists, and craftspersons. Eric Hansen and Mitchell Bishop offer a lengthy discussion of paint consolidation. The authors present a conversational text that offers a theoretical understanding of consolidation problems but does not ground the subject in scientific experimentation and data as in their previous publications. Stefan Michalski et al. offer an inventive and practical piece of applied science for treating paint-consolidation problems. Their plan for an ultrasonic mister is fully described, encouraging additional experimentation by conservation practitioners. The final paper by Richard Wolbers, Mary McGinn, and Deborah Duerbeck puts a new resin, poly(2-ethyl-2-oxazoline), through a battery of tests to determine its suitability for conservation. The authors describe a unique and objective new way to test for resolubilization using glass bead pairs. The case studies of test applications are only briefly described but demonstrate certain advantages of this polymer over other consolidants.
Although sorting the symposium's papers into various headings provides some structure and guidance, the reader should take care not to miss any of the hidden gems. There will always be alternative ways to shuffle and present the papers at hand, and different hierarchies for arrangement. But ultimately these papers are stand-alone works that can be similarly pursued and understood in any order. In the preface the editors invite the reader to compare the diverse handling of universal concerns, such as questions of authenticity, problems of interpretation, ethical dilemmas during treatment, and technical challenges to conservation, across the diverse subject matter presented. When papers are compared in this way, the reader will discover the real benefit of this compilation: the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. This symposium and its publication provide a benchmark in the conservation of these materials. This text will be a useful reference for all conservators, historians, and other serious students of paint-decorated wooden objects.KoryBerrettBerrett Conservation Studio, 3054 Reisler Rd., Oxford, Pa. 19363-2263FABRIC OF AN EXHIBITION: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH. Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute, 1997. 206 pages, softcover, $50. Preprints of a conference available from Extension Services, Canadian Conservation Institute, 1030 Innes Rd., Ottawa, Ont. K1A 0M5. ISBN 0-660-60261-XKSYNIAMARKO, ED., TEXTILES IN TRUST. PROCEEDINGS OF THE SYMPOSIUM. London: Archetype Publications in association with the National Trust, 1997. 198 pages, hardcover, £35. Available from Archetype Publications Ltd., 6 Fitzroy Sq., London W1P 6DX. ISBN 1-831-32263
Papers from the first of the North American Textile Conservation Conference's meetings (a much expanded follow-up to the now-defunct Harpers Ferry Symposia) should be a welcome addition to professional literature in the poorly represented field of textile conservation. Unfortunately, preprints are written so far in advance of the conference that they tend to be vague and often barely resemble the verbal presentations that come later.
Judged only as a publication and with no reference to the verbal presentation, Fabric of an Exhibition falls somewhat short of its promise to cover “new and innovative approaches and solutions to problems faced daily by conservators, designers and curators” dealing with the exhibition of textiles. On the other hand, it does provide a good survey of the exhibition techniques conservators are using both in North America and other regions of the world in the late 20th century.
The intended audience for this publication is unclear. As a conference designed to encourage collaborative presentations from conservators and other museum professionals (designers, curators), the themes tend to be very general and focused toward a more general museum audience. Again, this is where a publication can fall short of the dynamic interaction of a conference. Not only are we missing the bulk of the visual images that would accompany these presentations, but also as readers we are “deaf” to the questions and discussions these papers would have provoked.
There are examples of very clever solutions to some display problems. The “wiggly former” for the support of a William Morris velvet curtain (“Can High Productivity be Productive?” by Jonathan Ashley-Smith and Lynda Hillyer) and channeled mounts for flags (“Flying the Flag Down Under” by Catherine Challenor and Wendy Dodd) are particularly noteworthy.
I was struck by the juxtaposition of the views and solutions of the first (Ashley-Smith and Hillyer) and last (Cara Varnell) papers of the book. While the Victoria and Albert Museum has emerged from many years of permanent exhibitions of textiles to create long-term exhibitions in which textiles can rotate within reasonable time periods, Hollywood has opted for the “forever” solution. One is tempted to think that everything, and nothing, changes in this field. We still cry for cooperation among the conservator and the curator/designer/client. It would appear that perseverance, on the one hand, and polite participation, on the other, can move us as close as we ever will get to the perfection we seek in this arena.
