Recently, Nelson-Atkins conservators and photographers completed their first survey of the Museum’s monumental Chinese wall painting, Paradise of Tejraprabha Buddha. The columns and other gallery architecture had previously made it impossible to photograph the entire wall in one shot.
The solution came in the use of digital photography. With funding from the Getty Grant Foundation, Museum photographers digitally photographed every inch of the mural’s surface.
Once all the sections were photographed and stitched together, Museum conservators analyzed the entire surface for its condition. Such findings as exposed clay, fill material, old restorations, cracks, flaking and metal supports were individually noted.
These accurate, high resolution images will ensure a more precise way to monitor any changes in the wall’s condition over time. They will be used by conservators, as well as scholars world wide.
About the painting
Measuring over 23-feet high and 48-feet wide, the Museum’s monumental Chinese wall painting, Paradise of Tejraprabha Buddha, is one of the few surviving examples from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), a period of great accomplishment for Chinese mural painting.
The wall was made in one piece for the temple, but it was cut into 47 sections to ship the painting out of China. The Nelson-Atkins acquired the mural in 1932. The 47 pieces were strengthened with plaster and steel before it was attached to the Museum’s wall in 1933.
Originally, this painting was the center of spiritual rituals in a Buddhist monastery in Shanxi province called the Monastery of Expansive Victory.
In the mural, Buddha is surrounded by a group of attendants. In the center of the wall is Tejraprabha, whose name literally means “blazing light.” This Buddha’s spiritual enlightenment becomes more impressive when we realize that the figures surrounding him represent celestial bodies, including the sun, moon and five planets of traditional Chinese astronomy.
Bright colors dominate the center of the mural, with dark colors used extensively around the outer edges. The artists purposefully painted in this manner to create the illusion that the entire assembly is illuminated by light radiating from the central Buddha.