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Lost Treasures of Tibet

Before and After
The restoration


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In order repair the paintings, head conservator Rodolfo Lujan and his team began a painstaking process. First, they cleaned the paintings with a special solvent. Made of ethyl alcohol and powdered ammonium bicarbonate, the solvent dissolves dirt and grease. The restorers were careful to dab the cleaning solution onto the paintings through a thin barrier of tissue paper, a method that ensures only the painting's surface dirt—and not its pigments, made of semiprecious stone—comes off. (The same method was used to clean Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.)

Once the paintings were clean, the team began the next step: securing loose pieces of plaster to the monastery's mud walls. Using a plaster made from mud, they filled up the gap between the detached painted plaster suface and the wall behind. They then used a syringe-like applicator to inject a powerful adhesive behind the plaster, thus securing the painted plaster layers to the newly thickened wall.

The final step in restoration involved touching up areas of the paintings where color was missing due to extreme damage. To preserve the integrity of the original paintings, Lujan's team used washable watercolor paints in crosshatched strokes to complete both tiny and large sections of the paintings. This way, future conservators could readily distinguish new sections from original and easily remove them if necessary. Lujan and his crew left other paintings restored but not touched up.

The ongoing restoration of the paintings in Thubchen, along with the structural renovations to the monastery's roof and beams, should help ensure that these treasures will remain intact for another 500 years.

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Lujan working on painting

Head conservator Rodolfo Lujan works on one of Thubchen's wall paintings.





Temple woodwork

Repairs to Thubchen's roof and beams will help protect the newly restored paintings inside from future damage.


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