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Restoration Of Tosogu, Nihonto, Etc...


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Gents,

 

I wanted to present a link to a short piece on the restoration of Velazquez's Portrait of a Young Girl (Ca. 1649) because I think it raises interesting questions pertinent to our interests in nihonto, tosogu, katchu, etc...  Here is the link:

 

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2016/velazquez-portraits/portrait-of-a-young-girl

 

I am certainly not posting here in order to flame or be a troll on this subject.  Rather, the subject of restoration invites intriguing philosophical, aesthetic, and historical questions and pondering.  Too often, it seems to me, viewpoints on restoration are perhaps too rigid or close-minded, and/or are arrived at by uncritically examining the position of various authorities (or "authorities") on the matter, without investigating the assumptions, values, or beliefs held by those individuals. 

 

So, as concerns this Valazquez painting and its restoration, I would like to invite a discussion on where, why, and to what degree the approach taken in the restoration of this painting might differ or be similar to that taken in the restoration of, say, an important early steel tsuba.  For instance, are there any here who might object to any (or all of) of the restoration undertaken with this painting?  Are there any who would hold the position that the accrual of the material (dis)coloring the canvas should be seen as a positive thing, worthy of appreciation?  Or, would all agree that the restoration was necessary and/or a positive action?  Again, I am not seeking to bait anyone or lay a trap :glee: .  I am genuinely interested in the philosophies involved in questions of restoration and its methods, degrees, and which objects could/should be considered for restoration, and why. 

 

In returning to that important early steel tsuba (let's make it a Kaneie, for ease of reference), then, if that tsuba presented in a condition effectively analogous to the Velazquez painting prior to any restoration (as seen in the link), would we "leave well enough alone," or perhaps even appreciate the various layers of material as signs of the "beauty of aging"?   Would we remove some of these layers but not all?  If so, how would we decide how far to go with this, and based on what values/beliefs?  Or would we look to achieve the effective equivalent of the end result of restoration process with the Velazquez, and remove as much of that material covering the original canvas as possible?  If so, why?  If not, why not. 

 

I would appreciate it if we could keep this discussion as civil and academic as possible... :glee:   And I look forward to others' thoughts on this. 

 

Cheers,

 

Steve

 

 

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A very interesting topic Steve! Thanks for starting it.

 

In looking and the painting and pondering the question about leaving well enough alone or engaging in restoration, my thoughts immediately snapped to a sword that was in fair polish, not rusted, but not able to appreciate what the smith was trying to accomplish. As I read more, I found that was not a fair comparison. The more fair comparison is a sword that was restored to the point of not being able to appreciate it. So it wasn't "left well enough alone" already. My example would be an amateur polish that obscured the work of the artist.

 

Using that as my starting point, I am a proponent of the restoration of the piece as I would be a sword. They clearly engaged an expert to complete the work on the painting as one should, if considering the restoration of your Kaneie. The restorer had to fill in some blanks to highlight the original work and I think that can be equated to easily the finishing work of a polish (bringing out the hada and hadori application on the hamon). These were not intended by the smith hundreds of years ago, but used to highlight the skill of the smith but also the restorer/polisher. Just my thoughts.

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Hi Steve:

I have had both iron and soft metal tsuba restored. I have used the services of professionals. In an article for the JSSUS Newsletter  Volume 48 #2  Titled: Restoring Armour and Swords – Contrasting Points of View Part D: Koshirae I. Bottomley, F. A. B. Coutinho, B. Hennick and W. B. Tanner

this work is illustrated. Follow the link to see the before and after images colour images of the restored work.  Here is the link: http://www.jssus.org/images.pdf    Figures 7a  and b, figure 8a and b.

 

In my case, I look at each piece and decide whether I can live with it in the condition found or not. If I decide that the piece needs restoration I pass it to the appropriate professional. I have not been disappointed.

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The painting was helped a lot by this restoration. I like the color in her face now, whereas before the layers of old varnish and dirt obscured the artist's work. the painting not only looks much better, it grew maybe 5% in size as the artist originally intended it,, and had its paint bonded back down to the canvas which will hopefully prolong it also. A good restorer would probably be of service to

Most antiques. That seems like a lot of work to fix the painting. I'm curious to see a tosugu restorer put their methods on display like this, or would that do more harm than good (as there are more tsuba than 300 year old paintings for non-expert people to ruin)?

