Blogpost 011: New materials, final stages of restoration, and a web app!

After two years of intensive work, the restoration is now in its final phase. Remounting the screen is the stage in which all carefully prepared materials come together. The basis is the newly constructed screen: a custom-made eight-fold lattice covered in blank paper. The blue damask silk woven to match the original, and the newly printed decorative paper will adorn the completely restored painting.

Reconstruction of the silk borders

As we mentioned in the previous blog post, a lot of work has been carried out in Japan on weaving the fabric for the wide blue border around the painting, the ōberi. With the help of many, this silk damask has been reconstructed based on the original silk that was mounted around the folding screen as decoration. The pattern could be pieced together section by section, after which a specialized weaver in Kyoto could program a loom. The original colour could be traced back to narrow strips of fabric that were folded around the edges of the screen, and thus had suffered less light damage. The end result is simultaneously tasteful and spectacular.

The silk border consists of the narrow strip of brocade silk, koberi, and the wider strip of blue silk damask, ōberi. Under lighting at this angle, the pattern can also be discerned in the original silk ( in the top, although that was probably clear). The folded edge is still about as blue as this entire fabric once was.

Reconstruction of the decorative paper for the back

We also reported in blog post 10 that we were looking at the possibilities for the decorative paper on the back. The layer of original paper we found in the screen had a pattern of flying phoenixes in overlapping roundels. Since this pattern, called suzumegata, is quite common, the consideration was to have a paper printed from existing printing blocks. However, it was decided to have a new printing block cut to get an exact match with the original paper. The roundels in the pattern that was originally on the folding screen have an exceptionally large diameter and are also ever so slightly oval. The existing patterns from which to choose are only half the size, which gives a completely different effect. Moreover, these patterns feature not phoenixes but sparrows, suzume, from which the name of this pattern is derived. This decision meant the additional step of reconstructing the pattern by the block cutters who work with this technique. Again, the end result is astonishingly close to the colours and shape of the original.

A rectangular piece of the original decorative paper, karakami, placed on a large sheet of the newly printed version. This comparison shows how well the pattern and colour have been reconstructed.
This is where the finishing touches are made to the new printing block for the decorative paper that adorns the back of the folding screen. Naoharu Usami, who had already made enormous efforts for the restoration project in both Leiden and Kyoto, also mediated in commissioning the silk and decorative paper.

Applying the painting to the panels

Before the painting was dismantled, the eight panels were no longer attached to each other. The paper hinges were torn in many places – another reason why folding screens are remounted from time to time. In short, this four-and-a-half meter wide panorama has not been seen as a whole for a long time. With the application of the eight parts of the painting to the new folding screen, the entire panorama has come into view once again.

The new custom made screen, ready for the painting to be applied. Three parts of the painting on temporary drying boards, to the left, are awaiting application onto the screen. 

Meanwhile, all parts of the painting have been attached to the new screen. An extremely precise undertaking that requires the utmost concentration. Just before the painting goes on, the decorative paper is applied to the back. This is to ensure that there is no difference in tension between the back and front of the panels, which could cause them to warp. After placement of the entire painting, the narrow strip of brocade silk was first applied around it. Then the wide blue damask was attached. That stage can be seen in the photo below.

A preview of the blue silk damask on the right side of the screen with the painting mounted on it. The narrow, dark blue brocade silk koberi is already in place around the entire painting.

Finishing touches and placement in the permanent exhibition

Although all segments of the decorative silk and paper have been mounted on the folding screen in the meantime, the restoration is not yet complete. The forward-facing hinges will still be covered with a coloured paper with snippets of gold leaf – again similar to the original covering. The rear-facing hinges are covered with the same paper as the entire back of the screen. This is followed by the wooden rails around the edges, finished in satin black lacquer. After a thorough check and a final retouch here or there, the screen is ready to be placed in the Japan and Korea gallery in Museum Volkenkunde.

Experience the stories of the folding screen with the Deshima Experience

In recent months, we have been working with the company FloatScans to build an app containing a selection of stories from the folding screen. The name: Deshima Experience. It is a web-based application, which means that no app needs to be installed. Very easy to view, on smartphone, tablet, laptop and so on. And very innovative: the folding screen can be admired with augmented reality, with which the screen can be placed virtually in your own environment. In addition, the stories are filled with related collection objects. Some of these have been 3D-scanned, so that these objects can be viewed from all sides. The best thing is to use the app in museum and get to know the details of the real folding screen even better. The Deshima Experience will be launched on September 23, 2021!

Read more blogs

Curator East Asia Daan Kok and Research Associate RCMC/Japan Davey Verhoeven write about the restoration and the results of their research of the folding screen every month. Those blog posts can be found on this overview page.