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Friday, June 1 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Material Questions) The Colors of Desire: Examination of Colorants in the Beauties of the Yoshiwara

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Woodblock prints, first produced in Japan during the sixth to eighth century, progressed from early black line prints, sometimes with hand-applied color, to vibrant full color printed images by late 18th century. Publishing proliferated in response to the literate population’s desire for books and affordable imagery. Prints and printed books, with or without illustrations, became an integral part of daily life. Known broadly as ukiyo-e, literally meaning pictures of the floating world, these prints depicted Kabuki actors, beautiful women, scenes from history or legend, views of Edo, landscapes, and erotica. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) collection of Japanese woodblock prints numbers over 50,000, representing the full-range Japanese woodblock printing development. From 1998, when the first conservator dedicated to this collection was hired, work has been ongoing to document, treat, and re-house this vast collection and thus enable its use in exhibitions, scholarship, and research. While numerous literature studies have been conducted on the history of the printing techniques and materials, the MFA’ s study is the first to use a combination of visual and non-invasive spectroscopic techniques to systematically identify the thin layer(s) of inorganic and organic colorants on Japanese woodblock prints. The combination of the large study set and the ideal analysis techniques have provided the MFA with the unique opportunity to fully characterize the palette and techniques on these prints. To illustrate the range of results obtained from this large-scale study, this presentation will examine a sampling of the techniques and palette used for the 1770 printing Harunobu’s five volumes of Beauties of the Yoshiwara. Every illustration was surveyed using a stereo binocular microscope to determine which colors were overprinted to create new tones. The illustrations were also viewed under ultraviolet radiation to reveal the characteristic fluorescence or absorption properties of the individual colors. Following these visual inspections, colors were examined by three spectroscopic analysis methods that did not require sampling. X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) provided information on the chemical elements found in inorganic pigments. The red and yellow organic colorants, such as madder, safflower, sappanwood, turmeric, flavonoids, and gamboge, were indicated by Excitation Emission Matrix (EEM) fluorescence. Fiber-optic Reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) was used to readily distinguish between dayflower and indigo blue, even in mixtures that appear green or purple. The parameters of the analysis methods were thoroughly vetted using printed references of traditional Japanese colors that were prepared in-house. This combination of techniques, both visual and spectroscopic, was critical towards gaining a better understanding of the materials and techniques used for the prints.

avatar for Michiko Adachi

Michiko Adachi

Sherman Fairchild Fellow, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Michiko Adachi received an M.A. and Advanced Certificate in Art Conservation in 2016 from the Art Conservation program at Buffalo State College, where she studied paper conservation. She has had previous internships at the Library of Congress and the MFA Boston. As an undergraduate... Read More →
avatar for Michele Derrick

Michele Derrick

Scientist/Researcher, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Michele R. Derrick is a chemist and conservation scientist with more than twenty years’ experience analyzing and characterizing materials. She worked at the University of Arizona Analytical Center and then for twelve years as a conservation scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute... Read More →

avatar for Richard Newman

Richard Newman

Head of Scientific Research, Museum of Fine Arts
Richard Newman is Head of Scientific Research at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he has worked as Research Scientist since 1986. He holds a B.A. in Art History, M.A. in Geology and completed a three-year apprenticeship in conservation science at the Center for Conservation... Read More →

Joan Wright-[PA]

Bettina Burr Conservator, Asian Conservation, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Joan Wright is the Bettina Burr Conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston where she has worked since 1998. She is the conservator in charge of the care of Japanese woodblock prints, Indian and Islamic paintings and illustrated books and manuscripts. From 2005-2010 with museum... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 2:00pm - 2:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom A Marriott Marquis Houston