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Steve,

this is an interesting topic indeed, but I feel that the comparison of a painting with an iron TSUBA has its difficulties. While a painting is known to age, especially the varnish (mostly linseed-oil based), and to lose its colours by darkening, an iron TSUBA is appreciated with its signs of age (which we call patina). A painting will always need restoration after some time due to the oxygen influence of the air, if a condition close to the original is desired. An iron TSUBA only needs to be taken in your hands from time to time to build up/keep the SABIJI, and otherwise be protected from moisture.

On the other hand, if a TSUBA was left to corrode, a competent helping hand might be useful to bring it back to a state close to the original, knowing that the TSUBASHI did not intend a work that looked like polished stainless steel. On the contrary, TSUBA were patinated to look aged. This was/is a Japanese aesthetic feature.

In this point, restoration of both works of art might indeed be comparable, as an iron TSUBA could suffer severe damage without proper care. 

In TSUBA, I feel that there is a fine line between appropriate aging, and damage, and there may be a similar thing in paintings, too. A KIRIKOMI on an old TSUBA in the right place will probably be accepted, but not signs of careless handling. In an old painting, a crack in the wooden base board can be a sign of age, while an amateur restoration with modern (not hand-made) colours will be seen as a dramatic damage.

We had this discussion lately about different aspects of polishing. My impression is that any restoration has to be finely balanced with a very sensitive use of knowledge and experience plus a secure sense of the aesthetics intended by the respective artist.  . 

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Steve,  Sadly all artefacts, with perhaps the exception of those made from pure gold, are slowly ageing. Our environment, permeated as it is by oxygen and other reactive gases and suffused by light, are having a deleterious effect on all our precious treasures and there is very little we can do about it. Your iron tsuba was deliberately oxidised by the maker and has continued to oxidise ever since. Giving it a rub with the hands will remove some of this oxide layer, and impregnate some of the remaining oxide with oils from the skin, but some iron has been lost from the original surface and is gone forever. Every time you remove your koshirae from its brocade bag the lacquer suffers from exposure to light and is degraded, admittedly by only a tiny amount. Even the hamon on a sword is slowly changing. Martensite is not an equilibrium phase, having been created by rapid cooling of the austenite form and is gradually changing to more stable phases. The rate at which this change takes place is dependent on temperature; the higher the temperature the more rapid the change. At our normal environmental temperatures the rate of change is very slow, but detectable. Very old swords have noticeably softer hamon than new swords.

When it comes to organics like tsuka ito or the lacing and textiles of an armour, the rate of degeneration is noticably higher. Many hilts that were last bound in the Edo period are now very delicate and few old armours retain their original lacing for the simple reason the silk is attacked by oxygen and degraded by light. All we can do is to adopt measures to reduce these changes to a minimum, but we cannot stop them. 

 The eternal dilemma of conservation / restoration which is the real subject of this thread is one that only the owner of the object can resolve. Do you leave a tsuka alone that has the ito hanging in shreds or have it rebound? Do you consolidate the dull and friable degraded lacquer on a saya or leave it alone? I have no definite answer as only the owner can decide, but the council of perfection would be to leave well alone unless to do so would cause even more rapid degeneration.

Ian Bottomley

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Many thanks to all for your well-considered replies here. 

 

I find this topic to be rather vexing, for it introduces such pointed philosophical questions:  to conserve or restore?  Or, is this a false dichotomy?  Is restoration a form of conservation?  What, exactly, are/should we be conserving?  Artist intent?  Can this really be known 400 years later?  Or are/should we be conserving a particular state of signs of aging?  What if these two contradict?  Which are we prizing more highly, the vision of the artist or the state of the object (assuming for argument's sake that these do not align)? 

