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Vase Panels

Four of the thirty-nine vase panels in the center of the upper portion of the altar are different in color. Conservators investigated their anomalous appearance using X-radiography, which revealed that two panels have a hidden, underlying lotus blossom design (see figure A below). The discovery of the underlying paint shows that the panels were fabricated from another painted wooden artifact—with a matching lotus design— and then repainted to match the vase panels on the altar. Most likely, these panels were recycled from another piece of furniture, since wood is scarce in many parts of Tibet.

X-radiograph of a vase panel showing an underlying lotus blossom design. It closely matches the lotus design on the drawer fronts, as indicated by the outline of the vase panel at right. (The image of the drawer front is rotated 90 degrees.) It follows that the vase panel was fabricated from a similarly painted wooden artifact.

The other two anomalous panels also appear to be replacements but actually are original to the altar (see figure B below). Their original decoration matches the design and paint composition of the other vase panels, but was covered over by modern polyvinyl acetate paint and glittery mica gilding (possibly to disguise damage). A faux dirt layer consisting of charcoal and resin was applied to the surface of the paint, to mimic the patina (or aged appearance) of the altar. In the conservation treatment, these newer materials were preserved as part of the history of the altar.

The second vase panel from the left, which is original to the altar, was repainted with modern paint, possibly to disguise old damage.

Ultraviolet light photomicrograph
of a paint cross section from the
repainted vase panel. Note the large
black charcoal particles used to
simulate a patina of age and use.