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The conservation treatment of the B54 Japanese Armour from the Royal Armoury in Turin

Re-adhesion of Japanese lacquer on metal
Martina Trento


The topic of this research and conservation work conducted on a Japanese armour coming from the Royal Armoury in Turin. The present work focuses on conservative issues involving a complex artifact such as samurai armours, which are known for being made of several materials like metals, lacquer, fabric, leather, skin, paper and horn. While all these materials can count on well-established conservation methodologies, the issues concerning lacquer applied on metal have rarely been studied by Western.

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1The restoration of the Japanese armor B54 of the Royal Armoury in Turin is part of a series of interventions concerning a portion of the Japanese collection kept in the museum's warehouses. This kind of work has never been analyzed and restored in the past, consequently has begun a deep research about Japanese armor. This task has been very complex because of the scarcity of sources in the West on this subject.

2The combination of different materials, such as metals, lacquers, fabrics and leather, to create highly polymateric works, are the cause of many conservative problems. In particular, the application of the metal lacquer has been a technique that does not find much match in the specific Western literature make it difficult to find material for procedures of implementation and also to find information on restoration practices used in the past. For this reason, it was considered necessary to carry out preliminary restoration tests to identify a suitable adhesive to make the lacquers detached to the metal. The choice of adhesives to be tested was carried out at the end of a deep investigation of materials generally used in the restoration of other Japanese armors, or parts of them, in Western laboratories. This survey was partially accompanied by information obtained from the restoration of lacquered wooden objects in the West and some works restored in Japan to get a wider look about the different cases you might meet during a bibliographic search of this type.

3In order to focus attention on the problems arising from the combination of lacquer and metal, this paper will describe and refer only to the conservative operations concerning the elements composed mostly by these two materials, that is the helmet, the mask and the cuirass. In this way we understood the problems of the handwork and of its different materials.

Short history of armor B54

4The armour, named B54, became part of the museum collections in 1871, when it was donated by the Japanese Emperor to Vittorio Emanuele II. In 1968, after having been exhibited for a long time, it was put in storage due to a rearrangement of the museum collections.

5After an initial macroscopic analysis it was possible to notice how the armour is an assembly of different parts. There are material evidences that support this hypothesis: it has two pairs of shoulder protections and, in addition, it carries the signatures of two makers who lived in different periods as well as the emblems of three different dynasties.

6The signatures of the two makers permitted to understand that the helmet dates back to the second half of the XVI century while the cuirass was made two centuries afterwards. Unfortunately the other elements can’t be dated with certainty.

Description of the armor

7In Japan weapons and armors have always been considered a symbol of power since the beginning of their use. The centuries before the Edo period (1603-1868) were characterized by countless wars between the various military clans and for this reason the armor had to be functional and easy to build up. The advent of a long and lasting peace permit to the armor, which at the beginning were built up by the junction of simple metal and leather plates, to know a radical evolution between the X and XI centuries (Ratti and Westbrook 2007). The following typologies were more complex. The forced imposed by the Tokugawa shifted the struggle from the battlefield to politics. Armor were used in an ornamental and ceremonial role, a symbol of the class and rank of daimyo (feudal lords) who wore them during ceremonies at the shogun (military governor) court (AA VV 1990) . In this period the creation were sumptuous and extravagant, even if they had maintained the same style, that is: a set of iron and/or leather sheets (kozane) held together by silk (odoshi) or leather laces.

  • 1 The dating was possible thanks to the signatures of armoires on helmet and cuirass, but it is not p (...)
  • 2 Historical Archive of Royal Armoury, fasc. 394. Letter of 26 June 1871.

8The armor object of study belongs to the second category. It is a complete armor dating1 from the late XVII (year of the dating of the helmet) and the first half of the nineteenth century (period of cuirass realization). The armor came to Turin in 1871 as a gift from the emperor of Japan Meiji to Vittorio Emanuele II of the Savoy House2. Despite the lack of photos of the set-up, it is likely that he was exposed in the Royal Armory along with the other two Japanese armor in the collections (Angelucci 1890). From the end of 1968, it was considered necessary to begin an accurate reorganization of the collection by looking for the false and improper addictions. It was also carry out a chronological order. The works exposed were gathered considering regions or nations (Tosa 2008-2009; Colle 2014). During this period the three armor were recovery in the warehouses.

9The armor is composed of all the elements, that is helmet (kabuto) missing of the frontal goddess (maedate) but with ornamental horns (kuwagata), mask (mempo), padded neck (erimawashi), cuirass (do), two rigid shoulder guards (soda), sleeves (kote) with a pair of jointed shoulder guards (soda), front and back pendent sections of scales to cover the thighs (kusazuri), shins guards (suneate) and zuava trousers (kobakama). Also in the warehouse of the Armory are the thighs guards (haidate), the long haired shoes (kogake), the sword (katana), the fan, the horse finishes and other elements that come together with the armor.

10The helmet, from the saddle profile, is of the akoda-nova type with a coated cloak (suji kabuto) constructed through the overlapping of plates (Fig1.), which give it great strength and diminishes the thickness of the metal (Kōzan 1979; Bottomley and Hopson 1988; Murase 1998).

Fig.1 Helmet

Fig.1 Helmet

Left side before restoration

Credits Imaging Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale.