 

Such questions are made even more complicated when we consider others:  if restoration is decided to be the better path, this path is fraught with various perils.  What is the sensibility of the restorer?  What should/"should" this sensibility align with?  The intent of the artist?  A specific idealized state of signs of aging (e.g. patina)?  The desires of the current owner of the object that it look a certain way?  A particular "consensus" of "expert" opinion on how such objects should look or the condition they should be preserved in?  What are the skills of the restorer irrespective of his sensibilities?  And do we, as temporary holders of these objects, have the right or license to act on or alter their state/condition?  What if good-faith attempts to properly preserve or conserve them ends up causing (more) damage to them, such as can occur when, in efforts to preserve a patina, we allow corrosive rust to eat away at the surface of the piece? 

 

I apologize for dumping so many questions here at once.  If I may try to simplify matters, I guess the basic tension I am asking about concerns artistic intent as a primary value, on the one hand, and signs of graceful aging as a primary value, on the other.  I have seen iron tsuba, for instance, which present with various substances on the plate.  These can range from lacquer and wax to oil, paint, and shoe polish, in addition of course to rust and dirt.  Of course, we might agree that some of this material should be removed.  But if none of this material was intended to be there by the artist, should(n't) all of it be removed?  What if attempts to do so damage whatever good patina is under all that gunk?  Some might say that the threat to the patina makes such attempts too risky, and that they ought not be undertaken.  But then, if we can't even see that patina (never mind the fine details rendered by the artist originally), what good is that patina (in terms of aesthetic appreciation)?  *Note:  I will leave the question of whether a "perfect" 400-year-old patina, which is not what the artist "intended" when the object left his workshop, doesn't then actually occlude our apprehension of artist intent... :glee:

 

It is easy enough, I suppose, to address questions of conservation (vs. restoration) if that tsuba is in an ideal state (i.e. all intended details of the artist are preserved [except, perhaps, the specific original color, which we can't pretend to know some several centuries later], and there is a deep patina across the entire surface, with no rust evident).  When this "best of both worlds" is the state of things, most are probably pretty happy with matters.  But what if we are confronted with an important steel tsuba that does not present in such a state?  Below is a tsuba, made by Kaneie.  It is considered by some to be the most important tsuba in existence, and by many others to be among the most important.  How would you describe/assess its condition in these photos?  Ideal?  Acceptable?  Unacceptable?  It seems to me that, given the lofty reputation of this piece, and given that it exists in a situation (part of hugely important collection in Japan) with plenty of access to restoration resources, its state of preservation ought to approach the ideal.  Would we agree that it has been preserved such?  *I have included two versions of the photo, one with enhanced color to show better areas of rust on the plate.

 

Thanks for indulging my OCD query...

 

Steve

 

 

 

 

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there can be, and should be! no " false dichotomy" between these both!

the fact is political, ethical, financial- the object itself is just the "ball kicked around"!

(i but think, i did several times already try to explain these questions?).

 

i am very grateful to you Steven, so to rise this very importent question/thematics again!- in hope,everybody who reads this,will make his own needed mind about!

 

i am equally very grateful to you Ian,so to mirror the daily battle we professional restaurators do sight. - especially,( in this very case),on objects stored ( and i honestly i do say not kept in safe," in this very wording)in sorrowly most of the private collections!

(least not those,professionally or by connaissance involved personalities, institutions and collections).

 

and yes- there is a very big,if not HUGE! difference between "Restauration" and "Conservation"!

these both are completely different fields of study,work,progress and research!

 

otherwise? i think,i would not need Diplomas?

or vice versa-

if i do have no Diplome- shall i dare to play the expert?

 

i just do say- good luck to those who do let do any restauration/ conservation work of antique art objects to dilettante selfexplained restaurators and those who " know about".

 

 

 

Christian

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I have read about that very tsuba and if I recall it is believed that it has been over cleaned at one point over the past 80 years by a well-intended but inexperienced curator.  From the photos, to me, the condition seems unacceptable.  Unfortunately, the politics involved with such an item seem to have resulted in it being put in a drawer and forgotten.

 

I feel that too many questions are being asked at once.  To try and delineate a theme that I can comment on, the first thing that I would point out is that conservation and restoration are related concepts but two different issues.  

