Mount components and textile borders represent important elements of Asian paintings. However, they are often side-lined or not considered an integral part of the original piece, as they may be later additions or may have been replaced during historic conservation or mounting interventions.
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Mount components and textile borders represent important elements of Asian paintings. However, they are often side-lined or not considered an integral part of the original piece, as they may be later additions or may have been replaced during historic conservation or mounting interventions. Nevertheless, evidence is sometimes present that textile borders are contemporaneous to the production of the paintings they frame or, in the case of paintings found in archaeological contexts, to the time of deposition. Even when not contemporaneous with the paintings, the mount textiles are often of significant historic interest in themselves, showing a range of complex textile techniques and materials, and highlighting the re-use of fabrics. In all these cases, the study and reconstruction of the original colours of the borders enable further understanding of the holistic visual impact originally intended for the composition, as well as of the role of colour itself, which was used to emphasise, complement or contrast important pictorial themes or motifs in the paintings. Furthermore, the identification of dyes and dyeing techniques has the potential to support the production date and provenance of the paintings. In this study, the textile borders and some additional mounting elements of six paintings (late 9th–10th century CE) from the Library Cave, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, China, one rare Korean portrait painting dated 1789 CE, and two Tibetan thangkas
(18th century) were investigated with the aim to identify the dyes present. Fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) was used to obtain information non-invasively and, when sampling was possible, high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS) was used to obtain molecular identification of the dyestuffs employed in their production. Typical Asian dyes, such as gromwell (Lithospermum erythrorhizon
), sappanwood (Biancaea sappan
), safflower (Carthamus tinctorius
), turmeric (Curcuma longa
) and pagoda tree flower buds (Sophora japonica
), were identified. Some of the dyeing techniques were commensurate with the geographical and temporal provenance assigned to these pieces. Considerations about fading and discolouration of the dyes enabled valuable additional information to be obtained that complements the evidence gleaned from the study of the paintings and informs conservators and curators on best practices in the preservation and display of these precious and delicate artworks.