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14th-century Japanese hanging scroll conserved at VMFA with grant from the Sumitomo Foundation

Newly-restored ancient scroll returns to public viewing for the first time in more than a decade

Trevor Dickerson

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has announced that conservation of a 14th-century Japanese scroll painting in the museum’s collection, Standing Arhat, has been completed with grant support from the Sumitomo Foundation in Japan. The Sumitomo Foundation grant awarded to the museum is specifically intended for the protection, preservation and restoration of cultural properties outside Japan.

“Standing Arhat is one of the earliest and most important Buddhist paintings in our permanent collection. It is essential that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts preserves such great works of art so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come,” said VMFA’s Director and CEO Alex Nyerges. “We appreciate the generous support from the Sumitomo Foundation for this conservation project.”

The painting on silk portrays an arhat, an enlightened follower of Shakyamuni Buddha, standing with his hands clasped in prayer, and his facial expression conveying inner spirit, sincerity and devotion. The arhat’s youthful face suggests that he represents Ananda, a great disciple of Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, who lived in India in the 6th century BC. This painting is a rare, surviving image of Ananda.

“The fine brushwork and the floral pattern on the lining of the monk’s mantle reveal the Chinese prototype of 14th-century imagery and textile design,” said Li Jian, VMFA’s E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art. “Such depiction reflects the cross-cultural influence and exchange between Japan and China in the early 14th century.”

Standing Arhat was acquired from an art dealer in Kyoto in 1962 by Virginia architect and art collector Albert Hinckley Jr., who gifted it to VMFA ten years later, in 1972. Due to its fragile and unstable condition, this scroll has not been exhibited in the museum’s East Asian gallery for more than a decade. During the past 20 years, VMFA has invited conservators and scholars to examine the painting, document its condition and propose conservation treatment methods.

The funding from the Sumitomo Foundation provided for the cleaning, restoration and remounting of the painting, work performed by Nishio Conservation Studio in consultation with Debbie Linn, Interim Chief Conservator, and other conservators in VMFA’s Susan and David Goode Center for Advanced Study in Art Conservation over the past year. With the completion of the project, Standing Arhat has returned to the museum and is back on public view in the museum’s Japanese gallery. With the painted scroll displayed alongside Buddhist sculptures and objects, VMFA is able to tell a more comprehensive story of Japanese art and culture.

The digitized image of Standing Arhat is also available worldwide for viewing and research in the museum’s online collection archive on the museum’s website at www.VMFA.museum.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.