Asian lacquer, the cured sap of some endemic trees growing in Southeast Asia, Japan and China, is a widespread organic coating material for e.g. the production of utilitarian items, objects and architecture. Its intrinsic qualities in terms of durability, hardness and gloss is unique and is hence the fundament of its long-lasting preservation. Since the 16th century Asian lacquer was highly appreciated in Europe and became an exotic luxury item. A large part of surviving objects still remain in some European museum collections.
This project focuses mainly on the scientific study of the interactions of cleaning solvents with the lacquer surface in order to formulate “best practices” for cleaning Asian lacquers.
The project is jointly executed by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH) and Ghent University (UGhent). It is funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) in the scope of the Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks program (BRAIN-be, grant number xxxxx) and supported by the Getty Conservation Institute and Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.
There will be special attention to the lacquer collection of the RMAH, inventorying the lacquered objects in the vast collection and evaluating the current condition of the lacquerware and proposing “best practises” for safe cleaning and hence their long-term preservation.
To elucidate the solvent/lacquer interactions, chemical analyses will be carried out at the KIK-IRPA and UGhent, on mock-up and real-life samples, applying mainly complimentary chromatographic and mass spectrometric techniques. Based on the thorough inventory of the Asian lacquer collection of the RMAH, some objects actually stored in the reserves, will be cleaned using solvents which are – based on the outcome of the chemical research – proven to be safe and effective.