11On the front is the peak, mabezashi, fixed by the nobu typology, or from the curved profile downwards; above, by means of a bayonet coupling, the frontal decoration consists of two ornamental horns, called kuwagata. Two turnback (fukigaeshi) are attached to the sides of the cloak, which show the samurai emblem: two concentric circles with five segments spaced between the two circles. At the base of the cloak is the protection for the nape (shikoro) consisting of 4 orders of scales, of which the last three tripartites, tied together by white and purple silk lacing. The type of tripartite lookout takes the name of gesan-jikoro and is not widespread. The inside of the bowl is covered with a blue cloth (ukebari) with a deep opening in the center, closed by leather laces. This opening allows you to observe the interior of the helmet where the signature of the armor, Yoshihisa of the Myochin school (soshujuMyochin Yoshihisa saku), is engraved. There are three jambs in the periphery of the muzzle where the helmet fixing cord (shinobi-no-o) runs.

12The mask is of the type called mempo, a half mask covering the lower half of the face. It consists of a single plate for the protection of cheeks and chin combined with a removable nose. In order to be worried, each mask was characterized by extravagant features or grotesque grimaces, in the mempo of the armor B54 the cheeks are smooth, the expression is relaxed and there are no mustaches or visible teeth, these features are characteristic of the typology of masks called ryubu-men. At the ears there is a second emblem which represents a descending circular wisteria.

Fig.2 Mask

Fig.2 Mask

Detail of the emblem on the right ear.

Credits M. Trento.

13Attached to the lower edge of the mask there is the throat defense consisting of five lamellas tied together with white and purple lacing (Kōzan 1979; Bottomley and Hopson 1988; Murase 1998).

  • 3 With modern armor we mean that they have been realized after the middle of the 16th century, it was (...)
  • 4 Sometimes this type of armor is classify as byotoji-do, referring to rivets protruding in front (Pi (...)

14The cuirass is an okegawa-do hatomune that is a cuirass (do) made of a modern armor (toseigusoku3) and made up of rivets (okegawa4) and crossed by a centered bend placed vertically (hatomune). It is composed of two valves (ni-mai) held together by a hinge placed under the left arm. This type of assembly characterized by a single hinge is commonly called "shell". At the opening, two columns are engraved with the characters indicating the signature of the armory and its city of origin (Sesshuu Osaka no juMunenoritsukuru: "Munenori, inhabitant of Osaka in the province of Sesshuu, did this") . The shoulders are fastened to the back with hinges and hooked to the forehead with strings and frogged. On the back is a system of fixing components (partially missing) that were designed to support a decorative element (sashimono), often an identifying flag depicting the Samurai emblem to recognize their fellow fighters or allies in battle (Kōzan 1979; Bottomley and Hopson 1988; Murase 1998).

Building materials and executive technique

15The main material of the armor is the metal present in most of the armor elements. The metal most present is a steel alloy on which different metal alloys have been inserted (welded, hardened, applied with rivets) to create particular contrast effects. The Japanese shibuichi alloy (light gray color), made up of four pieces of copper and a silver with small amounts of gold and lead (Öguchi 1983; La Niece et al 2013), is used to make some rim edges and the damascening decorations on the armor. On the chest there are two lions faced at the top, and a series of ideograms claiming an invocation to the "great deity" (Fuji Asama-daibosatsu). Numerous edges and finishes are made of brass and the stylized horns are in gold-plated amalgam of mercury (information obtained through XRF analysis).

Fig.3 Cuirass

Fig.3 Cuirass

Detail of the ideograms on the front.

Credits M. Trento.

16The Japanese lacquer, named urushi, is a sap drawn from the tree Rhus verniciflua. From the raw sap drawn from the urushi tree foreign material and impurities are filtered out. Then slowly the water content is evaporated. The purification process is intended to produce the appropriate seasoning, viscosity, glossiness and transparency for use the refined urushi for painting. The use of urushi in the Japanese craft have a wide range of fine and decorative arts. The Japanese lacquer (urushi) has three colors: black, red and golden. The black lacquer is probably pigmented with carbon-based pigment, an element not shown by the X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis techniques. This lacquer covers the inner surfaces of the armor, the bowl of the helmet (although it is very lacunous) and all the lamellae on helmet, mask and shoulders of the cuirass. We can find the red lacquer pigments with cinnabar (pigment identified by XRF technique) under the peak of the helmet and on the inside of the mask. Regarding the golden lacquer there is a small presence as decorative lines between the slots of the mask and shoulder blades of the cuirass. There are several clay layers under the lacquer (with greater granulometry the first one to reach finer clay in the last layers), which are fragmented to urushi. Above this preparation several layers of lacquer are laid (Heckman and Dei Negri 2002). The realization of two stratigraphic sections (of the black lacquer coming from the inside of the cuirass and red lacquer resulting from an erratic fragment and not reattachable to the peak of the helmet) and their observation at the optical and electronic scanning microscope (SEM) to investigate in more detail the complex succession of layers.

Fig. 4 Red lacquer stratigraphy

Fig. 4 Red lacquer stratigraphy

10x enlargement observed at optic microscope and electronic scanning microscope.

Credits T. Poli (Scientific Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale ) and M. Trento.

17There is a blue linen cloth with a central opening within the bowl of the helmet. The fabric is decorated by passing a thread and pulling it to create a wavy curl effect. The perimeter edges of the fabric and the central opening are finished with a suedeleather profile and colored with blue-green ink. The recognition of the different yarns on the armature was possible by observing the microscopic morphology. The lacings are mainly made of colored silk and interwoven with different methods. Violet, white and purple-white mixed silk ties together all the steel slices. The helmet fixing cord and the ornamental knot on the bowl of the helmet are made of a linen rope covered by a strand of orange silk threads. The shoulder straps and sleeves were fastened to the back of the armor through purple silk cords, held by horn frogged. On the cuirass, a beige cord tied to the forehead is used to be tied to a buttonhole, made of the same material as the closure.

