In this special column highlighting artefacts from the diverse National Collection, four conservators and one conservation scientist from the Heritage Conservation Centre share with us an artefact that speaks to them and the conservation process required for each unique item.
MUSESG Volume 14 Issue 1 – July 2021
Text by Damian Lizun, Senior Conservator (Paintings)
Read the full MUSE SG Vol 14. Issue 1
The painting Murugan Surrounded by Planetary Deities from the Asian Civilisations Museum Collection is a rare 19th-century painted representation of a three-headed standing Murugan—a Hindu and Tamil deity—with a peacock vehicle. Often found in Buddhist monasteries all over Sri Lanka, this depiction demonstrates the absorption of Hindu deities into Buddhism. This painting also provides an insight into the provincial Kandyan style that diffused in the 19th century as the kingdom lost its power and the artists disbanded.
Created in a water-based technique, the painting was made on two wooden planks originally held together by a tongue-and-groove joint and natural glue. The main conservation issues were the separation of the panel at the joint as well as the development of splits and spiral distortion caused by the contraction of the wooden material. The paint layer was also covered with surface dirt, and it had several cracks resulting from the unstable wooden support. It was decided to reduce the planks’ spiral distortion and rejoin them using the traditional glueing technique.
Meticulous cleaning of the paint layer gradually revealed the original vivid colours. However, the most challenging part of the conservation process was the linear stabilisation of the panel, which consisted of pulling and gluing distorted surfaces back into the panel. The success of these complex treatments required risk assessment and good planning, combined with knowledge and skills. Since the painting was going to be displayed permanently, it was important to frame it in such a way as to improve its integrity and display conditions. Thus, a wooden frame was designed and fabricated to compensate for some minor panel distortions and to enhance the look of the painting.