Dharmapala Thangka CentreSchool of Thangka Painting


Restoring and Preserving Thangkas


Our principles for restoration work

Thangkas are traditionally stored rolled and then unrolled for display – this causes damage to the paint layer and textile over time. In addition changes in climate have brought increasing heavy downpours of rain and this has seeped through the flat clay roofs of old monasteries causing damage not only to the interior structure of monasteries but also artefacts inside.

When restoring and preserving thangkas, the thangka painter must not resort to personal interpretations or even deviate from the iconographic rules that have been handed down. Otherwise there would be a danger of losing the fundamental meaning of the scroll painting. He must therefore keep all parts of the painting to be restored exactly in the original version. The iconometric precision and iconographic references are the main foundations of his work. The stylistic differences, both from the different periods and from the respective geographical origins, also leave no room for random creations.

If you want to have a thangka restored or have questions about your scroll painting, please contact the conservator and and author of this article Anja Lienemann.

Introduction

When restoring and preserving thangkas, the thangka painter must not resort to personal interpretations or even deviate from the iconographic rules that have been handed down. Otherwise there would be a danger of losing the fundamental meaning of the scroll painting. He must therefore keep all parts of the painting to be restored exactly in the original version. The iconometric precision and iconographic references are the main foundations of his work. The stylistic differences, both from the different periods and from the respective geographical origins, also leave no room for random creations.

From its origin a thangka is a commodity for the meditation of the believer. Mostly it consists of a painting on textile or paper with a textile frame and further textile accessories like a veil for covering and ribbons or cords. It is rolled an unrolled, will be transported and is exposed to soot and the changes of climate.

So we can observe a number of damages on thangkas: The canvas has become rotten and crumbly due to movement, age and humidity, partly already breaks and losses can be noticed. The paint layer is covered with hairline cracks, often rubbed off or even already vanished. Very often water edges, brownish colourings or other colour changes of the precious pigments can be found.

Very often the textile parts of the scroll picture of silk and metal threads are even more severely damaged. Here large tears and losses of material in veil and textile framing are to be found just as loose threads at the edges or torn cords.

Possible Ways for Treatment

The measures for conservating a thangka depend on which purpose it is meant to serve: Does the scroll painting function further on for meditations, is it an object in a museum or does it rather serve decorative purposes?

The answers to these questions may influence the way any conservation will change the object for there are often different ways of solution. However, some main principles in conservation build up the framework of each concept:

There should be as little intervention into the original substance as possible, that is for example, as few original seams as necessary should be undone, no authentic material will be removed, but it is to be preserved. The consolidation procedure should be reversible as far as possible and the material applied should have a high resistance against ageing.

Regarding these aspects a thangka that will be used further on will need more support than a mere piece of collection. Should conservation as described above will not be enough, the object must be withdrawn from further practise.

A thangka meant for decoration must fulfil certain aesthetic demands. Special sensitive feeling is wanted here as there could be worlds between "preserving historic substance" and "looking really neat again".

These aspects gain interest when you encounter already formerly treated objects as in the following. Here you have to consider how far this old repair will damage the object as it belongs already to its history and thus it is to be preserved.

Author: Conservation & Restoration of textile cultural objects

Anja Lienemann, Dipl.-Restauratorin [FH], Zur Höhe 5, 53809 Ruppichteroth, Germany, Phone.:/Fax: +49 2295 901447


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