Recently I welcomed Senior Conservator Dana Melchar to the V&A Science Lab, to look closely at the most colourful little objects. Three small barniz de Pasto flasks, originating from what is modern-day Colombia, are preciously decorated with birds, animals, and flowers, in colours on a glossy black ground.
The flasks are made of the round end of a gourd and decorated with mopa mopa, a translucent resin obtained from the leaf buds of Elaeagia pastoensis Mora, a tree that grows in the mountainous, tropical rain forests of southwest Colombia.
While I could already admire the vibrant and imaginative decoration with the naked eye, the finest details of the decoration can only be fully appreciated under a microscope. For this purpose, I used a Hirox digital microscope on a portable flexible arm and a range of lenses that gave me access to different magnifications and light settings.
Polarised light illumination allowed me to reduce the reflection of the light and enhance the finest features, capturing the details of the glossy surface, including the decorative infills and small areas of damage due to usage age.
The digital microscope also allowed me to record 360° observation videos, by using a rotary head adaptor. The videos give the opportunity to appreciate the finest modelling of the decorative items on the flasks’ surfaces.
To find out more about these wonderful objects, join us in person or online at the ‘Lacquer in the Americas’ conference, on the 13 and 14 April 2023 at the V&A, or read the soon-to-be published multidisciplinary publication, available open access on MDPI Heritage, in English and Spanish.