 

Conservation is concerned with the maintenance and up keep of something that tends to degrade quite rapidly as not part of an ageing process.  It seems that modern conservation is regarded as being transformative, dictated by contemporary values and beliefs which in turn could be broken down further into politics, economics and technology.  The argument seems to be that transformation is not a bad thing as for the past to remain relevant it must be framed in the present and this continuity and relevance is established through change.  A quick Google Scholar search uncovered this interesting source:

http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/15_1/feature1_2.html

 

Restoration appears to differ as it is concerned with breathing new life into something that is regarded to have changed from a better state that does not fit with perceived aesthetics of the piece.  Restoration is something that a lot of us have considered if we think about how often polishing swords is discussed.  A recent thread revealed to me that polishing techniques have evolved enabling polishers to bring out more in swords and the advent of the light bulb has enable us to see more sword activity.  This suggests that technology has altered our appreciation and evaluation of objects, not a bad thing if we bear in mind the above mantra for conservation that change is keeping the historical item relevant. 

 

I think a professional should be able to tell very easily the difference between artistic intent, graceful ageing or neglect, and would only do work that is deemed as being beneficial to the item to the extent necessary to get the item back on its feet again.  By not addressing a restoration issue in the name of keeping it an original state, there is a chance that an item of antiquity could fall by the road side.  After all who collects rusty swords?

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I am sure there are plenty of rusty swords that will not receive a polish for financial reasons, particularly when the community establishes a high bar to for polishers to pass and the price of those who meet that bar is high versus the market value of the sword in polish, which is frequently less than the cost of the polish. This can only result in more swords deteriorating over time in the hands of collectors unwilling to conserve the sword by polishing it. The old Japanese proverb relating to swords was "better to wear out than rust away."

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Henry,

 

Thanks for the post.  ;-)   You express some interesting thoughts and sentiments here, which I shall ponder further.  To respond briefly to a few of these, first, yes, I have asked too many questions.  Apologies.  :)   But thank you for underscoring the distinction between conservation and restoration.  I think this is a worthwhile difference to note, but ultimately, I'm not quite sure it speaks to the core question I'm asking, which has more to do with how we know what state an object "ought" to be in (and who has the "authority" to determine this).  Actually, the penultimate paragraph from the article by Frank Matero you linked us to, Henry (thanks for that, too, by the way), more or less zeroes in on that question.  I have reproduced this paragraph below:

 

"Within the contemporary discipline of conservation, it is possible to find any number of incompatible, diametrically opposed viewpoints and work methods—from the idealist one that hopes for an impossible return of the object, structure, or site to an origin that can never be established with any certainty, to the pragmatic one that permissively treats as historical values all the alterations made over time. To this must be added the recognition of cultural and community ownership and the input of those other interested groups in the decision-making processes that remain the primary responsibility of the profession." (Matero)

 

In this paragraph, Matero stresses two "incompatible, diametrically opposed viewpoints and work methods" in contemporary conservation dialectics.  It is these viewpoints/work methods that particularly interest me.  The initial link I put up---to the Velazquez restoration---clearly describes a restoration (rather than a conservation) effort (according to the definitions/descriptions you have in your post, Henry ;-) ), and would seem to lean, anyway, towards the first of the two possibilities Matero offers---the "'idealist' one that hopes for an 'impossible' return of the object...to an origin that can never be established with any certainty..."  Of course, the restoration of the Velazquez painting is not really an effort to return it to its literally pristine original state, but the effort does seem to be much more in keeping with this sentiment than the other of Matero's possibilities, that of a "pragmatic [approach] that permissively treats as historical values all the alterations [e.g. layers of varnish] made over time."  This latter approach/sentiment would seem to "appreciate" the condition of the Kaneie tsuba I posted images of.  I guess I'm wondering how it is determined that a privileging of original-state idealism (in the case of the Velazquez restoration) is to be preferred over an "appreciation" of historically accrued alteration (i.e. several layers of varnish).  Mind you, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with preferring the former (far from it, actually); I'm just very curious as to the thought process here and how relative values are prioritized. 

 

Henry, you'd also said that "for the past to be relevant it must be framed in the present and this continuity and relevance is established through change."  I was a bit confused by your words here, though:  by "change," did you mean that the object under conservation efforts would be physically changed/altered?  Part of my confusion might be because framing something from the past in present contexts and perspectives is one thing (it does not require physical alteration of an object), but literally changing an object (physically manipulating it) is another, I think.  But I could be misreading, so some clarification here would be appreciated.  ;-)

 

Many thanks again for your post, Henry.

