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Japanese experts help preserve Vietnamese antiquities

Update: October, 27/2018 - 09:27
Japanese experts work on conservation of the Amitabha Buddha statue. — Photo courtesy of the museum
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — Japanese experts have helped repair and preserve many Vietnamese antiques, director of the National Museum of History Nguyễn Văn Cường said at a conference held on Thursday in Hà Nội.

The wooden doors at Phổ Minh Pagoda and the Amitabha Buddha statue stored by the museum are among the seriously damaged artefacts which have been restored thanks to the support of Japanese experts.

“Preserving antiques is the most important mission of a museum, besides researching, collecting and displaying antiquities,” he said.

“In Việt Nam, the work hasn’t been done well due to the limitation of human resources, budget and awareness of the importance of preservation.”

“Over the six years, the museum received generous financial support from Japan’s Sumitomo Fund. Many Japanese experts like Kawai Hisamitsu, Katayama Tsuyoshi, Katayama Yoshiki, and Oshima Kentaro have been sent to Việt Nam to help repair and protect many antiques stored at the museum.”

The conference gathered Vietnamese and Japanese experts to exchange experiences and knowledge in preservation. They also discussed solutions to upgrade the quality of preservation at museums and promote international co-operation in this field.

The Amitabha Buddha statue belongs to the Kamakura period in Japan (13th century). It is made from wood with gilt lacquer. The surface is painted in black lacquer with decorative motifs applied in gold pigment and cut gold leaf. The figure wears a robe and lowers the left hand with the palm facing forward and thumb and index fingers joined. The right hand is raised to the level of the shoulder, with palm facing forward and thumb and index finger joined. Both hands form the Amitabha mudra, welcoming spirits to the Pure Land. The figure’s feet are spread apart slightly and he stands on a lotus pedestal. The nimbus that would have framed the figure from behind has been lost.

This figure originally belonged to the collection of the Tokyo National Museum (then Tokyo Imperial Household Museum). It is one of the artefacts the museum granted to the l’École Française d’Extrème Orient (EFEO) which had its main offices in Hà Nội at the time of an exchange between the two agencies in 1943.

Now the statue is stored and preserved by the National Museum of History. Director Cường said that in addition to being valuable examples of Japanese Buddhist sculpture existing in Southeast Asia, they are also very important witnesses to the history of cultural exchange between our two countries.

“Overall, the lacquered surface exhibits fine cracking and uplifting with evidence of some areas of loss,” said Cường.

“Areas of gold pigment and applied cut gold leaf in the designs exhibit losses due to deterioration over time. Adhesive affixing the spiral curls of hair to the head has weakened and approximately half of the curls have been lost.”

Meanwhile, the doors of Phổ Minh Pagoda dating from the Trần Dynasty (13th-14th century) in the northern province of Nam Định also been repaired thanks to the project.

The door is created with two large sheets of ironwood (1.91m by 1.39m). The top is decorated by four dragons, divided into two symmetrical pairs. Dragons that are decorated on carved wooden doors are always characterized by a high lifted head, curving body and tail toward the top of bodhi leaves.

Phổ Minh Pagoda was built from the Lý Dynasty (the 10th century) and was restored during the Trần dynasty. The pagoda was listed as a National Relic in 1962.

“It took three years for us to work with Vietnamese specialists to repair these antiques,” said Kawai Hisamitsu. “The conservation was divided into different steps, investigation, making of the lost pieces, fixing the surface, reinforcing surfaces and finishing with an antique look.” — VNS

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