State of conservation

18The armour presents a bad state of conservation as a result of the natural aging of constituent materials. This depends also on the temperature and relative humidity, which were no suitable during storage and on its polymatericity.

19The iron is characterized by a general corrosion of all exposed surfaces, in particular the peak of the helmet and the mask are affected by a localized and point-like corrosion phenomenon characterized by small craters typical of the corrosion called pitting. It is possible to note that corrosion areas are more concentrated around the damascening, assuming that the presence of a different metal is the cause of the formation of an electrochemical stack. At a closer look through the use of the optical microscope, one can observe that the corrosive phenomenon has the appearance of many small spherical orange droplets; this morphology is characteristic of weeping iron (Selwyn et al 1999;Scott and Eggert 2009). Copper and its alloys are covered with a more or less homogeneous surface oxidation, such that it was almost impossible to distinguish some elements of golden brass (such as the rims of the helmet) before cleaning. Shibuichi alloy portions show a thick layer of black surface sulphurization. This type of oxidation has also been identified by the XRF analysis that found the presence of sulfur. In many areas there are scratches and abrasions, especially on ornamental horns where some golden areas have been removed from the front (most exposed to man-made damage). There is a slight deformation in a small area of ​​the bowl, probably caused by a collision.

20The lacquer applied on the metal shows a complex combination for conservation as the different coefficients of expansion of the two materials, coupled with mechanical stress, result in cracks, detachments and, at worst, gaps (Chase 1988) that may only affect the upper layers of refined and pigmented lacquer, leaving the preparation of raw lacquer with clay, or the entire stratigraphy. This latter type is most common in armor B54 and is found inside the cuirass and on the inside of the mask. There are few black lacquer traces, especially in the undercuts, on the outer sides of the cuirass, the mask and the bowl of the helmet, which make it possible to state that these elements were previously completely lacquered, but the reasons for its complete detachment are unknown.

Fig.5 Interior of the cuirass

Fig.5 Interior of the cuirass

Detail of a gap of black lacquer.

Credits M. Trento.

21The inner side of the peak of the helmet, in addition to a widespread amount of lifting and crimping, is affected by numerous splashes of dark color. In the most frequently manipulated areas, the oily residue left by the fingers is well visible; their contact with the lacquer produces very shiny areas and the impression of the fingerprints causes indelible micro-slots due to chemical reactions. Many areas are also affected by scratches and abrasions.

22At the base of the chin of the mask there is a hole that does not have any function (as it is already present, on the tip, that for the sweat out). It is not positioned perfectly straight and there are circular abrasion marks on the lacquer. So defined and circular abrasion marks could make you think of the use of a drill that caused them during the breakdown of the metal.

23The inner helmet lining fabric shows a wide central coherent and well-accustomed fat deposit area, probably due to the repeated wearing of the helmet. Silk trimmings have considerable weight resistance properties, but over time they lose their mechanical properties becoming very fragile and weakened. They often have lacerations and, when mechanically stressed, show a noticeable loss of microscopic fibers due to the material's infiltration. The same phenomenon, aggravated by the orange dye, is found in the silk fabric of the helmet fixing cord and the ornamental knot on the bowl of the helmet. Here the silk has totally lost cohesion by making the helmet fixing cord lacunous and fragile. All odoshi are covered with inconsistent dust deposits that give them up the original color. Tearing and abrasion can be found on the suede leather and colored ink edge, which are present as the edges of the textile inside the helmet.

Description of the samples

24At the end of a careful observation of the armour, one realized that the biggest problem to face was the re-adhesion of flakes of lacquer on the metal substrate. After extensive bibliographic research about the adhesives used on lacquered metal (but also wood) objects, it has been noted that there haven’t been made thoroughly studies on this specific topic. Many of the texts consulted (Japanese, but also some Europeans) foresee the re-adhesion of lacquer flakes by using the same urushi using the traditional Japanese methodology that provides for the repackaging of the entire degraded object, but an intervention with this procedure is indistinguishable from original lacquer and irreversible, but the traditional way for the conservation.

25It was then decided to select a series of products to be tested as adhesives; some of them in the consulted bibliography, others chosen after evaluating their characteristics to meet the needs of the constituent materials of the practical work. Before applying the selected materials directly to the armour, they were tested on suitable, artificially aged mock up with the aim of making a choice about the adhesive that would have shown the best results.

26The realization of samples , conforming to the traditional Japanese lacquering technique, would have resulted in timing, materials and spaces not compatible with the limits of this work. The urushi lacquer, in addition to being an allergenic and toxic substance, is produced only in the east and the elaboration of the complex stratigraphy with which the lacquered objects were made and still today, involves the necessity of a baking oven, a damp chamber the use of materials from Japan.

27In 2008, the students, Dr Manuela Faieta and Dr. Alice Rivalta, for their Master’s degree , in the Central Institute for Restoration of Rome, restored a Japanese helmet from the collections of the Stibbert Museum in Florence; on this occasion they had the opportunity to study in depth the Japanese lacquer technique by recreating samples with traditional technique (Faieta and Rivalta 2008). They could be able to carry out this great work thanks to adequate spaces where doing lacquering tests. Here they could find equipment for this aim and they also use of materials from Japan (lacquers, clay, pigments, paintbrushes). The purpose with which the samples were made was to study the technique by reproducing the stratigraphy found on the helmet and recreating a surface (natural and artificial) aging that provided a photochemical degradation to test solvents for the cleaning before using them on the original . Thanks to their kindness and prof. Vilma Basilissi (rapporteur for both thesis work) it has been possible to see of the experimentation to be used for our work.