 

Cheers,

 

Steve

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Hi Steve

 

Thank you for the reply.  No need to apologise for all the questions.  This is an interesting issue that begs to be questioned.  Sorry for sounding so blunt, which was not my intention.  Below are responses to your questions and some additional thoughts.  Just my humble opinions which could change the more I read and discuss.

 

"for the past to be relevant it must be framed in the present and this continuity and relevance is established through change."  I was a bit confused by your words here, though” 

 

By framing I meant cognitive framing, how reality is organized, perceived, and communicated about.  I was trying to rehash some of Matero’s comments in the referenced article (see below).

 

“by "change," did you mean that the object under conservation efforts would be physically changed/altered?”

 

Yes, that is what I meant to say.  Timothy P. Whalen summarises Matero by saying “All conservation is a critical act, one of interpretation," states Frank Matero in his essay on ethics.  This view should not be feared or construed as negative, for if the heritage from the past is to remain relevant, we must pursue its connections to the present. "Conservation," says Matero, "seeks to establish continuity through controlled change."

Taken from: http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/15_1/feature1.html

 

I completely agree with the above statements.  It seems that to consider restoration and conservation in the first place, change has already happened as mentioned above by Ian.  While there is an appreciation of change and decay in some Japanese art (wabi sabi) I think there is a fuzzy definition to what it is, and in many cases a matter of subjectivity as to whether it is wabi sabi or boro boro (shabby).  But even if wabi sabi is apparent, to protect objects from losing their essence and artistic worth because of degradation, some sort of intervention is required to slow this degradation.  This would require change and alteration, which is what restoration involves.  By counteracting this negative change, positive change must happen.  But as Matero says, it must be “a critical act, one of interpretation” indicating that the change must be done sensitively and properly.

 

This leads to what I think is the main point of this discussion.  For a piece to be ‘properly’ restored; how can it be decided what it should be restored to?  In some cases I think it could be quite easy.  Take for example the shrine offerings illustrated in “Uchigatana Goshirae” (I am on the train, so can’t access the book for the actual name).  If anyone decided to restore them, there are plenty of complete examples that can be used as a guide for appropriate restoration.  

 

For a more abstract case, take for example this papered Ko Kagamishi tsuba of mine (picture by Mariusz Kolecki) discussed here: http://www.militaria.co.za/nmb/topic/11303-ko-kagamishi-tsuba/

 

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To restore it, there maybe not so many reference pieces of the same kind of tsuba available, but a specialist can accurately guess what it would be like from what is left of the patterns, the norms of tsuba and referencing to other related sources such as old mirrors.

 

It becomes slightly harder with the likes of the Kaneie tsuba above.  Kaneie tsuba are rare and patina possibly varied from piece to piece.  Is this lack of certainty a valid reason to not restore it?  I personally don’t think so as long as there is no real risk of it a restoration degrading it further.  In theory, rust will be removed and patina applied.  It does not matter if the patina is close to the original because we will never know what the original was like in the first place.  I think that by restoring it, it would be hard to disagree that its artistic worth has been enhanced.

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Hello,

my 2 cents while waiting for the train:

Aren't blades actually consumer goods which require a special 'destroying' maintenance to keep their functionality till they are consumed? Like e.g. a pencil?

I think, smiths and polishers fully aware of the limited lifespan of their art & objects...do we consider this in out thoughts or is it absolutely wrong?

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......It becomes slightly harder with the likes of the Kaneie tsuba above.  Kaneie tsuba are rare and patina possibly varied from piece to piece.  Is this lack of certainty a valid reason to not restore it?  I personally don’t think so as long as there is no real risk of it a restoration degrading it further.  In theory, rust will be removed and patina applied.  It does not matter if the patina is close to the original because we will never know what the original was like in the first place.  I think that by restoring it, it would be hard to disagree that its artistic worth has been enhanced.

Henry,

 

first I am not so sure if KANEIE TSUBA are really rare. Probably the originals (do we know who AOKI KANEIE was?) are only few in relation to the many copies that exist.