Despite the shortcomings of the preprint as a method of publication, Fabric of an Exhibition is a publication you will probably want to have on your bookshelf. Its value lies chiefly in its documentation of an era in the textile conservation profession, and it will be a useful text to review in future years.
As a postprint of the 1995 symposium, Textiles in Trust has overcome the vagaries of a preconference offering. The papers are well edited, but because of the nature of the conference (both reminiscence and new research), the book consists of many papers dedicated to “the way we were” and simple overviews of textile conservation problems (light, temperature, relative humidity, etc.). As with Fabric of an Exhibition, the intended audience seems general rather than professional, to a great degree. The emphasis seems to be on care, housekeeping, and maintenance rather than intensive treatment (“the way we are”), conflicts between preservation and presentation, and the important role that volunteers have played in conserving textiles in England's National Trust.
Of note in this volume is a discussion of different upholstery treatments based on different end use (K. Gill and D. Eastop) with nice cross-section drawings. Ksynia Marko's discussion of the rescue of fire-damaged textiles and Poppy Singer and Annabel Wylie's work on the damaged state bed at Uppark in 1989 are good additions to the literature on disaster recovery. Several papers discuss historical treatments, but of special interest is Sheila Landi's revisiting of conservation treatments dating to 1969. Within the poster session summaries, note Val Davies' recording of pH from different locations chosen for different kinds of soiling and procedures for wet-cleaning curtains.
It is not necessarily a criticism to say that both of these publications represent the status quo in textile conservation. We have long complained that there is insufficient literature that reflects the everyday practices in the profession. These publications both go a long way in discussing the range of preservation and presentation techniques for textiles as these techniques are practiced in the 20th century, and, in the case of Textiles in Trust, also provide a good summary of historical approaches to treatment for long-term (permanent) display. That there is little new to say is more of a commentary on the decline of new research and the shrinking budgets that focus energy on developing clever methods of maintenance rather than on vastly different and new techniques.SaraWolfTextile Museum, 2320 S St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20008CHANDRA L.REEDY, HIMALAYAN BRONZES: TECHNOLOGY, STYLE, AND CHOICES. Newark, Del., and London: University of Delaware Press and Associated University Presses, 1997. 341 pages, hardcover $95. Available from Associated University Presses, 440 Forsgate Dr., Cranbury, N.J. 08512. ISBN 0-87413-570-2HIRAM W.WOODWARDJR., THE SACRED SCULPTURE OF THAILAND: THE ALEXANDER B. GRISWOLD COLLECTION - THE WALTERS ART GALLERY. With contributions by Donna K. Strahan, Terry Drayman-Weisser, Julie A. Lauffenberger, Chandra L. Reedy, and Richard Newman. Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery, 1997. 326 pages, hardcover $60. Available from Walters Art Gallery, 600 North Charles St., Baltimore, Md. 21201, or University of Washington Press, P.O. Box 50096, Seattle, Wash. 98145-5096. ISBN 0-295-97665-9
These two books together form an outstanding contribution to the study of Asian art. Their publication in the same year is an event to celebrate. They belong on the bookshelf of anyone interested in Buddhist bronzes. The thorough and scholarly approach of these volumes will delight conservators, collectors, art historians, and historians of technology. I know that their appearance pleases me, as I was involved with both of these studies. I met with Woody in Bangkok in 1971, borrowed bronzes from Griswold to test before the Thai Bronze Treatment Project (see W. T. Chase, Bronze Disease and its Treatment, Department of Fine Arts, Thailand, 1975, and Louise Bacon and Kulapanthada Janposri, “The Thai bronze project,” Studies in Conservation, vol. 22, #1, February 1977, pp. 32–39), and helped Chandra take samples. Basically, I have been a cheering spectator during the production of both volumes, and I am pleased to see how well they have turned out.
