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Preliminary work began in 2004 to examine the Mazarin Chest, to assess its condition, and to document where and why it was damaged. The key issues identified were damage associated with splits in the wooden substrate, lifting metal foil decoration, lifting mother-of-pearl decoration, degradation of the lacquer surface due to exposure to light, and the need to replace degraded old fills and remove associated poor quality retouching.


The main conservation aims were:

  • to re-adhere or support loose decoration. 加飾部の剥落止めあるいは補強を行うこと。
  • to remove restoration coatings where possible - the ideal was to achieve a final appearance that was consistent over the whole object and consistent with its age and history. 後世修理の塗料と修理材をできるだけ除去すること。その目標として、修復後の外観が、作品の全体性だけでなく、時代的、歴史的に一貫性を保つよう仕上げることを目指すこと。
  • to minimise further deterioration as much as possible, for example by improving the conditions in which the chest is stored or displayed. 例えば保管や展示環境の改善などにより、これ以上損傷が進行しないようにすること。

Detailed photographs were taken during the initial assessment period, a range of possible treatments were discussed, and areas requiring further research were agreed. Some initial cleaning to remove old wax and oil coatings was also undertaken.


Yoshihiko Yamashita and Shayne Rivers working on the Mazarin Chest, 2005

Yoshihiko Yamashita and Shayne Rivers working on the Mazarin Chest, 2005


A Collaborative Approach


There are two sides to conservation - the 'how' and the 'why'. The 'how' of conservation is about choosing materials and techniques that will best ensure the long-term physical survival of an object. The 'why' of conservation is about understanding what is valued about an object so that, when conservation is finished, the underlying significance of the object is enhanced rather than diminished.


The Mazarin Chest is an extraordinary object. Like all objects, it is understood and interpreted through a filter of cultural values, and these differ in Japan and the UK. In order to conserve the intangible aspects of the chest, it was important to understand and acknowledge these differences.


Cultural values determine the perceived worth of objects and by extension how conservators approach their treatment. For example, in the UK, considerable importance is placed on artistic creativity and the work of the individual who created the piece. This is one of the cultural values that underpin the ideal of reversibility (or, more recently, retreatability), which remains a powerful and defining motivation for British conservators. This ideal leads British conservators to try to preserve as much original material as possible with as little permanent change as possible.


In the UK, Japanese lacquer objects are valued for their artistic expression, skill of execution and history. 'Reversible' materials are used by conservators, who strive to minimise permanent alteration of the original in the belief that that this is the best way to maintain the integrity and authenticity of objects they are treating.


The qualities ascribed to lacquer in Japan similarly reflect broader cultural values, such as a strong sense of community, the importance of tradition and the uniqueness of Japan. Because lacquer and lacquer-making skills have such a long history, lacquerware is seen to be an embodiment of the spirit of Japan. Thus, as well as being valued for their artistic beauty and the skill with which they were made, lacquer objects are seen to be imbued with an additional cultural resonance whose integrity, continuity and authenticity Japanese restorers and conservators strive to maintain. Careful attention is paid to the materials originally used to make lacquer objects, and similar or identical materials are used in their treatment even when, as in the case of urushi-based materials, they are irreversible. Conversely, the use of (more readily reversible) synthetic materials is perceived as diminishing the essential Japaneseness of lacquer and thus its cultural value.


Conservators in Japan and the UK both strive to maintain the authenticity of lacquer objects. In Japan this has been done by using urushi-based materials, while in the UK it has been done by avoiding urushi-based materials. A significant innovation of the Mazarin Chest Project was to utilise two lacquer conservators, one Japanese (Yoshihiko Yamashita) and one British / Australian (Shayne Rivers), in order to stimulate a creative dialogue that would result in the application of their complementary knowledge and expertise to the conservation of the Mazarin Chest.

日本とイギリスのコンサバターは漆器の真実性を保存しようと試みます。日本では漆を修理材として使い、イギリスでは逆に漆の使用を避けようとします。マザラン・チェスト・プロジェクトの画期性は、日本の漆芸修復家(山下好彦)と英国 / オーストラリア人コンサバター(シェイン・リバーズ)の共同作業を通して、それぞれの知見とノウハウを共有しながら、マザラン・チェストの保存に向けて実りのある対話を推進したところにありました。

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