 

My other comment refers to patination versus corrosion. In both processes, iron is chemically converted into a mix of its oxides, and this implies always a loss of the original substance. The colours of the patina depend on the composition of the iron base alloy as well as on the chemicals used, but it is a limited range, so we can come to a close estimation of how the originals looked like. Ford will be able to expand on this subject. Patination is a means of a controlled and stabilized oxidation of the original surface, while corrosion is a non-controlled deterioration with a likely change in the surface structure. If heavy corrosion has occurred once on an iron TSUBA, a restoration might be difficult or even impossible, if the aim is to bring the item back or close to its original state. 

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Hello,

my 2 cents while waiting for the train:

Aren't blades actually consumer goods which require a special 'destroying' maintenance to keep their functionality till they are consumed? Like e.g. a pencil?

I think, smiths and polishers fully aware of the limited lifespan of their art & objects...do we consider this in out thoughts or is it absolutely wrong?

I think it depends on the era more than anything... i.e, swords may have been considered more as "use up and throw away" items during the Sengoku era than the Edo era when they weren't as likely to be used and/or destroyed in battle.

 

But even then there is the mystical aspect to Nihonto that is apparently taboo to modern Western Nihonto collectors. The world of the Samurai was one of magic and the supernatural and the sword played a prominent role in both worlds. This is especially true during the Edo period.

 

I think the people of feudal Japan would be baffled by our modern interpretation of Nihonto as pure art objects and "pieces of history"... to them (in general) Nihonto were living objects full of magic that demanded respect and "wanted" to be used for their intended purpose.

 

We are not of that culture and era(s) and are free to make our own meanings for Nihonto, but restoring them as near (and correctly) as possible to functional use is definitely in keeping with the spirit of the culture that produced them.

 

This is verified by the fact that unlike virtually any other antique, the actual monetary value of a Japanese sword goes up with a new polish and remounted koshirae vs the same worn out old sword with bits that are hundreds of years old.

 

There is a cultural difference too... in America we ascribe value to things simply because they are old regardless of the item in question.

 

Maybe it's because our history is relatively short in most areas of the country (my hometown was only settled 150 years ago, for example). Anyway, it's not the same in places with longer histories and lots of surviving artifacts like Japan.

 

In the end, I wouldn't feel bad about a total restoration of an old sword... only a badly executed restoration.

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Gents,

 

Some excellent thoughts expressed here in your posts.  They are much appreciated. 

 

Henry, thanks for clarifying what you'd meant by change.  Yes, I see now what you mean.  I do wonder now if part of my initial question wasn't really at heart concerned with the tension (and confusion?) between the terms "restoration" and "conservation."  I got the ball rolling in an unhelpful direction by referring to the treatment of the Velazquez painting as a "restoration," while the term "conservation" was used in the article itself.  I suppose I had been assuming that conserving something had mostly to do with preserving it in its current state (i.e. before any [further] damage could befall it), and that restoration meant more of an active intervention to "undo" the ravages of time (and prior actions), and so I saw the treatment of the Velazquez as an effort to "restore" the painting to something approximating its original appearance.  

 

I appreciate, too, Henry, what you have to say about conservators/restorers looking to preserved examples of similar pieces as guidelines for a treatment process.  This would assume, though, that these preserved examples (in shrines, for instance) are themselves in "proper" condition (which kind of gets back to my initial query ;-) ).  But yes, I can see where if such "model examples" do exist, that would provide an excellent blueprint for how to proceed and the goal to be sought. 

 

Jean, I appreciate your comment in the last sentence of your post concerning the restoration/conservation possibilities in the case of an iron tsuba that has been heavily corroded.  While the condition of the piece might be improved, it would seem impossible, as you say, to bring the guard back to anything very close to its original state.

 

One quick side comment here on the rarity of Kaneie tsuba:  I think what Henry and I are referring to when we speak of this rarity are O-shodai Joshu Kaneie tsuba, of which I believe only five are thought to exist.  Personally, I don't consider the Edo Period "Kaneie" works to be true Kaneie tsuba.

 

Jason, your thoughts on eras and cultural differences are definitely thought-provoking, too.  Thanks.  But I wonder if there might be a difference in our discussion here between swords (and their purpose, including mysticism and functionality) and, say, an iron tsuba, when it comes to questions of conservation/restoration. 

