We Won, We Won!

25 artifacts.

100,000 votes.

Ten winners.

The Hermitage is pleased to announce that our 18th century Korean tapestry is ONE OF VIRGINIA’S TOP TEN ENDANGERED ARTIFACTS!

So what does that mean, exactly?

It means that we have an important object in our collection that is in desperate need of conservation, and the people of Virginia agree.

What is this important object, and why should I care?

KOREAN SAKYAMUNI TRIAD PAINTING

18th Century, Possibly circa 1730

Ink, gold and color on cloth; 10 feet 2 inches x 9 feet 9 inches (355.1cm x 297.2cm)

Depicting the central figure of Buddha seated dhyanasana on a raised dias and backed by a double nimbus. Wearing monastic robes, he positions his hands in bhumisparsa* and dhyana mudra. He is flanked by two elaborately costumed and bejeweled bodhisattva, probably Avalokitesvara and Mañjusri. Standing in the background are attendant Buddhas. Seated in front are two figures in monastic garb. The figure in brown robes to the right is the Arhat Añgaja (Yin-chie-the Tsun-chê), one of the Buddha’s original eighteen disciples. The figure on the left is unidentified.

* The bhumisparsa (Earth-touching) mudra identifies the figure as the Historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, at the moment he reaches Enlightenment and touches the earth to announce the event.

Once more in English, please?

This is a Korean painting of the Sakyamuni (SAH-kya-MOO-nee) Triad.  It is made of ink, gold, and color on silk cloth and would have been used as a wall hanging in a temple.  Sakyamuni is a specific name for the Historical Buddha (or the founder of Buddhism), while a triad is an assembly of three related figures.

In this painting, Sakyamuni is seated in a position of meditation in which the legs are crossed with the soles of the feet turned upward.  Sakyamuni’s right hand is making the Earth-touching hand gesture, which identifies him as the Historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, at the moment he reaches Enlightenment and touches the earth.

Behind Sakyamuni is a double halo that surrounds a holy person.  On either side of him are bodhisattvas, or holy persons who have become enlightened and can progress to Nirvana (heaven) but have chosen to stay behind and guide others.  In the background are attendant buddhas, who are there to help the Buddha.  In the front of the painting are two persons in monk’s clothing; to the right in a brown robe is Arhat Angaja, one of the Buddha’s original eighteen disciples.

Fun fact: The Buddha has long ear lobes to show that he once was wealthy and wore jewelry, but has since given up the pleasures of the earth.  The Bodhisattvas wear extensive jewelry to represent their ties to the world.

This is the largest (and finest) Korean textile painting in any collection outside of Korea. It is important to art historians of all stripes and needs conservation in order to garner the scholarship it deserves.

Here are some detail shots, including some images of damage:

Note Buddha’s long earlobes!

How much will it cost to conserve?

$20,000 (to stabilize) – $60,000 (to completely restore and display)

Wait, WHAT?

I know. Insane.

The tapestry was assessed by Nishio Conservation Studios in Washington, D.C. in 2007. They are the best in the business. Total conservation will require four conservators and take approximately two months. So, quite a lengthy and expensive process.

The conservation process, as outlined by Nishio, will include: removing overpaint, reinforcing horizontal creases, stabilizing uplifting and flaking paint. Filling losses. Inpainting and remounting.

Where is it, and why isn’t it on display now?

The tapestry is currently rolled, covered in tyvek, and suspended from the ceiling in the hallway of our museum offices. There simply isn’t another suitable space for it.

(It is the largest center roll, covered in white.)

We can’t display the tapestry because it is too fragile to hang. I would love to spread it out on a table, but we would need some sort of custom built display table with a plexiglass hood… and I would rather put the [no doubt astronomical] cost of that towards actually conserving the piece. Here is the tapestry last time it was unrolled, taking up most of the Central Hall:

If we raise the money to conserve the tapestry, it would most likely be hung in the Great Hall as part of our upcoming re-installation of the Asian collection.

What can I do to help?

Every drop counts toward our final goal. Please, please, please consider donating toward our conservation fund online here. Even if it’s just one dollar, I can’t tell you how incredibly affirming it is for us to see those donations come in. Some days it feels like I’m shouting down a well, but when I see that a reader in London sent us a few dollars (which is approximately 30 pence after the exchange rate, amiright?) it makes my whole week.

If you would rather deal with me directly via email or phone, I would be delighted! My phone number is 757-423-2052 x204, or you can email me at lnorthup(at)thehermitagemuseum.org.

In sum: thank you Virginia Association of Museums for running the contest, thank you Nishio Conservation Studies, and thank you dear readers for voting us to the top! Let’s make this happen!

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