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Friday, January 7, 2011

Bhutan's dangered temple art treasures

The isolated kingdom located between India and China has asked for advice on preserving masterworks from the 16th-19th centuries  British art experts have been given unique access to the hidden heritage of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, including spectacular 16th- to 19th- century wall paintings from its 2,000 temples and monasteries.

Specialists from the Courtauld Institute have been stunned by the exquisite quality and technical sophistication of paintings that were largely unknown and unrecorded in the west. Professor David Park, from the Courtauld, said: "The wall paintings are extremely dazzling. Some of the earlier examples, particularly, are extraordinary. His colleague, Stephen Rickerby, said: "We were dumbfounded by the rich, jewel-like quality of some of the paintings in such distant settings.

It was quite unpredicted." He described their technique as unrivalled in the west and spoke of being overawed by the miniaturist detail, achieved during a unique layering  of colours and coatings.

 The delicacy and sophistication of facial expressions and flowers were "staggering". Despite their intricacy, some of the paintings are enormous, extending across hundreds of square metres.  Bhutan, a kingdom of 700,000 people with a Tibetan Buddhist heritage, is one of the world's most inward-looking countries. Its temples and monasteries are in rough mountain terrain where, in some areas, horses, mules and yaks are the most common modes of transport.

One hermitage is balanced 3,400m up a mountain and is so inaccessible that even mules cannot reach it. Rickerby climbed for two hours to reach it. Once in the hermitage, he was taken aback by the early 18th-century paintings on its interior walls.

Access to the sites was granted as part of three-year research collaboration between the Courtauld and the Bhutan department of culture, through funding from an anonymous US benefactor. The very last stage of fieldwork and scientific analysis has just ended.

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