Diagram of remaining historic wall-paintings in Serkhang monastery, Amdo Tibet The Sangye Lhakhang Temple in the centre of Serkhang Monastery is the oldest building of the complex and can be dated to the 14th century. Its interior circumambulation passage was entirely painted with murals depicting arrangements of deities and lamas. During the 1960s, they were plastered over. A complete iconographic assessment is one of the aims of the project.
For the conservation of the historic wall-paintings, THF worked with German restorers Christine and Patrick Jürgens who started with documentation, analysis and tests in 2006. Since then, work on cleaning, stabilizing and final presentation has progressed considerably.

1. Damage analysis


Damage type at historic Tibetan Buddhist wall-paintings in Serkhang monastery in AmdoDamage type 1- mud layer

Paintings completely covered by a layer of mud but presumably well-preserved underneath.
This area is not cleaned yet or not well cleaned, which is a chance for the paintings to get professionally cleaned and therefore conserved as much as possible.

THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 2 – loss of paint layer I

Loss of paintlayer due to too heavy cleaning method when removing the mud. The context of the image is still visible.
This area is dirty (dust, spider webs, thin haze of mud) and should be cleaned carefully and preserved. The question of retouching has to be discussed.

THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 3 – loss of paintlayer II
Loss of paintlayer due to unprofessional (and careless) cleaning when removing the mud. The painting condition is much worse than Damage 2. The context of the image has to be interpreted. Carefully cleaning and conservation (fixing and consolidation of paintlayer) should be done. The question of retouching has to be discussed.

THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 4 – loss of paintlayer III

Extremely damaged area due to heavy and careless cleaning. Context of the painting is lost.
There is not much that can be done any more. The question of retouching has to be discussed, although there is not enough left of the old painting to justify a complete retouching.

THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 5 – mud runners

Probably due to leaking problems of the roof, there are mud runners, of whom some are very thick and strong.
They have to be removed because of aesthetic aspects as well as of conservation aspects.



THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 6 – Craquelle

The paintlayer is cracked into many small pieces, probably due to heavy stress in the binding media.
The pieces need to be smoothed, flattened and refixed to the underground.



THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 7 – deep scratches
The causes of these damages are unknown.
It needs to be locally decided whether conservation work on these areas (such as filling and retouching) should be done, or whether they areas should be kept like they are. The original condition (i.e. with paint layer) can not be reconstituted, and the scratches are part of the history.

THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 8 – polished surface
The very glossy surface appears always at the inner corner in the height of people's hands. This phenomena comes due to many, many hands, touching the wall while performing corcumambulation.
There is nothing to be done. It should be accepted as a document of time and use.

THF damage analysis of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryDamage 9 – heavy cracks
There are some heavy cracks in the walls. They are always located where the beams supporting the roof are inside the walls. So it is clear they are caused by structural reasons, most likely different thermal and hydrothermal behaviours of the wooden beams and the mud walls.
They should be filled in the backspace and closed at the surface. But without any kind of layer between wood and plaster, this cracks will soon come again.





2. Results of Test Areas for Cleaning


THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monastery2.1 test area 01

Green Tara with red halo (southwest-inside wall)
Condition: The paintlayer is lost in big parts and the whole area is dusty and covered by a very thin haze of mud. The green pigment is very instable and the yellow pigment is already lost. There are fine underpaintings, that are still visible in many THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryplaces where the colour is lost already.
Cleaning: With akapads (hard) for the dust and cleaning brushes (small nr.1) for the parts of strong and thick mud applications, it was possible to clean this part very carefully and successfully. The test area became much more colour intensive and clearer. The goddess is easer to read now.


THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monastery2.2 test area 02
Red and black flames (southwest-inside w.)
Condition: The surface is covered by dust and a hard and strong layer of dirt and mud. Some parts, especially on the red pigment are coated by a kind of glossy cover, that is very hard and brittle and maybe attributes to THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryescaped binding media from the paintlayer or a kind of varnish. The area shows just very view losses of paintlayer.

Cleaning: First step was done with a hard akapad sponge to remove the loose dust and dirt. Hard mud crusts could be reduced with cleaning brushes (nr.1) and for the glossy cover the use of scalpel and glas-fiber eraser showed good results.

THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monastery2.3 test area 3

Part (feet) of a big Dzamballah-figure (west-inside w.)

Condition: Extremely dusty and mud covered surface with several mud runners. The context of the picture is more or less invisible.

THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryCleaning: With cleaning brushes (nr.1, nr.6) and akapads good results could be gained. The blue and yellow pigment is very instable and hard to clean without loosing it. The mud runners could be removed with glass-fibre erasers as well as the orange and red areas got a brighter colour by treating it with glass-fibre eraser. After the cleaning treatment there was a complete picture with quite good colours and a complete readable context.

THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monastery2.4 test area 04

White Tara in a red circle (west-outside w.)

Condition: This area should work as an information area, to explain the cause of most damages and the vulnerability of the paintings to water and physical contact of . The white Tara is more or less completely lost and with the cleaning only the colours became brighter, but the picture is still destroyed. The surface is still covered by a thin layer of mud and partly by a coating, that is probably a kind of varnish or escaped binding media from the paintlayer like in area 2.

THF conservation of historic Tibetan wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang monasteryCleaning: The green pigment is impossible to clean at all and the blue pigment could be cleaned by the use of a scalpel but with great losses to the paintlayer. On the red and orange is a glossy coating, that could be reduced by glas-fiber eraser. All in all it is just possible to clean the area, so that the colours become much brighter
and clearer and not to regain the context of the picture.


THF conservation of historic Tibetan Buddhist wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang





Work 2007-2008


THF's mural conservation team at first documented the paintings digitally and recorded present condition and damages in order to develop the intervention plan.

Because of the complete lack of trained Tibetan restorers, THF has placed priority on training a local team. THF conservation of historic Tibetan Buddhist wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang: trainee ShardruktsoThis currently consists of two Tibetan and one Mongolian students who are being trained on site. THF conservation of historic Tibetan Buddhist wall-paintings in Amdo Serkhang: two Tibetan traineesThe team of experts and trainees jointly worked on four walls, cleaning the paintings and developing adequate stabilization and repair methods for the various damages.
In the Tibetan context, it is important that the original iconography of an image is complete, particularly the face and the hands. Therefore, in order to satisfy the requirements of the local community, some degree of re-touching will be necessary. Training of local wall-painting restorers on siteThis will be discussed with the local community once the other works have been completed.
In 2007, about 70% of documentation and 30% of cleaning work has been completed.

THF Amdo Serkhang Mural Conservation Team 2007This project was supported by the Royal Dutch Embassy of the Netherlands, the Foundation For Cultural Heritage and Art Research 文化財保護芸術研究助成財団 (Japan), MISEREOR (Germany) and Ms Virginia Yee (HK).


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