In Himalayan Bronzes, Chandra Reedy, associate professor and coordinator of the Ph.D. Program in Art Conservation Research at the University of Delaware, details the examination of 340 copper-alloy statues. The statues came from many collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Robert H. Ellsworth, David Kamansky, Catherine and Ralph Benkaim, and Mrs. J. LeRoy Davidson. Dr. Reedy began the research for this project in 1982 as part of her doctoral dissertation, and continued the writing after moving to Delaware in 1989.
Dr. Reedy contends that the materials used in making the statues and the technology used to produce them can help to determine the region of origin for each of the statues. After an introduction, discussing “the technological approach to art history” and the concept of technological style, she lays out what is known about the origin of bronzes in the Himalayan area and then proceeds to discuss methods for gathering the data. The three areas covered are casting and decorating methods, metals, and clay core materials. Next, the combinations of data along with statistical methods are used to deduce the possible origins of the bronzes. The final results (the identification of eight groups of statues) are discussed statue by statue. This discussion is followed by a very interesting chapter of conclusions and summary. All of the raw data is presented in appendices, which also include an introduction to the statistical technique of stepwise discriminant analysis by Terry J. Reedy, discussion of thermoluminescence and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) carbon-14 tests, and three glossaries, “Sanskrit Terms,” “Tibetan Terms,” and “Selected Technical Terms.”
The Sacred Sculpture of Thailand “tells the story of the sculpture of Thailand, beginning in the 7th century and ending in the 18th. It tells the story through a very particular lens—that shaped by the collection formed by A. B. Griswold and now housed in the Walters Art Gallery” (p. 11). The Griswold collection contains sculptures in stone, stucco, and ceramics as well as bronze, and these are included in the catalog entries. The introduction discusses Griswold and the formation of his collection in Thailand beginning in 1945. He stopped adding to the collection in 1956, when he opened the museum wing at Breezewood, his estate near Baltimore. Since Griswold stopped collecting before the explosion of tourism in Thailand during the 1960s, his collection should be relatively free of forgeries and reproductions. Griswold's own accession notes are included in the provenance section in each catalog entry, but his scholarship and gracious elegance shine from the pages of the introduction.
The first chapter, “The Buddha Image in Thailand,” begins with a description of the large Buddha images in Thai monasteries and how they are worshiped. It moves on to the history of Buddhism and some of the different doctrines. Further headings within this chapter are “The Donor's Role”; “The Living Image”; “Proportions and Ideals”; “Polarities and Consecration”; “The Image as Symbol”; and “A Buddhist Aesthetics.” The chapter gives a succinct and helpful account of the meanings, forms, and uses of Buddha images in Thailand today.
The second chapter, “Bronze Casting in Thailand,” written by Donna K. Strahan, is a thorough discussion of lost-wax (cire perdue) casting as practiced in Thailand today. Most of the images in the catalog and many images recently produced were made by the direct lost-wax technique, in which the wax is modeled directly over a core. In the indirect lost-wax technique, a mold taken from an existing image is used to cast the wax, usually as a slush-cast shell. The wax shell is then filled with core material. There is no evidence that the indirect lost-wax technique was used in Thailand before the 20th century.
In either method, the wax plus core is then invested in the outer mold. The descriptions of pouring gates and runners, chaplets and plugs, and armatures within the core for strengthening are very detailed and thorough. Figure 12, showing a range of armature types, is especially helpful.
The section on alloy composition mentions the use of scrap and says that both bronze (copper and tin) and brass (copper and zinc) alloys are produced today. “With a few significant exceptions, brass images are made no earlier than the fifteenth century (or by the sixteenth at the latest).” The question of zinc in Thai bronzes is taken up further in appendix C. Significant amounts of zinc begin to appear regularly in Thai metal sculptures only in the 15th century. As pointed out in note 4 to appendix C, “This confirms the findings of Werner, Spektralanalytische … (1972).”
Remaining chapters discuss the history of Thai sculpture chronologically; each essay is followed by the catalog entries for the objects from that period. The catalog is completed by three appendices: appendix A, “Petrographic Analysis,” by Richard Newman; appendix B, “Analysis of the Clay Cores,” by Chandra L. Reedy; and appendix C, “Metal Analysis,” by Terry Drayman-Weisser, Julie A. Lauffenerger, and Donna K. Strahan. These are followed by notes, a helpful chronological chart, two maps, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.
