Pigments Used on Japanese Paintings from the Protohistoric Period through the 17th Century

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    Pigments Used on Japanese Paintings from the Protohistoric Period through the 17thCenturyAuthor(s): Kazuo Yamasaki and Yoshimichi EmotoSource: Ars Orientalis, Vol. 11 (1979), pp. 1-14Published by: Freer Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian Institution and Department of the Historyof Art, University of MichiganStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4629293 .Accessed: 31/05/2014 16:37

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    The first chemical study on pigments used in old paintings ofJapan was probably that on the wall painting of the Horyfuji temple near Nara carried out in 1919 by Masumi Chikashige,1 professor of inorganic chemistry at Kyoto University, who was also a pioneer in the chemical analysis of Chinese bronzes. Rokuro Uemura studied the coloring mate- rials in the paintings and textiles from sources found in Japanese literature, and gave chemical interpretations.2 An extensive his- torical study in the same field, especially on dyes, was made by Yukichika Maeda.3

    In this article studies of the pigments used on Japanese paintings from the protohistoric period through the 17th century, the early Edo period, will be presented. The methods of investigation included microchemical and spectrochemical analyses, infrared photo-

    * Professor Emeritus, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Nagoya University, Nagoya, 464 Japan.

    ** Department of Conservation Science, Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties, Tokyo, 110 Japan.

    1 HoUryi/ Hekiga Hozon Hoho Chosa Hokoku (Report on the Conservation of WVall Painting of the Horyuiji temple). (Tokyo: Ministry of Education, 1920. Re- printed in 1939).

    2 Rokuro Uemura, TWho Sensihoku Bunka no Kenkyui (Studies oni the dyeing culture in the East). (Tokyo: Dai-ichi Shobo, 1933).

    3 Yukichika Maeda. Vihon Shikisai Bunka Shi (Cul- tural History of Colors in Japan) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1960).

    graphy, X-ray diffraction and radiography, and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy.


    The early cultural periods in Japan are divided into two, the Jomon and the Yayoi periods, named after the respective types of pottery excavated. The former lasted until about the third century B.C. When it began is not yet certain, but a duration of several thousand years has been claimed by radio- carbon dating. The Yayoi period lasted from about the third century B. C. to about the third century A.D. From these two periods, however, no pictorial art in color is known, except for some pottery painted with red ochre or cinnabar. After the Yayoi period came a protohistoric period when huge mounds were constructed for the burial of the dead. It is thus called the Kofun period (Tumulus period) and lasted from about the third century to the end of the seventh century. The duration of the Tumulus period varies somewhat between the western part and the central part ofJapan. The end of the Tumulus period overlaps the historic Asuka- Nara period (552-793 A.D.) without clear demarcation.

    Some of the tombs of the fifth-seventh centuries in the tumulus period have under- ground funerary chambers decorated with paintings. Most of these tombs exist in the northern part of Kyuishui, i.e. Fukuoka and

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    Kumamoto prefectures, but in recent years more decorated tombs have been found in Kyushuf as well as in the central and eastern parts of the main island, Honshu. As of 1974, the total number of tombs decorated with colors amounted to 95, with 36 in Fukuoka, 4 in Saga, 31 in Kumamoto, 8 in Oita, 1 in Hyogo, 1 in Wakayama, 3 in Kanagawa, 3 in Ibaraki, 4 in Fukushima and 4 in Miyagi prefectures. 4

    In 1949-1950 Yamasaki5 examined pig- ments from about forty of these tombs including all the important ones in Kuma- moto and Fukuoka prefectures that had been studied archaeologically. Most of the tombs have only simple decorations such as concentric circles or triangles painted in red alone, but some have figures such as men, horses, birds, and boats in addition to geometric designs. The most gorgeously decorated tomb in Japan is the Otsuka tomb (king's tomb) in Fukuoka prefecture.6 All the

    4 Shigetaka Otomasu (editor). Soshoku Kofun to Monyo (Decorated Tomb and Patterns), Vol. 8 of Kodaishi Hakkutsu (Discovery of Ancient History). (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1974), pp. 152-160.

