Friday, 2 January 2015

The pigment binding agent in Tang Dynasty Chinese pottery.


The Tang Dynasty lasted from 618 to 907 AD and is considered to have been a golden age in Chinese history, with a large number of archaeological sites producing a wide range of cultural artefacts, particularly high quality polychrome pottery. Previous studies have identified many of the pigments used in this pottery, as minerals such as cinnabar, apatite and malachite, but the nature of the agent used to bind these pigments has remained unclear.

In a paper published in the Chinese Science Bulletin on 18 April 2013, Yan HogTao and An JingJing of the College of Chemistry and Materials Science at Northwest University, Zhou Tie of the Key Scientific Research Base of Ancient Polychrome Pottery Conservation at the State Administration for Cultural Heritage and Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Army and Li YuHu of the Engineering Research Center of Historical Cultural Heritage Conservation at Shaanxi Normal University describe the results of a study designed to identify the binding agent in Tang Dynasty polychrome pottery.

An example of polychrome pottery of the Tang Dynasty. Yan et al. (2013).

Yan et al. collected polychrome layers from pottery fragments from the collection of the Research Center of Historical Cultural Heritage Conservation at Shaanxi Normal University, then extracted proteins from these using ultrasonic baths and centrifuging. These protein samples were then analysed by mass spectrometry, and compared to results from model samples used by mixing cinnabar, azurite, malachite and apatite with egg and animal derived glues.

The results for the Tang Dynasty specimens produced a close match with the animal glue derived model samples, leading Yan et al. to conclude that the Tang Dynasty potters were most likely using an animal based glue as a binding agent for pigments in their work. This is consistent with pigments used in pottery from a number of other periods in China, suggesting that there has been a long and consistent preference for such agents in Chinese art.

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