The 100 catalog entries in The Sacred Sculpture of Thailand are models of completeness. Each starts with the catalog number and name of the object, where it was made and when, the material and dimensions, source, and accession number. It then gives the figure number or numbers in which the object is pictured in the catalog and the text pages where it is discussed in the essays. Next comes a short art-historical essay on the sculpture and its attribution or dating. This essay is followed by a full description of the sculpture, its pose, iconography, base, and so on. Provenance (where Griswold acquired it, other remarks from his registration files, and the object inventory number), alloy composition (figures from inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry [ICP-AES] analysis), remarks on radiography, thermoluminescence analysis, the grouping from thin-section analysis of the casting core, and any other relevant data are followed by a signed section marked “Technical comments.” These technical comments can run up to a page; they are very detailed and interesting.
Both of these volumes are excellently produced. The Sacred Sculpture of Thailand contains many colorplates, which are useful to the reader both in appreciating the sculptures and in understanding the text, especially casting and thin-section analysis.
Himalayan Bronzes has no colorplates. Some of the statues, especially the inlaid ones, would show up very well in color. Both volumes share the problem of not clearly locating the illustrations of individual objects within the volume. The Sacred Sculpture of Thailand handles the problem by consecutively numbering the figures throughout and referring to the figure numbers and the text page citations at the top of the individual catalog entries. In Himalayan Bronzes, figures are numbered decimally within the chapters, except that chapter 7, “Final Results: Regional Styles and Iconography of Himalayan Bronzes,” contains photographs of all of the bronzes arranged by region and time. The numbering system here begins with a letter designating the region (A = Afghanistan; K = Kashmir; W, C, and E = Western, Central, and Eastern Tibet, etc.), followed by a serial number for the object. The serial numbers are unique; thus, the Afghanistan sculptures are A1 through A11, North Pakistan sculptures P12 through P31, Kashmir sculptures K32 through K100, and so on. An index of analyzed sculptures at the back of the book tells where the sculpture is discussed and pictured. The whole system works quite well, except that in chapter 7, some pages with little or no text do not have page numbers. It can be hard to find an individual sculpture. The system of numbering with a unique serial number, however, proves its worth when referring to the tables at the end of the volume.
Within Himalayan Bronzes, there are a few entries to discuss. Sculpture K50, showing the jeweled form of the Buddha seated on a lotus (Asia Society, Rockefeller Collection, acc. no. 1979.44), is a particularly beautiful Kashmiri leaded brass of the 8th-9th century. It contains 28 original repairs; “a few are made of lead rather than brass.” Occasionally I have detected lead repairs on Himalayan bronzes in radiography or by white-lead corrosion products on the surface. It is nice to have confirmation from the examination of such a beautiful sculpture.
Sculpture W134, a West Tibet-style brass male seated figure of a yogi, is said to have three iron chaplets in a straight line up the center of the body on both the front and the back side. It also contains a large erect phallus inside the piece. One wonders if the chaplet placement has anything to do with chakras, the yogic centers of sensation. W134 is a marvelous and mysterious bronze, and has not yielded up all its secrets yet.
Within chapter 3, “Casting and decorating methods,” I found myself drawn to the section on repairs. When Dr. Reedy and I were examining some of these bronzes together, I was struck by the different qualities and numbers of repairs. In some cases the repairs were excellently done, in others badly done, and in some excellently started but then abandoned. The variety of repairs that we see on these pieces underscores the human dimension of their manufacture and draws us closer to their makers.
On page 84, the discussion of iron within the metallographic structure of two of the Kashmiri pieces is of great interest. In sculpture K55, the iron is in the form of magnetite and occurs at the grain boundaries. The object contains 1.3% iron, and is strongly magnetic. Another statue, K97, a leaded brass (26.8% zinc, 10.3% lead, and 2.8% iron) is also very magnetic. The cross section shows the presence of iron sulfides and iron particles throughout the metal, suggesting the use of a sulfide ore. In the case of K55, it is possible that a copper carbonate or oxide ore was used with iron oxide flux added. Magnetite would appear if the smelting process were not very sophisticated. Efficient smelting would have changed the iron oxide to metallic iron. The author points out that statue K55, a large Ekamukhalinga from the collection of Robert H. Ellsworth, is an extremely fine object. Its artistic sophistication far exceeds the moderate sophistication of the smelting process.
