Research and Treatment
Museum conservation grants awarded by the Foundation have also supported projects that extend beyond intervention to include interdisciplinary research about materials, manufacture, or historic context. At the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, a collaborative conservation treatment project is in progress to preserve the museum’s seventeenth-century Mazarin chest, one of the foremost examples of Japanese export lacquer (urushi) in the world.Made of black-lacquered wood, the chest is sumptuously decorated with scenes from The Tale of Genji and The Tale of the Soga Brothers. The lavish ornamentation includes metal inlay, mother-of-pearl, carved gold and silver figures, and gilded copper corner and lock plates. Centuries of exposure to light as well as cyclical changes in temperature and relative humidity have caused a gradual deterioration in the chest’s condition, and poor adhesion of its lacquer and decorations made it too fragile to display. To remedy this situation, conservators at the V&A brought together an interdisciplinary team, including art historians, conservation scientists, and conservators from Japan. As they study the aging characteristics of urushi surfaces exposed to various light sources and changing humidity cycles, they also seek to develop an integrated approach that respects both modern international conservation ethics and traditional Japanese conservation values.