    5 Kazuo Yamasaki, "Soshoku Kofun no Ganryo no Kagakuteki Kenkyui (Chemical Studies on the Pig- ments of Ancient Decorated Tombs in Japan)." Kobunkazai no Kagaku (Scientific Papers on Japanese Antiques and Art Crafts), no. 2(1951), p. 8; idem., "Technical Studies on the Ancient Art Objects in Japan, with Special Reference to the Treasures Pre- served in the Sh6s6in", Application of Science in Exami- nation of Works of Art, Proceedings of the Seminar, 1965 (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1967), pp. 114-125 and Figure 18; idem., "Pigments employed in Old Paintings of Japan". Archaeological Chemistry, A sym- posium. Martin Levey (Editor). (Philadelphia: Uni- versity of Pennsylvania Press, 1967), pp. 347-365, Figure 3.

    6 Sueji Umehara and Yukio Kobayashi, "Chikuzen no Kuni Kaho-gun Otsuka Soshoku Kofun (Otsuka Dec- orated Tomb, Kaho County, Chikuzen Province)", Report on Archaeological Research in the Department of Literature, Iy5to Imperial University, vol. 15 (Kyoto: Ky5to Imperial University, 1939).

    TABLE 1

    Pigments Used in the Otsuka Tomb (mid-6th Century)

    Color Pigments

    white clay (sericite?) * red impure red ochre (a-Fe203) * yellow impure yellow ochre (a-quartz,

    orthoclase and sericite)* green powdered green rock (glauconite)* black black mineral containing iron

    and manganese (amorphous manganese mineral) *

    * Minerals shown in the parentheses were identified mainly bh X-rav diffraction (see footnote 7).

    walls of the funerary chamber were covered with paintings representing horses, men, quivers and swords, triangles and mysterious geometrical figures. Five colors are used: white, red, yellow, green, and black. The pigments of this Otsuka tomb were studied again in 1969 by Emoto by X-ray diffraction as part of the conservation work.7 These results are listed in Table 1.

    A survey of the pigments used in other decorated tombs in Kyfushiu showed that the kinds of pigments were almost the same as in Table 1. In addition carbon was used as a black pigment. Only coloring materials found near the tombs were used, and no pigments such as azurite, malachite, and cinnabar were found. Probably the use of such bright colored minerals was not known in Kyuishiu at that time. As an example of a decorated tomb situated in the eastern part of Japan the early seventh century painting of the Torazuka tomb, Ibaraki prefecture, is shown in Figure 1. The figures are painted with red

    7 Yoshimichi Emoto, "Otsuka Kofun no Hozon (Conservation of the Otsuka Tomb)", Report on the Conservation of Decorated Tombs (Fukuoka Prefectural Office, 1975).

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    V VV

    W.1 oo?

    I V.Te i jsi vew ft Tak to 5 s 4* . , 4 w4 - jp;s.s a ,; A r o s+s>$ - w

    FIG. 1. The inside view of the Torazuka tomb, Katsuta, Iharaki prefecture, just after opening of the entrance. Figures are painted in red on the ground coating of clay.

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    Takamatsuzuka Tomb Western Wall Ceiling

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    c c .25 cm Eastern Wal1

    FIG. 2.-Positions of the painting in the Takamatsuzuka tomb. Eastern wall, 1 ) southern panel (four men), 2) middle panel (Blue Dragon), and 3) northern panel (four women). 4) Northern wall (Serpent-tortoise). Western wall, 5) northern panel (four women), 6) middle panel (White Tiger), and 7) southern panel (four men). 8) Southern wall (no painting remained). 9) The position of the ceiling where a celestial constellation is painted. The broken lines indicate the joints of the slabs.

    ochre over a white gro