Statue P29, a Vairochana from North Pakistan (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ex. coll. Samuel Eilenberg, acc. no. 1987.218.7), is mentioned as having an AMS carbon-14 date in the 5th to 6th century, roughly contemporaneous with statue P14. Their alloys are very similar (18% and 20% tin, with no other alloy additions). With these similarities, one wonders why a 6th-century date was not assigned to P29. While the style and execution of the statues are somewhat different, the execution of the bottom tier of the lotus base is extremely similar. Perhaps these two statues are more contemporaneous than the text now implies.
Statue K40, an Avalokiteśvara, has an error in the dimensions, given as “H. 20.0 cm (50 3/4 in.).” I was particularly interested to know how large it was in comparison with the Sūrya, K41, with dimensions given as “H. 50.3 cm (19 3/4 in.).” One wonders if the dimensions on K40 were not reversed. Nevertheless, the 20.0-centimeter dimension is what appears for the entry for K40 in appendix 1, table A1.2.
In The Sacred Sculpture of Thailand, while the colorplates are very helpful, one wishes that the x-radiographs had been reproduced larger. At the present scale they are difficult to see.
Catalog number 12 (p. 66), a small 8th-century standing Buddha from northeastern Thailand, certainly shares features with bronzes discovered in Prakhonchai in the 1960s. The alloy compositions are very similar, and the small amount of zinc (0.11% here) repeats what we have seen on analyses of Prakhonchai material. The acquisition of the Griswold statue predates the discovery at Prakhonchai by at least a decade.
Catalog number 9 (p. 63) is an interesting example of repairs. Here the original bronze alloy composition is similar to the Prakhonchai material mentioned above. The repairs are lower in tin and with significantly higher zinc and lead. The thermoluminescence data show that the core was last fired less than 150 years ago. It is clear that this statue underwent massive repairs and that casting on of the large repairs affected the thermoluminescence age.
The wonderful levels of detail and thoroughness in this catalog are exemplified in entry 27 on page 100. This is a pedestal with three deities. It was originally put together from an old base and a platform bearing two or three images, buried, excavated, then painted and gilded, and then an old image of Vishnu screwed to the platform. All of the evidence for these multiple transformations is presented carefully in the catalog entry.
On page 104 porosity of the alloy is mentioned in connection with both catalog nos. 28 and 29. The high degree of porosity is ascribed to low lead (0.4%) in the castings. The tin and zinc are low as well (6% and 0.04% respectively). It seems to me that the porosity may be due to absorbed gases in the copper not being deoxidized by sufficient tin or zinc. Lead contributes to the fluidity of the molten bronze, but tin is a stronger deoxidizer. In any case, it is difficult to see the type of porosity on the reproduction of the radiograph (figure 102).
In catalog number 46, a leaded bronze standing Buddha dating to the 14th century, the age was confirmed by a radium-polonium (Ra/Po) authenticity test (a lead-210 test). This can be a very useful test; in this case it was a supplement to the thermoluminescence date, which stated that the core had been fired less than 100 years ago. Thermoluminescence has been affected here by another cast-on repair.
There are many other interesting individual findings in this catalog (brass introduction in the Sukothai period, arsenic in the Lan Na bronzes, etc.), but these will be left for the reader to discover.
Four more salient points apply to both volumes:
W.T.ChaseVisiting Professor, Conservation Science Laboratory, Graduate School of Conservation of Cultural Property, Tokyo Geijutsu Diagaku (Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music), Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan
- Core analysisThe petrographic analysis of cores proved critical in both of these studies. Chandra Reedy performed all of the analyses of cores. The results were very helpful in separating the various groups of Himalayan bronzes. Even with fewer cores, however, the results were critical in some of the groupings of Thai bronzes. While insufficient numbers of Thai bronzes were analyzed for a full application of the multivariate statistical methods used in the Himalayan group, the cores alone proved extremely valuable in some difficult differentiations. One hopes that more rigorous and more widespread applications of these methods will be made to Thai bronzes in other collections.
