Bamiyan Buddhas 'were once intensely colourful'

A team at Restoration, Art Technology and Conservation Science at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) Germany has based its findings on analysis of hundreds of fragments of the destroyed statues in Afghanistan for one-and-a-half years.

"The (Bamiyan) Buddhas once had an intensely colourful appearance," said Prof Erwin Emmerling, who led the team.

The world watched in horror as Taliban fanatics 10 years ago blew up the two gigantic Buddha statues that had since the 6th century looked out over the Bamiyan Valley in what is now Afghanistan.

According to the team, the outer robes, or sangati, of the statues were painted dark blue on the inside and pink, and later bright orange, on top. In a further phase, the larger Buddha was painted red and the smaller white, while the interior of the robes was repainted in a paler blue.

The graphic reconstruction undertaken by the TUM team confirms ancient traditions -- sources as far back as the 11th century speak of one red Buddha and one moon-white. The other parts of the figures may possibly have had a white priming coat, but that can no longer be proven beyond doubt.

The statues themselves were hewn out of the cliff; however, the flowing garments were formed by craftsmen using clay, which was applied in two or three layers. The remains display an astonishing degree of artistic skill.

"The surfaces are perfectly smooth -- of a quality otherwise only found in fired materials such as porcelain," said Prof Emmerling.

In the clay, the TUM conservators found straw and chaff which absorb moisture, animal hairs which stabilize the plaster like fine glass fibers, and quartz and other additives which prevent shrinkage.

The bottom layer of plaster was held in place with ropes attached to small wooden pegs. This allowed the craftsmen of old to apply unusually thick layers of up to eight centimeters, say the team members.

"These have survived not only nearly 1,500 years of history, but even the explosion in some parts," said Prof Emmerling. 

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