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The Reproduction of Shosoin Treasures: Encountering Tenpyo Craftsmanship through the Recreation of 8th Century Works

The Suntory Museum has put together an extraordinary exhibition worth everyone’s visit showcasing the reproduction of Shosoin treasures and celebrating the Emperor.

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Round Box with Mother-of-Pearl Decoration for the Leather Belt with Lapis Lazuli Ornament Office of the Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency 【To be shown over an entire period】

The exhibition that began on January 26 at the Suntory Museum of Art is refreshing and inspiring. In spite of the preference against reproductions, which can carry an image of non-authentic or plagiarized copies, so to speak, these objects are nothing less than spectacular recreations of historic treasures. 

Seven-Panel Mottled Priest’s Kesa in a Tapestry Variant Office of the Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency 【To be shown over an entire period】

The materials and techniques used in making the original treasures were brought to light through in-depth research. Even so, if I were told to make the reproductions myself, my immediate response would be “impossible”. That is how outstanding and exquisite the showcased replicas of the original masterpieces are. 

The exhibition takes us back to the Tenpyo period of Japan’s history, about thirteen hundred years ago. The colors and textures of the reproductions permit us to share sensations similar to the perceptions of the designers, craftsmen and observers of the time when the originals were created. It goes without saying that the beauty of the show’s catalog also enhances the enjoyment for today’s modern audience. 

Gigaku Mask of Suiko-o (Foreign King) Office of the Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency 【To be shown over an entire period】

Thinking about the Shosoin treasures unfailingly brings to mind the images of old artifacts and faded colors. However, as an individual living thirteen hundred years later, I cannot help but applaud the initiative to undertake such a wonderful reproduction project. 

One can only have the utmost respect for each and every technician, truly craftsmen who labored to replicate the objects on site, along with those who conceived this project. Delicate and meticulous, the Japanese-style workmanship is excellent. 

Decorative Karatachi-Style Sword with Gold, Silver, and Glass Decoration Office of the Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency 【To be shown over an entire period】
“Sutra Copyist’s Request for Time Off” in the Revised Collection of Old Documents in the Shosoin (Zokushu Shosoin Komonjo), Scroll 20 By National Museum of Japanese History 【To be shown over an entire period】

I hope that each and every visitor to the exhibition will be inspired and apply the ideas they encounter in whatever field they may work in. The concept of these reproductions can be applied not only to recreating ancient treasures, but to all objects, places, and services, passing on valuable skills and craftsmanship to future generations. 

With time, objects including art are apt to fade, decay, and return to the earth. These reproductions through the excellent techniques of master artisans invite viewers into a world that transcends time and space. 

Yellow Bronze Incense Container with Pagoda-Style Lid Office of the Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency 【To be shown over an entire period】
Office of the Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency
Office of the Shosoin Treasure House, Imperial Household Agency

Visit the museum and see the exhibit for yourself . And even if an in-person visit is impractical for you, viewing the photographs of the artworks is a pleasurable way to expand your imagination. 

The exhibition runs through March 27, 2022, at the Suntory Museum of Art Tokyo Midtown Galleria in Tokyo’s Akasaka district. 

Author: Yukihiro Watanabe

(Click here to read the article in Japanese.)

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