  • 5 A glass bell below which a pan containing a saturated solution of network water and potassium chlor (...)
  • 6 Lacquer obtained by a slow evaporation of water contained in the ki urushi to reduce its content up (...)

28The samples they made consisted of the entire Japanese stratigraphy: several layers of clay preparation of different granulometry together with a raw lacquer and finishing layers with pigmented lacquers (Kinoshita et al 1998).The samples were made using die casting steel plates of dimensions 70x150x0.8 mm, the surface was treated by scratching it with pins and glass fibers to facilitate the clinging of the lacquer and imitate the execution technique found in the kabuto of the collection Stibbert who restored. On the metal so prepared, a layer of raw lacquer (ki urushi) was applied and cured in the oven at 170 ° C for 20 minutes (as by yakitsuke technique). The same ki urushi was also used to make the subsequent preparative layers, mixing it with two different types of ground clay. For the first preparative layer the ki urushi was blended together with jinoko, a coarse clay and coarse ground, the thus prepared mixture, a 1:1 v/v ratio between lacquer and clay, was laid on with a brush and cured in damp room5 for twenty-four hours (Webb 2000). The second level of preparation was achieved by mixing, always in 1:1 v/v, ki urushi and tonoko proportions, a clay with the finest granulometry having the task of creating a smooth and homogeneous film to accommodate the lacquer finish layers pigmented; even this level was laid with a brush and was put in a damp room for twenty-four hours. Finally, they put two layers of fine lacquer (suki urushi6), translucent lacquer in light color with the addition of pigments in powder to make the samples of red and black. To make black samples , 25% pigment based on iron oxides on an inorganic matrix was added to suki urushi; for red ones, instead, a cinnabar-based pigment (as per Japanese tradition) was mixed with 55% in the lacquer.

Aging of samples

29In order to recreate a degradation compatible with that found on the lacquer on the armour B54, it was decided to expose the specimen to a thermal stress to obtain the detachment of lacquer portions from the metal. Two red and two black-colored samples were subjected to heat by placing them on a heated plate at about 50°C and alternating every hour to a freezer cooling at about -20°C. The medium-high temperature and subsequent abrupt cooling have the task of creating thermal shocks by acting on the various material expansion coefficients; the temperature of the freezer could not be adjusted, while the value of 50°C of the plate was chosen as a compromise between too much mild heating, which would not create enough metal dilation, and an excessive value that could have allowed the lacquer to drizzle making sure the effect is opposite to the desired one.

  • 7 At weekends the samples were left permanently for 48 or 72 hours on the hot plate or in the freezer

30After 25 days of stress periods (equal to 107 hot-cold hours and 10 days of stable conditions7), seeing no deterioration even after mechanically solving the metal plates by flexing them, it came to the conclusion that the lacquer used did not still reached a considerable degree of deterioration resulting in too elastic and consequently resistant to the movements of the underlying metal. Having submitted samples at extreme temperature conditions, which will never occur in museums and not, it is agreed that even with aging, it would still not be possible to obtain the desired behavior in a reasonable time. For this reason, for the purpose of experimentation, it was decided to favor the process by immersing a red and a black test inside a case containing liquid azote at a temperature of about -147°C. The procedure provided for the dripping of the samples for about two minutes in the azote and the addition of heat to the plate at 60°C approximately for the same time. After 6 to 7 cycles, the samples were mechanically stressed and already at a first bending of the metal the flakes began to rise, resulting in the perfect success of the accelerated aging method employed.

Fig.6 Black lacquer samples

Fig.6 Black lacquer samples

Accelerated aging process of one of the mock up : a. immersion in liquid nitrogen, b. heat supply on heating plate, c. mechanical stress and subsequent splitting of the flakes.

Credits T. Poli (Scientific Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale ) and M. Trento.

Choice of adhesives to be tested

31Bibliographic research, carried out to select the adhesives to be tested, revealed a widespread use of acrylic resins (Chase 1988; Webb 2000; Lencz 2003; Mattila 2006; Rivers and Yamashita 2006; Schmuecker 2007; Dalewicz-Kitto et al 2013) and animal glue (Guppy 1998; Webb M. 2000; Taguchi 2003; Mattila 2006; Rivers and Yamashita 2006; Dalewicz-Kitto et al 2013), a limited number of vinyls resins (Webb 2000; Lencz 2003; Rivers and Yamashita 2006; Bidorini 2010), and the use of urushi (Webb 2000; Taguchi 2003; Taguichi Y. 2005; Rivers and Yamashita 2006; Coueignoux 2009; Yamashita 2009) to re-adhere the flakes and lifted part. After gathering all the information we have been able to find from case studies and articles on restoration work, we tried to make a product selection by eliminating those that, in our opinion, are unsuitable for this type of problem. The choice of products was made on the basis of the compatibility of the material, the elasticity, the strength and the solvent used, preferring the dissolved materials in middle-polar or nonpolar substances.

