Korean Art: Collecting Treasures
             
Bodhisattva

As the world becomes more reliant on technology, museums are exploring creative ways to utilize it. The use of digital images is one way the Harn Museum of Art works to fulfill its mission to "promote the power of the arts to inspire and educate people and enrich their lives."

Digitizing images through traditional scanning and digital photography is a wonderful way to afford access to the collection, but museum staff are also excited to be involved in several nontraditional and cutting-edge methods of imaging cultural artifacts. In 2008 the Harn Museum partnered with the University of Florida Digital Library Center (DLC) on an innovative pilot project involving the African beadwork exhibition Between the Beads: Reading African Beadwork. The goal was to offer online a virtual viewing experience that simulated the physical experience of seeing the exhibit objects firsthand. In addition, museum staff wanted to provide viewers with an ability not available in the physical exhibition: that of magnifying and viewing the smallest details of each object.

Photographers from the DLC traveled to the museum regularly over several months, photographing more than 80 objects from the exhibition. They created digital surrogates that would replicate museum viewing by allowing each three-dimensional object to be seen "in the round." To accomplish this, each object was photographed with a high-resolution camera from 108 different angles using a rotating turntable; the item was photographed, the base was turned to the next position, and the item was photographed again. The resulting 108 images for each item were then color corrected and combined to create a single, rotating 360-degree view. Users can magnify the objects to reveal details and/or rotate them to simulate walking around them in the museum exhibition.

The success of the beadwork project prepared the Harn Museum for future digitization projects and distinguished the museum as a statewide leader in nontraditional digitization methods. It also inspired the Harn to seek out additional collaborations with nonmuseum entities. In the spring of 2008 the Harn Museum acquired an exceptionally rare 17th-century Korean gilt wood bodhisattva from the Joseon dynasty through the generosity of Michael and Donna Singer. Once again the museum partnered with the DLC to digitize the bodhisattva sculpture in the round. The figure was accompanied by original woodblock-printed pages that were previously removed by past owners prior to acquisition by the Harn Museum. The black-ink pages have excerpts from the Lotus Sutra written in Chinese characters while the red-ink pages were printed with Ranjana script. The pages would have been originally placed inside the sculpture’s body cavity. Upon removing the hair knot on top of the figure’s head, it was apparent that additional pages were inside the head of the sculpture. The museum staff decided not to remove the pages inside the head, as that could damage the sculpture, the pages, or both. Whether or not there were additional sutra pages or other treasures within the sculpture was a mystery. By collaborating with Shands Hospital and North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, the museum was able to solve the mystery using types of advanced digital imaging traditionally used for medical research and diagnosis.

Shands HealthCare professionals agreed to produce digital X-ray images and perform a color computed axial tomographic (CAT) scan of the bodhisattva. The X-rays and the CAT scan allowed museum staff to determine that there were no additional items within the body. The three-dimensional color CAT scan also revealed that the bodhisattva is composed of several pieces of wood. Surprisingly, the intricate main body is carved delicately from one piece, while the hands, hair knot, face, ears, and base are separate pieces. The CAT scan also enabled museum staff to see the character of the wood grain and age rings, the iron nails, and the sutra pages encased within the head.

Through collaboration with colleagues at North Florida Regional Medical Center, the museum was able to further investigate the ball of paper inside the head. After the removal of one of the sculpture’s detachable hands, a high-resolution digital camera was inserted into the central cavity of the sculpture, revealing the intricate woodcarving techniques of the internal structure and minute fragments and fibers left over from pages that were previously removed from the work’s core. The paper inside the head is whitish-tan in color and impressed with red ink markings. Although the text encased in the head can never be read because the paper cannot be removed without completely destroying its casing, it is enlightening to have a close-up digital image of the paper. The information made available through the advanced imaging of this figure is significant to the history and study of art, as well as to religious studies and the history of the Silk Road.

By using traditional scanning techniques, three-dimensional imaging, and other digital reproduction technologies, the Harn Museum seeks to promote access, improve usability, reduce physical handling of objects, and allow for easier internal processing. Digitization will continue to play an increasingly important role for the Harn Museum. Digitization not only allows for greater opportunities to document and study the museum’s extensive holdings, it also provides a tremendously functional format that can be used to produce traditional printed volumes for an individual reader as well as an online resource for worldwide audiences. The important collaborative projects in which the Harn has been engaged with the University of Florida Digital Library Center and the two regional hospitals demonstrate how well positioned the Harn is to continue contributing to art historical research through the use of cutting-edge digital technologies.

Select an image to the left to view the various ways the sculpture has been studied.

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva
Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), 17th Century
wood with gilt, plus original sutra pages found within body cavity of sculpture
25 1/2 x 17 1/4 x 13 1/2 in. (64.8 x 43.8 x 34.3 cm)
Sutra Pages: 11 5/8 x 7 3/8 in. (29.5 x 18.7 cm)
Sutra Pages: 16 3/4 x 12 1/8 in. (42.5 x 30.8 cm)
Museum Purchase, Gift of Michael and Donna Singer
2008.20

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva side view

CAT Scan

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva CAT Scan

CAT Scan



CAT Scan taken at Shands at UF

CAT Scan



CAT Scan taken at Shands at UF

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva Underside

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva Provenance Label

Sutra Pages

Sutra Pages Original Condition Inside Head

Sutra Pages

Sutra Pages Original Condition

Sutra Pages

Sutra Pages

endoscopy

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva prepared for xray

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva X-Ray

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva X-Ray

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva X-Ray

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva X-Ray

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva X-Ray

cat scan

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva CAT Scan

cat scan

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva CAT Scan

CAT Scan

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva CAT Scan

Endoscopy

Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva Endoscopy

Conservation

Conservation Work

In the round



Gilt Wood Seated Bodhisattva photographed in the round at the Digital Library Center