Testing an Antique Buddha

Aside from determining the condition of artworks, conservators are also frequently asked to ascertain the authenticity of objects. Such tasks are usually quite complex as it involves careful inspection of works of art that have been used over
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                  Testing an Antique Buddha Aside from determining the condition of artworks, conservators are also frequently asked toascertain the authenticity of objects. Such tasks are usually quite complex as it involves carefulinspection of works of art that have been used over generations and are a part of the inventory of aliving environment. In order to come to a conclusive result, these artworks have to bescientifically analysed, in most cases by destructive sampling, such as in Thermoluminescence,Radio Carbon Dating and Electron Scanning Microscopy - EDX.An alternative approach to sampling, by using non-destructive analytical equipment, is describedhere. In the case of the artwork analysed below, industrial techniques and equipment readilyavailable in the Asian Pacific Region were applied. Working hand in hand with specialists in thephysical sciences, and applying archaeometallurgical and forensic science, a light on the history of the artwork was shed.The Arakan Seated Buddha is suggested to haveoriginated around the 16th or 17th century fromBurma. The figure is 102 mm high and its surface hasbeen recently reworked. The newly applied gilding isso extensive that any definition and detailed features of the face and other parts are completely lost.Closer investigation using a binocular microscopeindicated a black-brown lacquer layer underneath thegold paint.The lacquer that covered the metallic surface of theBuddha, however, did not extend into the hollowcavity on the underside. The underside displayed oxidecorrosion found on archaeological bronzes. Afterdiscussion with the owner it was decided to remove therecently applied lacquer and gilding.The “srcinal” surface revealed various surprises: The body up to the neck is a light colouredsilvery bronze. The head is a pale yellow copper colour and the prominent bump on the top of thehead (Ushnisha; which refers to his wisdom and openness as an enlightened being) is a yellow,slightly green tinted colour. The body up to the neck is very rough and is covered in pittingcorrosion. This type of corrosion is to be expected from an archaeological bronze. The corrosionpits are lined with the natural occurring black copper oxides.The upper part of the chest, shoulders, neck and head, are covered with scratches from filing andworking the surface. There are 2 sets of scratches. The first, only found on the body, have thesame black oxide corrosion as the pitting. Indicating that they are from the same period as thepitting, therefore ancient. The second set of scratches increases along the neckline and run from  the chest, over the cast line into the head and are notcorroded at all. This means they are more recent.Due to the variations in colour and corrosion presenton the surface, it was decided to analyse the metalspresent. Qualitative XRF analysis was undertaken todifferentiate the alloys present (see appendix).The analysis revealed that the body is a classicalcopper-tin-lead alloy with traces of silver. The headis a copper-tin-zinc alloy and the tip of the head acopper-zinc alloy. The complex composition of thetip, begged the question how it is related to the head.For further insight on how the Buddha wasconstructed, the sculpture was X-rayed.The X-ray revealed some of the technology applied. Thecentre of the body and legs is found to be less dense incomposition indicating, like other classic bronze works,that it was created by the lost wax casting process. Thehead is very dense in comparison to the centre of thebody, therefore a solid cast. The tip according to previousmetal analysis is clearly a different material and the x-rayreveals that the metal was inserted into the head at a laterpoint, probably by drilling the head after it was cast ontothe body.The body with its corroded surface and oxidised srcinaltool-marks is naturally corroded. This type of corrosion isfrequently found on bronze sculptures discovered duringexcavations. The head however was cast on at a muchlater date. It does not reveal any kind of corrosion and thetool-marks are post corrosion of the body of the Buddha.The surface of head and the srcinal shoulders were levelled recently, by filing, indicated by notcorroded tool-marks on both surfaces. The tip of the head was inserted into the head through ahole, probably drilled into the top of the calotte after the head was cast onto the body. Like thehead it does not display any corrosion, which would be expected on an ancient bronze surface.The restoration or renovation of a Buddha is an old tradition still practiced today. The re-lacquering and re-gilding of their surfaces has been done for centuries. Visually it is therefore notstraightforward to ascertain which parts are new or old, or if an artefact is a complete fake or areproduction. In the present case conservation knowledge and non-destructive analysis using X-Ray Fluorescence and X-Ray Radiography, have given an insight into the processes applied. Theyhave indicated components that are antique and more recent additions. It shows that non-  destructive analytical techniques are a very valuable tool in determining the technologies appliedin the past and clarify discrepancies in material and deterioration processes found on an artefact.These techniques are less time consuming than destructive-sampling, since they do not damagethe srcinal substance of an artefact, do not require sample preparation and restoration of thesampled area after the analysis.Robert B. Faltermeier Ph.D.Singapore 2 8 September   2006 Please take notice that any disclosure, copying, distribution or use of any part of the contents of this report is strictly prohibited and the copyright resides with FALTERMEIER  X-ray Fluorescence Analysison the body, head andUshnisha of the Buddha. Appendix 
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