Technical analysis of a Central Asian wall painting detached from a Buddhist cave temple on the northern Silk Road

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Birgit Angelika Schmidt; Martin Andreas Ziemann; Simone Pentzien; Toralf Gabsch; Werner Koch; Jörg Krüger;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 61, Number 2, p.113-122 (2016)


A great number of Central Asian wall paintings, archeological materials, architectural fragments, and textiles, as well as painting fragments on silk and paper, make up the so called Turfan Collection at the Asian Art Museum in Berlin. The largest part of the collection comes from the Kucha region, a very important cultural center in the third to ninth centuries. Between 1902 and 1914, four German expeditions traveled along the northern Silk Road. During these expeditions, wall paintings were detached from their original settings in Buddhist cave complexes. This paper reports a technical study of a wall painting, existing in eight fragments, from the Buddhist cave no. 40 (Ritterhöhle). Its original painted surface is soot blackened and largely illegible. Grünwedel, leader of the first and third expeditions, described the almost complete destruction of the rediscovered temple complex and evidence of fire damage. The aim of this case study is to identify the materials used for the wall paintings. Furthermore, soot deposits as well as materials from conservation interventions were of interest. Non-invasive analyses were preferred but a limited number of samples were taken to provide more precise information on the painting technique. By employing optical and scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, micro X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction analysis, and Raman spectroscopy, a layer sequence of earthen render, a ground layer made of gypsum, and a paint layer containing a variety of inorganic pigments were identified.