Clarke, Matthew L., Gabrieli, Francesca, Rowberg, Kathryn L., Hare, Andrew, Ueda, Jiro, McCarthy, Blythe, and Delaney, John K. 2021. "Imaging spectroscopies to characterize a 13th century Japanese handscroll, The Miraculous Interventions of Jizo Bosatsu." Heritage Science 9 (1):20-20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-021-00497-1
Scientific imaging of a large fragile work of art can be especially challenging, but especially rewarding to better grasp the complexity and changes that have occurred during its creation and lifetime. Here, noninvasive imaging, macro X-ray fluorescence (MAXRF) imaging spectroscopy and reflectance imaging spectroscopy, from the visible to the near infrared spectral range, are utilized to document a 14-m-long Japanese narrative handscroll, The Miraculous Interventions of Jizo Bosatsu. Due to the scroll's age and its handling during past use as a teaching tool, it has a number of conservation needs and shows evidence of past repairs. The scroll has extensive and severe creasing, breaks and tears, as well as unstable and powdering pigments. Microscopic observation and scientific analyses were performed both to document the current condition of the scroll and to better understand its long history. Combining RIS and MAXRF allowed for pigment characterization through elemental and molecular information. While RIS and MAXRF previously have been applied to the study of other painted materials, their application to East Asian paintings is rare. The obstacles of the scroll's length and fragile uneven surface were overcome by optimizing the setups of the two imaging systems. The MAXRF and RIS analyses, here focused on a select scene of the scroll, found certain original pigments common in early Japanese scroll paintings were used frequently, such as vermilion, iron-based compounds (yellow and red ochres), and copper-containing greens, while others occurred sparingly, such as azurite and red lead. A chloride-containing lead-based white pigment was employed. Faded organic colorants, notably indigo as well as an organic yellow/brown, could be detected but their vibrancy has been muted over the centuries. In the case of indigo, it may be visibly observed in some areas; however, analysis revealed its previously unknown presence mixed with a copper green in a select area. This focused study sets a foundation for further studies on both this object and other Asian works of art.