 

Once again, thanks, guys, for your posts in this thread.  ;-)   Lots to think about...

 

Cheers,

 

Steve

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thank you for starting this interesting discussion.

 

It couldn't have come at a more appropriate time, since it is a question I currently need to answer.

 

I'm totally aligned with the difference between restoration and preservation, however in my particular case, restoration seems to be the only option, but...

 

Let me try to explain: I purchased a wakizashi which came with beautiful attire.

The wakizashi is on a waiting list for polishing and I started to look into what could be done with the tosogu.

 

The wakizashi had a very hard life and has been damaged, especially the tsuba, or rather the mon,

 

Since some of the mon are damaged, or are missing, the tsuba has lost a lot of its value,

So, the only option is restoration, by replacing the mon,

However, on close inspection it would be clear that the mon had been replaced by 'modern' copies.

 

So, what should one do in this case?

Preserving, knowing that the value has been decreased a lot because of the missing and damaged mon.

Or, restoration, knowing that the tsuba will never pass shinsa because of the restoration...

 

I sincerely hope I haven't hijacked this topic with personal struggles. I do feel it puts another light on the whole discussion started by Steve.

 

Cheers,

 

Wouter

 

PS For the sake of the discussion, let's -for now- not include the abilities of the restorer. I am perfectly aware that artists like Ford Hallam would do an amazing job, but I do think the question remains: if mon are replaced, what is the effect on the historic and monetary value?

 

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To answer, I have a high class kozuka that is missing one of the same mon that yours is, and I am going to do it, and have it replaced by Ford sometime.
I also expect it can be done so that it is not visible even to experts. But that isn't my intention. I am putting it back the way the artist intended, so that others can see it as he desired originally. The same as why we restore swords in most cases.
I don't think it is faking...I think it becomes part of its history. Others may feel differently.
Yes, I would mention it if I ever sold it, and yes..I expect it will affect value. But I think future owners would prefer it complete and properly done.

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Hey guys,

 

One of the few advantages of being laid up is that I actually get to read some of these boards/have a chance to maybe add something to these discussions... 

 

In response to Steve's original posting....  It always seems like restoration is a difficult undertaking as the whole definition is somewhat subjective (to whose aesthetic/standard are you "restoring" something), subject to the hubris of the restorer, and is sometimes done with imperfect information - one only has to look at the controversy surrounding the Sistine Chapel ceiling restoration to have doubts raised about whether or not these "experts" really know what they're doing - did they make it more beautiful/conserve it for future generations, or did they destroy half of Michelangelo's work by removing the toning he probably put in with the varnish, expose the pigments un-necessarily to damage, etc... Well, now that they've done it we'll probably never know who was right...  But in their defense, they had to do -something- at the time, so...

But that's kind of preachy - back to the smaller case of fittings.

 

In the case of iron fittings, we will probably never know what they originally looked like - and really, depending on your aesthetic "religion" (western/merchant/Daimyo? "its gotta be perfect" taste, "tea taste"/wabi sabi aesthetic where things are what they are/are repaired so they can continue to be used and no more (often with the repairs being celebrated), etc), it may not matter.  And, unfortunately also like religion, both viewpoints can be right - with each endlessly belittling the other for being "wrong" - which is where the subjective part comes in - while the piece is in your possession you do what you gotta do.

And also like religion, each point of view is something you end up picking up - the more I study, the more I am attracted to the wabi sabi aesthetic, so my world view is colored by that.  I find it horrific/an example of hubris on the part of the owner when you see things like juyo grade tosogu stripped/inlay removed, etc and then refinished to the owner's liking (and its not just gaijin that do this so I'm singling anybody out), but clearly the owner didn't - so which of us is right? I'd posit that its an issue that really has no absolutely correct answer.  A botched (IMHO) restoration like the (many) tsuba you see where they have stolen the piece's age (can no longer really tell tell if the piece is really hundreds of years old or made last week by tsubako Bob), or (IMHO) ineptly executed work (brown/black/red wax, selenium based patinating solutions that stink, etc.,), drive me nuts, but other people don't notice/care,so...  And if nobody can tell the piece was repaired...  You lose information by fixing them, but who am I to tell somebody else what they are doing is wrong.