32Of course the use of urushi is to be discarded because it makes the result of intervention irreversible and unrecognizable; the animal glues (fish, rabbit) have been discarded because they are dissolved in water, not suitable for iron or lacquer. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy the high number of publications using animal glues, we wanted to test a natural adhesive by trying to dilute it in alcohol (instead of in water as is customary): Funori (Carnazza 2006; Appolonia et al 2008). Among the synthetic resins, the use of Paraloid (mostly B72) (Chase 1988; Webb 2000; Lencz 2003; Mattila 2006; Rivers and Yamashita 2006; Schmuecker 2007; Dalewicz-Kitto et al 2013) was found in a large number of publications, so it was decided to use it but in the B67 dissolved in ligroin variant (Borgioli and Cremonesi 2005). I chose to use Paraloid® B67, instead of the better known B72, because it is possible to dissolve it in apolar solvents. The choice of using apolar solvents has been used for the entire restoration as it is the only way to make a conservative restoration on the photo-oxidative lacquer that is sensitive to polar solvents. Although in the bibliography it was used as a protective metal, even Plexisol® P550 in petroleum oils (Borgioli and Cremonesi 2005) seemed to be a good candidate for our experimentation. The use of vinyl adhesives was verified especially in cases where the substrate affected by the re-adhesion was wood. This category is mostly characterized by products that are not suitable for our materials: emulsion resins (Bidorini 2010)are not suitable for the presence of water (Mowilith SDM5), now out of production and replaced by Eva Art), hot reactivated resins (Webb 2000) may cause discoloration of the degraded lacquer (Beva OF 371), some have too high elasticity that will not allow them to hold the rigid lacquer flakes to the substrate (Mowital B60HH) (Rivers and Yamashita 2006), pure polyvinyl acetate (Lencz 2003) is not advisable because of the release of acetic acid during aging processes (PVAc AYAF). At the end of these researches we ended up not introducing this category into our experimentation. Lastly, we chose to test a category that is not taken into consideration in the consulted bibliography, that of hydroxypropylcellulose (adhesives widely used in the field of paper and leather restoration) to understand its behavior without having examples to refer to of this category, he was chosen to employ the Klucel H (Feller and Wilt 1990).

33For the above reasons, four adhesive solutions have been tested, namely:

    • 8 Funori has been prepared by swelling 4g of seaweed in 100ml demineralized water for 24 hours. After (...)

    Funori (natural glue) 50% in ethyl alcohol (w/v)8

  1. Klucel H (cellulose ether) at 1% in isopropyl alcohol (w/v)

  2. Paraloid® B67 (acrylic resin) to 15% ligroin (w/v)

  3. Plexisol® P550 (acrylic resin) at 40% in White spirit (w/v)

34As previously mentioned, the use of apolar solvents is the best choice for the treatment of degraded lacquer artifacts (Schmuecker 2007; Coueignoux 2009; Dalewicz-Kitto et al 2013), so the two acrylic resins, both soluble in petroleum ethers, are the best choice. Nonetheless, in the case of adhesion, materials that come into contact with each other are the substrate metal and the first layer of ground clay and raw resin (ki urushi + jinoko) and not the top layers of refined lacquer pigmented finish which are subject to degradation and consequent susceptibility to polar solvents. For this reason, the use of two products dissolved in alcohols does not in this case constitute a detriment or degradation factor to the constituent materials.

Testing on adhesives

35To test the chosen adhesives, lacquer flakes (with the help of scalpels and tweezers) have been removed from previously aged samples and applied on steel slabs affected by a thin layer of surface corrosion, representative of the degradation condition found on the armour B54. Since the chosen adhesive be will have to be able to penetrate below the raised flakes, it will have to have a high adhesive strength while retaining low viscosity to allow it to infiltrate. To test these characteristics, a visual test was made to understand the properties of the adhesives at the selected concentrations.

36To perform this test, four mock up were made: two with red lacquer and two with lacquer black. Four case lacquer flakes were preliminarily fixed on each specimen with a thread of Cyanoacrylate (Attack) to avoid their displacement during gluing. On the right side of each fragment, two drops of the different adhesives were placed. Immediately after application, a discreet penetration of Funori and Paraloid® B67 was observed, Klucel H showed poor penetrability and after a minute the surface had formed a film caused by the increase in viscosity which did not allowed it to achieve acceptable penetration. Plexisol® P550, thanks to the low volatility of the solvent in which it is dissolved, has demonstrated high penetration below the lacquer scale while retaining excellent viscosity and elasticity.

  • 9 Fabric cylinders filled with hunting traps.

37Subsequently, we prepared eight steel slabs with a slight, non-powdered, surface corrosion, as follows: four samples received the red lacquer, four fragments on each, and the four remained the black lacquer, following the same criterion. With a fine tip brush, at the point where each flask had to be positioned, we applied two drops of different adhesives so that, even outside the flange edges, we were sure that the adhesion would have taken place throughout the surface. To keep the fragments in place and allow them to complete for adhesion, we decided to cover them with little weight9 by placing a sheet of polyethylene (Melinex®) to prevent the adhesives from sticking to them.

Fig. 7 Preparation of the samples

Fig. 7 Preparation of the samples

Bonding of lacquer flakes with the four adhesives and supply of pressure by using little weight.

Credits M. Trento.

38After 48 hours of drying, the eight samples were observed and the adhesives seemed to have effectively glued the lacquer fragments with the exception of six flakes on eight bonded with Funori. After the bonding process was completed, it was possible to proceed with the test chosen to check its effectiveness: the peeling test. The peeling test is a method used to test the properties of an adhesive that pastes two surfaces. This complex test is highly influenced by the parameters and working conditions and, for this reason, it is difficult to replicate it in our working conditions. Nevertheless, this test has been the only one that allowed us to evaluate empirically the adhesion of the adhesive used.