- Metal analysesThe metal analyses also proved very interesting and useful. For the Thai bronzes both x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry (ICPAES) were used. X-ray fluorescence is helpful because it can be applied to the bronze without sampling. One can get some idea of what the alloy is and can detect which parts are different. On the other hand, XRF surface analysis is inherently inaccurate, and in the case of leaded bronzes can be misleading. It is particularly nice that both methods were applied to the same objects and the results fully tabulated. In fact, this is an excellent job of analyzing the bronzes, presenting results, and interpreting the data.The same holds true for the analyses of the Himalayan bronzes in Dr. Reedy's book. Here all of the analyses were done by ICP. They are very useful in sorting out regions of origin, but there is a great deal of variation within the analyses from any one region.Alloy terminology as used in these two books is of interest. In Himalayan Bronzes, the term bronze is used in its broadest definition to refer to copper-based statues in general. “No one term (such as bronze, brass, copper, etc.) incorporates the full spectrum of materials used for casting medieval Himalayan statues, which range in composition from high-tin bronze to arsenical copper alloys, high-zinc brass, leaded bronze and leaded brass, complex copper-tin-zinc alloys, and unalloyed copper.” Dr. Reedy, in table 4.1 (p. 83), groups the alloys first by added elements; zinc greater than or equal to 2% and the same for tin and lead, while the lower bound for arsenic addition is set at 1%. In the second section of the table she groups them by “Added Zn-Sn-Pb Combination,” and the groups are “None (copper only),” “- - Pb,” “Zn - -,” “Zn − Pb,” “- Sn -,” “- Sn Pb,” “Zn Sn -,” and “Zn Sn Pb.” Actually, this grouping seems to work out rather well in terms of separating the bronzes.In The Sacred Sculpture of Thailand, if an object is almost pure copper, containing less than 1% tin or zinc, it is called copper. Bronze is an alloy of copper with more than 1% tin, and brass is an alloy of copper with more than 1% zinc. High-tin bronze is an alloy of copper with 15% or more tin. Zinc bronze is a copper-zinc-tin alloy with at least 1% zinc, but more tin than zinc. Tin brass is a similar alloy with at least 1% tin, but more zinc than tin. Arsenical copper and arsenical bronze contain more than 1% arsenic. Leaded bronze, leaded high tin bronze, etc. are used whenever an alloy contains more than 3% lead.The differences between these two approaches are not very great. Dr. Reedy tends to put the limits at 2% for zinc, tin, and lead, while the Walters group puts the limits at 1% for zinc and tin and 3% for lead. Since the statistical groupings are based on the numbers, rather than on the terminology, the differences are probably not of any importance. One hopes that the time is near when we can all adopt a uniform terminology for archaeological copper alloys.
- Lead isotopesIn both cases it would have been very nice to have lead isotope ratio data to work with as well. Many of the questions raised in both volumes have to do with geographic sources of origin for the bronzes. Lead isotope analysis is a very powerful technique for assigning the lead in a particular object to its place of origin or at least of grouping it together with similar leads in a single class of objects. Perhaps some lead isotope work could be done on these bronzes in the future. While it is expensive and time-consuming, lead isotope analyses can be very valuable in sorting out questions of origin.
- ApproachThe approach to the problems in both of these volumes shows terrific dedication. The rigorous application of statistical methods shown in Dr. Reedy's book is exemplary. One hopes that this sort of approach will be applied in other fields in the future.The Sacred Sculpture of Thailand is a catalog rather than a rigorous application to similar objects in many collections. While the gathering of a broad range of data on the objects has proven to be useful (especially the casting cores), the interest in this publication lies in the careful descriptions of the objects, their fabrication and condition, and placing them within the broader picture of the art history of Thailand. It succeeds admirably. We are promised a separate publication on fakes and forgeries arising from this work; this is a promise we must hold the authors to. A similarly rigorous book on fakes and forgeries in Thai art would be extremely useful to all of us.To summarize, these are both masterful and definitive treatments of their subjects. If you are interested in Thai or Himalayan bronzes, you need these books.