Pacific Asia Museum

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46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
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USC Pacific Asia Museum

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Technology and Art


Conducting research in order to learn more about the objects in the Pacific Asia Museum collection is one of our priorities. As technologies change and improve, so do our methods of analyzing the Museum’s collection and sharing findings with the public and other scholars, as well as incorporating them into exhibitions and publications. This large sculpture of a Buddhist deity with his consort, carved in wood and then gilded, has been scanned using CT, or computed tomography, imaging. This type of scanning allows us to look inside sculptures, which can enhance our understanding of their material composition and construction techniques but also other aspects, as with this object. Many sculptures of Buddhist deities and revered teachers are carved or cast so that they have a hollow cavity in their interior which can be filled with sacred materials and consecrated, indicating their use in ritual settings.

This sculpture has a wooden plug on its back which led us to believe that it had this type of cavity. It underwent the CT process much like any patient would, going through the CT scanning tube in a local hospital in order to capture 3-D images of both the interior and exterior of the piece. The images, which are taken in sequential slices, are then reconfigured by the radiography technicians so that a comprehensive interior view is possible. By looking closely at the CT images, a rolled scroll and smaller precious materials were identified in the cavity. In addition, we could see that the deity and the lower torso of the consort were carved from one piece of wood while her upper torso and head were two additional pieces, joined together and then covered in gesso to conceal the seams. With the help of this “inside look”, we were able to gain more knowledge about the sculpture, its use and manufacture, without disturbing the seal on the consecrated area or requiring any physical intrusions.

Object Details