Conserving Vulture Peak | Episode 8: Examining the back of the embroidery
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Conserving Vulture Peak | Episode 8: Examining the back of the embroidery

January 4, 2020

When you last saw this embroidery, we
had just begun the process of removing that 1912 restoration fabric. As you can see we’ve now completed that process and you can see the full extent
of the back of the embroidery. It took us about a week and a half to remove the
restoration fabric and really the reason why it took such a long time and was
quite challenging is first of all the extent of the thousands of restoration
stitches and also due to the fragility of the object. So we’re very careful to
remove all of those restoration stitches so we could peel the fabric back
without causing any damage to the embroidery. So areas like this where
there’s a lot of damage to the hemp if we hadn’t removed all of the stitches first
there would have been a great risk of damaging the fabric and damaging the
silk in particular. Here you can see the one piece of the restoration fabric that
we’ve left. The embroidery stitches are loose and the only thing holding them
down really are those restoration stitches. So it would be very difficult
to remove these without damaging that area, so we’ve decided to leave that
piece it’s also quite nice to just leave one section as a record of that
so that campaign of conservation back in the
early 20th century. This is a really fantastic opportunity to see the back of
the embroidery and to learn a bit more about its construction and what techniques
were used in its making. So one thing that you can see more clearly than from
the front are these seams that run the full length both here and here and we
can also see several patches on the reverse of the embroidery. Those were all
put in place whilst the embroidery was in use between the eighth and eleventh
centuries. It was thought that split stitch was used for most of the
embroidery and that some areas such as this arm was stitched using chain stitch
and looking at the back we were able to confirm that actually it is all split
stitch. So in this area, there’s lots of information about the embroidery and
how the embroidery was carried out because there are so many knots and
threads on the back where they have changed colors or jumped from one area
to another. So here you can see a blue thread that’s been left loose on the
back and then after carrying out the blue embroidery, they’ve then stitched in
cream and those cream stitches have accidentally caught the blue thread at
the back so this is quite useful information because it tells us what
order the embroidery has been carried out. And here you can see there are lots
of knots where they’ve started the embroidery so they’ve started all these
different stitching threads in the same place before carrying them around the
circumference of the halo. On the back you can see a lot of the staining
that we saw on the front so there are stains generally across the bottom section
here and that’s likely to be from use, it could also be from its
time being stored in the cave at Dunhuang. Another area that’s particularly
interesting, we were looking at the stains on this side here and then suddenly
just thought oh that’s, that’s very odd that stain looks like lines it looks
like a character and it does seem to be actually a Chinese character on the
reverse of the embroidery so we’re quite excited about this and today earlier
have been using infrared photography to try and get a better image of that
because it’s likely to be carbon black so that will show up better under infrared
photography than normal light. We’ve been hypothesizing it could be the
mark of the embroiderer of one of the makers of the piece or
or of the donors or it could be something a bit more mundane and
everyday such as the mark put on the fabric when it was being bought and sold
or made so we’re hoping that we can get someone to read that but it may or may
not be legible enough we’ll see. Another tool is using UV light it can be quite a
useful and non-destructive way of identifying dyes or helping
to identify them. So I’m going to put my goggles on and have a look. So I’m going to shine the UV light over the embroidery and compare the different
threads. Let’s take a look. Oh wow! And I can already see a lot of the threads
are really fluorescing quite brightly the cream-colored threads in Buddha’s face
and the kind of yellow and cream threads in the halo really strongly fluorescing.
A little bit of orange coloured fluorescence in those pinky threads
which would suggest that it’s a Safflower dye and again here, there’s
this very striking orange fluorescence So when we were looking at this part of the bodhisattva’s robes earlier you could
see it was two different shades of green on either side. Looking at this under the UV
light it becomes quite clear that that difference in green is due to different yellow
dyes present on one side and the other. This is a very striking section of the
Buddha’s torso and arm that’s really glowing under the UV light. Now we’ve had a really good
thorough examination of the reverse of the embroidery and it’s been
really great to use a variety of techniques, the infrared, the UV to really
look at those colours. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because
nobody’s seen the reverse since 1912 when it was restored before, and hopefully if
our conservation project does its job then nobody will see the reverse again
for another 100 years. It will be hard to say goodbye to the reverse, but we’ve got to move
forward with the project and get the embroidery safely conserved
so it can go on display.

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  2. Hmm I have a question. Do not the lights in the conservation room, and the lights from the camera work not degrade the colour in the artefact? Additionally, as the artefact is being recorded by multiple cameras at multiple wavelengths of light, will there be an effort to try to reconstruct the original colours of the artefact? Light and humidity seem to be at least of the two of the dangers that threaten this piece.

  3. That was fascinating. When you first started this series, I thought meh, might be ok, but it's turned out to get more and more interesting as you uncover more of it's secrets. I really need to know now what those characters mean lol Thank you, more like this please

  4. The characters shown at 4:46 appear to actually be upside down. The first character (the lower one as shown in the video) is 海 (sea, ocean), as far as I can tell.

  5. It's really inspiring to see the passion, expertise and finesse of the conservators you are featuring in this series. Thanks for putting them in the spotlight!

  6. Sir Aurel stein has stolen this embroidery among other artefacts and manuscripts ! Then the moral question is how you donate something that you ve stolen and how you legalise that in 1943 at the middle of WW2 ?

  7. The amount of attention to detail is impressive. The whole restoration process is extraordinary. I hope they will post more video on different things they display in museum. Very educational.

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