Rebirth of the Jewel (in the Lotus): The Conservation of Buddhist Figures

January is the time of year that many of us consider new beginnings and fresh starts. Many of us resolve to be more conscientious about our diets, exercise more frequently, and to be more mindful and compassionate in our interactions with others. It is in this spirit of renewal that we feature the recent rebirth through conservation of two Buddhist statues. Purchased by our clients at auction in 2001 the statues, not unlike all sentient beings, had suffered with the passage of time. 

The figures share a number of characteristics of Buddhist imagery: the elongated earlobes associated with the princely albeit decadent life the Buddha left behind, the downcast eyes associated with the contemplative life lived by the Buddha and the lotus flower with its manifold petals and significations. 

The first figure is poised atop a lotus flower, a traditional representation of emergence from darkness and into light. Accordingly, the subject presents the the kurana mudra, a hand gesture traditionally associated with the banishment of negativity.  After our gilding conservator Kevin Lawler consolidated the gilding and polychrome with reversible conservation adhesives and surface cleaned the piece, the figure’s serene countenance was inpainted with sympathetic mica powders. A thin layer of microcrystalline wax was applied to the surface of the piece to protect its freshly rejuvenated finish.

The second figure is more ornately carved and more boldly painted than his more austerely clad companion. This figure offers the vitarka mudra commonly associated with intellectual discussion and argument. The surface of the figure exhibited a higher concentration of surface particulates and film than its companion, and corrosion was becoming evident at its base. It was estimated that half of the figure’s flesh, depicted in gilding, was exposed and prone to corrosion. After being photographed for in-house documentation, scattered accretions and surface films were removed through cleaning. Corrosion present at the figure’s base was mitigated as best as possible using appropriate conservation methods and materials. Finally, a protective layer of microcrystalline wax was applied to the figure's surface. 

Although our clients are not practicing Buddhists, the statues enrich their home with "gentle reminders of balance, to seek the middle road, and to be compassionate," a sensibility as useful in life as it is in the field of conservation. 

 Figure 1: Before

Figure 1: Before

 Figure 1: After

Figure 1: After

 Figure 2: Before

Figure 2: Before

 Figure 2: After

Figure 2: After

CONTACT US
312.944.5401