39To make this test the eight prepared samples were used. Two strips of paper tape were applied on each. To achieve homogeneous scotch adhesion, which does not depend on the subjective and differential pressure that could apply a finger, they were placed under a 4 cm polyethylene foam (Ethafoam®) on which two 10kg lead weights were supported. The weight so evenly distributed was maintained for five minutes then the scotch was removed. The detachment took place slowly from right to left.

40This first test was enough to detach all the flakes attached to Funori and Klucel H from all eight of the samples. The Paraloid® B67 and the Plexisol® P550 responded equally, resulting in two detachments each one on eight sample. For this reason, the strength of the adhesive tape has been increased and applied only on the fragments attached to the two acrylic resins, a strip of scotch from parcels on each sheet. The procedure used was the same as described above with the use of Ethafoam® and weights. The results obtained in this test showed a better behavior of the Plexisol® P550 since only in two samples eight among the lacquering detached unlike the Paraloid® B67 which saw the separation of seven flakes.

Fig.8 Example of realization of the peeling test

Fig.8 Example of realization of the peeling test

In the order of the left: before the test, results after only using the paper tape, results after using plastic tape.

Credits M. Trento.

41Considering the results of the two tests just described, it is evident the non-high adhesive power of Funori and Klucel H that cannot withstand stresses. These assessments have allowed these two products to be excluded at the end of an initial assessment of the effectiveness of their performance.

42As for Paraloid® B67 and Plexisol® P550, although they belong to the same class of polymers, the slight difference in elasticity has probably allowed to the second to give the best results in sealing.

43After evaluating the results of all tests, it was decided to use 40% Plexisol® P550 in White spirit for the re-adhesion of the armor B54 lacquer lifting.

Methodology for restoration

44The choice of the intervention method has been critically evaluated to make an ethically correct restoration for Western canons. Western restoration is in fact based on preserving the history of artefacts by altering them as little as possible and trying to block the degradation processes in order to transmit them to the future. Japanese conservative ethics requires the objects to be conveyed to the future in the best possible way, preserving its aesthetic appearance (Yamashita 2009). This concept manifests itself in Japanese restoration by means of refinishing techniques using materials and methodologies of tradition to keep the artefacts unaltered (Rivers and Yamashita 2006).

45In recent years, even Japanese restorers have tried to approach the European conservatives practices, however, continuing to not detach from tradition and using many natural materials for restoration operations. The materials they use include urushi, animal glues, alga paste (funori), rice and wheat starch paste. In a case like the ours in which lacquer lifts and microfractures are present, traditional Japanese restoration would require treatment with urushi, applying different layers on the surface, to let the flakes re-adhere. In the same way, also for consolidation (named urushi-gatame) they use a solution of urushi diluted in a solvent based on hydrocarbons The solution would come applied to the surface of the degraded lacquer to reinforce it, removing excess and leaving that the lacquer penetrates the microfractures (Rivers and Yamashita 2006).

46The restoration carried out on the armor B54 of Royal Armoury, on the contrary, is conservative, with the objective of the minimum intervention to preserve the traces of time and to block or slow down the ongoing degradation phenomena. The restoration approach in the West seeks to preserve the original materials as much as possible by identifying the products suitable for carrying out the various operations and sometimes deliberately choosing different materials from those used in the work to obtain a recognizable intervention.

Restoration intervention

47Prior to the intervention on lacquer and metals, I took care of the operations of cleaning and securing the tissues (under the supervision of a specialist of the restoration of the textile). The high condition of degradation of the orange silk cords in the helmet (helmet fixing cord and the ornamental knot) made it necessary to carry out a preliminary coating to the intervention to preserve the integrity as much as possible.

48The cleaning of the textile portions only regards the removal of surface particle deposition by physical ventilation by using a surgical micro-aspirator. Deposits, opacity fabrics and trimmings, and also favor degradation phenomena causing rubbing between the fibers.

49After finishing the operations on the textile fibers, cleaning of the lacquered portions could be carried out. The increase in the degradation state causes the lacquer to become sensitive to the action of polar solvents causing its solubilization (Schmuecker 2007; Coueignoux 2009; Dalewicz-Kitto et al 2013), for this reason we made cleaning tests with different solvents and mixtures (a mixture of demineralized water and ethyl alcohol in proportion 1:1 v/v, artificial saliva, acetone, ethyl alcohol and ligroin mixture in 1:1 v/v ligroin ratio) in order to identify the best method of removing coarse deposits without affecting the underlying lacquer. The tests carried out have shown that ligroin is the only solvent that does not damage the lacquer in any way; it removes much of the dirt but is unable to remove coherent deposits (obviously by polar nature). For the removal of these, the ethanol and ligroin solution (LE5) was used. The cleaning was then started on all lacquered portions using ligroin for a first degreasing of the surfaces and the LE5 mixture for removing the most adherent deposits. Also to eliminate the numerous fingerprints present on the red lacquer of the elbow, the solution of alcohol and ligroin has proved to be very effective by returning a glossy surface and intense red color. Despite the opacification of the black urushi inside the armor is greater than the red lacquered portions, after the cleaning the original color emergent again by eliminating the dust coating covering it.

50After having cleaned the lacquer, we went on with the metals. The steel surfaces on the outside of the helmet, mask and cuirass had some fragments of black lacquer that did not allow us to carry out with a mechanical cleaning to eliminate the corrosion products of the iron. For this reason, after performing preliminary tests, it was decided to limit the cleaning of these parts to the use of the above mentioned solvents for lacquer cleaning. Only in limited areas of the outside of the cuirass we made mechanical removal of some localized iron corrosion points by means of blade scalpel mobile. This operation was necessary because solvents alone were not able to thin out and remove major corrosive phenomena.

