Scientific evidence by fluorescence spectrometry for safflower red on ancient Japanese textiles stored in the Shosoin Treasure House repository

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Nakamura, Rikiya; Tanaka, Yoko; Ogata, Atsuhiko; Masakazu, Naruse;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 59, Number 6, p.367-376 (2014)


Shosoin textiles, handed down from the eighth century in Nara, Japan, have entranced many people with their beautiful colors made from natural dyes. Dye analysis of the Shosoin textiles, including the red carpet laid inside the workshop hall at the Todaiji Temple in Nara, used for the inauguration of the statue of the Great Buddha in the temple in 752 AD; a red undergarment and a gown with a tie-dyed design worn by craftsmen in the Todaiji Temple; and embroidered shoes belonging to Empress Komyo (701–760 AD), were conducted by excitation–emission matrix fluorescence spectrometry equipped with a fiber optics probe. Comparison of the spectra to references identified safflower red (Carthamus tinctorius L.) in the red or orange areas on these original textiles. The spectrometry of the gown and the shoes offered the identification not only of safflower red but also of amur cork tree. This study finds these examples to be the oldest scientifically confirmed presence of safflower red on historic textiles at present.