And its not like you can -really- go back into Japanese history to get a definitive answer either, as it appears that both (wabi-sabi vs. new/made(or remade) perfect) co-existed for a long time... 

I personally started thinking a lot more about this imperfect as perfect thing while photographing a juyo onin piece that had a surprising number of losses - Looking around more, I started finding examples of pieces in Japan that were really well cared for that had considerable losses (and in one case a heianjo piece that obviously was not used for for long time (overt Christian symbolism so no way it was used after the early 1600s unless the owner had a death wish) ) and it began to occur to me that the losses were part of the aesthetic... (onin piece 2016 KTK catalog, Christian piece ktk 2013 catalog, examples of heianjo were losses don't really seem to match condition (you'd think the losses would have been "fixed"))

http://www.rkgphotos.com/facebook_stuff/kiku_heianjo/kiku_heianjo_front/kiku_heianjo_front.html

http://www.rkgphotos.com/facebook_stuff/wheel_heianjo_front/kiku_heianjo_back.html

 

(sprials were either never there or deliberately removed)

) - I later come to find out that in this specific case, some small percentage of losses is considered "acceptable" by the Grading Gods...
 

On the other hand, like the guy in Blade Runner said "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe" in terms of old pieces being in absolutely perfect condition (they must have either been gifts/unused, or... repaired) - so, who is right?

 

I lost the hubris to believe it has to be my point of view, so...

 

And you can even see this aesthetic "war" being played out in swords - while the aesthetic "demands" that swords remain polished (eventually dooming them) with "problems" either umegane'd out or otherwise "fixed" by the polisher, they end up leaving things like kirikomi....

 

And then there are the monetary questions....  If perfect was not important, then nowhere near as many tosogu pieces would be getting "tuned up" by professional restorers prior to Juyo submission as there apparently are.  On the other hand, fixed is bad as (almost) nobody will actually admit that a piece having been repaired under their watch/a buyer will try to demand a lower price if they find or figure it out - even if the repair is perfect, so....  And then often a piece is highly valued for battle damage, is worn in a way that is attractive to an adherent of the wabi-sabi aesthetic, is old as hell - so you leave things like raggedy mimis, etc as part of the piece's history/help to ascertain the age/usage, etc.
 

Which leads back to Wouter's question - what do you do?  From a certain point of view you fix it, from another you don't - from my point of view I'd probably leave it because 1) its not an immediate threat to the piece (like deep rust on an iron piece), and is part of its history (for better or worse).  From the "! want it to be perfect" point of view you do.

From a monetary point of view, first off, its "bad" to admit to even considering it in public because of the "repair discount" that will be demanded should you go to sell (and people never forget...).  In addition, valuable is relative - if you have to spend a significant chunk of what a perfect piece would cost to get that one fixed (top rate repair work (so you can't tell) takes forever/is very expensive), its hard to argue that it should be done.  Might make monetary sense if you come across a some over-the-top omori piece signed by the big guy that needs work or a Hanare mei nobuiye that some idiot has depatinated, but in this case....  Get a quote - you might be shocked one way or the other.  On the other hand (I must been an economist in a prior life as I seem to have about 20 hands :-) ), maybe it isn't that much if you've a whole suite of pieces/koshirae to consider and this enhances the value of the set considerably...

In terms of history, you would be stealing some of it from the piece - I don't like that much (as I have repeatedly ranted in the past), but if you can't tell that it was done, have you really done it? The "pass shinsa" thing is a little specious, as there is a range of repairs that the Grading Gods consider acceptable will paper.  On top of that the repair can be so good that an expert can't tell it was done - and again, if you can't tell...  Plus, stuff has happened to these things in the past - it got fixed at some point (like patinas on iron pieces), and they are later papered...

 

And, FWIW, you might take some perspective here - go find some top grade versions of these - often when you see "the best" examples, often you realize that even your fixed example will only ever be a middling example - it will make you either happier to leave it as is, convince you that you'll be OK with spending the coin to get yours fixed,  or realize that you really want "that grade" of piece and shift you damaged one/save your pennies to get a better example... (and often the cost of "stepping up" isn't that much more than what you'd get for your piece + the repair cost...). 

 

Oops, time for more meds....

Best,

rkg

(Richard George)

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