51Copper alloys, on the other hand, are covered by a dark-colored oxidation layer that needed to be thinned to return a correct reading of the object. The cleaning was done with a chelating solution, 10% trisodium EDTA in demineralized water, supported with polyacrylic acid (Carbopol at 6%) to allow to narrow the area to be treated and decrease the risk of contact with the adjacent steel areas lacquered (water sensitive). The chelating gel was applied on a brush on the affected areas, allowed to act for 1-2 minutes and removed with demineralized water pads. The cleaning done on the rims of the helmet, which showed the presence of gilding, brought to light their original appearance which was not believed to be recovered in their entirety. In order to guarantee the safe application of the EDTA gel, the segments steel of the bowl were preliminarily shielded with a polyethylene film (Melinex®).

52As regards shibuichi alloy decorations, the cleaning was done by using a micronized calcium carbonate abrasive powder: a cotton swab soaked with ligroin to give it emollient properties, and then rolled into abrasive powder. The so prepared tampon is rubbed by circular movements on the affected surface, the powdered and whitish patina remaining on the surface is removed with ligroin tampons.

Fig.9 Tiger cleaning steps on the front of the armor

Fig.9 Tiger cleaning steps on the front of the armor

a. before cleaning, b. during cleaning with micronized calcium carbonate, c. after cleaning.

Credits M. Trento.

53The readhesions of lacquer flakes was the next step to cleaning. Because of the complexity of the elements, especially of the mask, the use of clamps for pressing was uncomfortable and, in some cases, impossible to use due to the difficulty of reaching the areas to be glued. To facilitate the procedure, it was therefore decided to use the technique used in Japan for the reshaping of lacquer, called shimbari (Rivers and Umney 2007; Bainbridge et al 2015). This technique involves the creation of a wooden frame suitable for the object, which allows to control the strength of the flexible sticks used to exert pressure on the surface to be refreshed. In this case, it was chosen to use 2.5mm glass fiber rods of 400mm length. The ends were covered with plastic adhesive tape to prevent glue and decrease slip. To disperse the punctual load of the sticks a thin multi-layer damping block was used, consisting of: a monosiliconised polyester film (Melinex®), used to prevent the adhesive used to bond to the damping block, 5mm of rubber Liquid Silicone (Silical 120 with Silical Hardener 125), the flexibility of which allows it to adapt to surface bends and neoprene strips to prevent slipping of chopsticks (Rivers and Yamashita 2006).

Fig. 10 Readhesion of red lacquer inside the mask using shimbari technique

Fig. 10 Readhesion of red lacquer inside the mask using shimbari technique

Detail of damping block and fiberglass chopsticks.

Credits M. Trento.

  • 10 Plexisol® P550 is already sold in 40% solution in rectified petrol.

54The results of the study, initiated for the choice of the best adhesive to be used to let the lacquer adhere again on the metal, led to the choice of Plexisol® P550 (40% in White spiri10t w/v) for its adhesive and elasticity. The resin was applied below the flakes raised with a small brush and using a syringe to penetrate it deep down. Fiberglass chopsticks were positioned on the glued areas by interposing the damping panet; the adhesive thus obtained was maintained for 48 hours in order to allow the solvent to evaporate completely. The Plexisol solution was also applied to the brush on the deepest crimps, allowing the adhesive to infiltrate and thereby fixing them to try to strengthen them and to reduce the risk of future detachment.

55The lifting on the planar edges, especially the helmet and cuirass, have been stopped by the use of clamps because they were ease to be reached. Again in this case the adhesive was laid with a brush and syringe to make it penetrate below the flakes. Between the adhesive and the clamps was placed a sheet of polyethylene monosyliconated (Melinex®) and a silicone damping block.

56At the end of the set time, the casing and the terminals were removed: the small liftings, characterized by a limited thickness of the lacquer, adhered to the metal without any apparent problem, which was not the case with the major lacquers more thick. The elasticity of the Plexisol® P550 does not seem to be able to counter the strength of thicker urushi flakes by gluing them to the metal as it should have been. To solve this incident, 15% Paraloid® B67 was used in ligroin, the most rigid product and which had given the second best result during the tests. Paraloid has been applied in the areas still affected by lifting using the same methodology described above and keeping the bonding frames for 48 hours. After the time for bonding, we got the result it proved to be effective. Adhesive residues were removed with ligroin (more volatile than the White Spirit), taking care not to dwell too much on the glued areas to avoid fixing the adhesive.

57Some lacquer gaps do not have the raised edges and therefore do not need to be glued; despite being vulnerable as they represent weaknesses. For the treatment of these areas it was decided to contain the gaps by making marginal micro-grouting in order to limit the possible movements and upsurge of the urushi. The dough was made by mixing 60% acrylic resin (Paraloid® B67 in ligroin) and 40% inert (consisting of 40% glass microspheres and 60% powder pigments) (Faieta and Rivalta 2008). In order to achieve black, ivory black pigment was used, for red, however, it was considered necessary to perform several tests to find the right blend of pigments similar to the original lacquer. At the end of the tests it was established that the best mixture is composed of 50% artificial red cinnabar and 50% red Herculaneum; with this dough we proceeded with the grouting of the only areas affected by gaps in the entire stratigraphy of urushi. The dough was laid with the tip of a dental specimen creating a small container edge covering the entire thickness of the flake fracture and partly the contact surface of the metal support, then finished with ligroin tampones to eliminate smudges and excesses.

