Advice on thangka condition and preservation

Q: Why does this painting look so damaged? Paintings we see in museums look perfect.

A: Paintings in museums look perfect because that is the Art Museum aesthetic. Damage and paint losses are “inpainted” to create visual cohesion. Anthropology museums, on the other hand, often leave paintings in their actual condition.

Did you know that if you removed the “inpainting” of conservators and restorers through the centuries, many of the paintings you see in museums, even the “Old Masters” would appear in this state, stable, but honestly showing the current condition after centuries of display, storage and usage? 

Q: What damaged this painting?

A: Through the centuries, this painting, as part of a thangka, was rolled up for storage and unrolled for display, then stored again rolled up. You can see the lines of damage to the cloth it was painted on, and losses to the “ground” and paint layers above. This thangka was displayed in a monastery against wet and cold stone walls and has suffered water damage and abrasion. A painter would be hired to paint a copy of a venerable older painting, in order to convey the story of the painting, but original paintings were not repainted to look new or perfect.

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