Fig. 11 Stages of realization of a red lacquer micro-grounding

Fig. 11 Stages of realization of a red lacquer micro-grounding

a. mixture powders and Paraloid® B67; b. realization of the dough; c. container edge using a dental specimen; d. finished container edge,

Credits M. Trento.

58After finishing all the operations, a microcrystalline wax layer (C80 at 5% in White Spirit) was applied on all metallic surfaces using a brush.

Fig. 12 Helmet, mask and cuirass (front and back)

Fig. 12 Helmet, mask and cuirass (front and back)

Helmet, mask and cuirass after restoration.

Credits Imaging Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale.


59The restoration of Japanese armor has proved to be a complex task due to the insufficient specific bibliography on the subject and the heterogeneity of the materials and the consequent degradation factors that it manifests. An organized program of intervention, based on conservative priorities, was important to define the alternation of skills that had to be superimposed. The realization of the intervention proposed only on three elements of the armor can be considered as a pilot project. It has been possible to comprehend more detail the executive technique and also the problems present in the entire armor by limiting practice work. In this way the subsequent work can be carry out in an adequate way allowed to define a proper methodology to meet the conservative requirements of lacquered surfaces. The result of the study was essential to the choice of the most suitable adhesive for the reshaping of the lacquer on the metal: strong enough to ensure stability on the metal support but sufficiently elastic to follow the movements of the two materials.

60The purpose of this work was to provide guidance on the operational procedures for the creation of a conscious and suitable restoration on the lacquer applied on a metal support where Western knowledge is not yet sufficiently wide and in depth.

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1 The dating was possible thanks to the signatures of armoires on helmet and cuirass, but it is not possible to date the other elements that make up the armor.

2 Historical Archive of Royal Armoury, fasc. 394. Letter of 26 June 1871.

3 With modern armor we mean that they have been realized after the middle of the 16th century, it was the beginning of a great variety of different styles.

4 Sometimes this type of armor is classify as byotoji-do, referring to rivets protruding in front (Piva 2009).

5 A glass bell below which a pan containing a saturated solution of network water and potassium chloride was prepared, obtaining a relative humidity of about 85% (at a temperature of about 25°C). To check the room conditions, a juggling screen was placed inside the room for thermo-hygrometric detection.

6 Lacquer obtained by a slow evaporation of water contained in the ki urushi to reduce its content up to 20-30%, used for the final layers.

7 At weekends the samples were left permanently for 48 or 72 hours on the hot plate or in the freezer.

8 Funori has been prepared by swelling 4g of seaweed in 100ml demineralized water for 24 hours. After 24 hours the colloidal compound was filtered with a fine synthetic fiber fabric to remove the fibrous pulp. The obtained product was then diluted to 50% in ethyl alcohol.

9 Fabric cylinders filled with hunting traps.

10 Plexisol® P550 is already sold in 40% solution in rectified petrol.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig.1 Helmet
Caption Left side before restoration
Credits Credits Imaging Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale.
File image/jpeg, 48k
Title Fig.2 Mask
Caption Detail of the emblem on the right ear.
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 40k
Title Fig.3 Cuirass
Caption Detail of the ideograms on the front.
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 64k
Title Fig. 4 Red lacquer stratigraphy
Caption 10x enlargement observed at optic microscope and electronic scanning microscope.
Credits Credits T. Poli (Scientific Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale ) and M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 100k
Title Fig.5 Interior of the cuirass
Caption Detail of a gap of black lacquer.
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 92k
Title Fig.6 Black lacquer samples
Caption Accelerated aging process of one of the mock up : a. immersion in liquid nitrogen, b. heat supply on heating plate, c. mechanical stress and subsequent splitting of the flakes.
Credits Credits T. Poli (Scientific Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale ) and M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 100k
Title Fig. 7 Preparation of the samples
Caption Bonding of lacquer flakes with the four adhesives and supply of pressure by using little weight.
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 44k
Title Fig.8 Example of realization of the peeling test
Caption In the order of the left: before the test, results after only using the paper tape, results after using plastic tape.
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 108k
Title Fig.9 Tiger cleaning steps on the front of the armor
Caption a. before cleaning, b. during cleaning with micronized calcium carbonate, c. after cleaning.
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 128k
Title Fig. 10 Readhesion of red lacquer inside the mask using shimbari technique
Caption Detail of damping block and fiberglass chopsticks.
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 92k
Title Fig. 11 Stages of realization of a red lacquer micro-grounding
Caption a. mixture powders and Paraloid® B67; b. realization of the dough; c. container edge using a dental specimen; d. finished container edge,
Credits Credits M. Trento.
File image/jpeg, 108k
Title Fig. 12 Helmet, mask and cuirass (front and back)
Caption Helmet, mask and cuirass after restoration.
Credits Credits Imaging Laboratory in Conservation and Restoration Center La VenariaReale.
File image/jpeg, 151k
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Electronic reference

Martina Trento, « The conservation treatment of the B54 Japanese Armour from the Royal Armoury in Turin »CeROArt [Online], EGG 6 | 2017, Online since 28 May 2018, connection on 21 September 2020. URL: ; DOI :

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About the author

Martina Trento

Martina Trento graduated in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage at Venaria Reale (Turin, Italy) with specialization in ceramics, glass and metals.

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Licence Creative Commons
CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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