According to a group of Japanese, European, and U.S. scientists restoring damaged murals in caves in the Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley (famous for the stone Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban) the cave paintings reveal a sophisticated technique of oil painting.
More than a third of paint samples analyzed by the Getty Conservation Institute, using gas chromatography methods, reveal the presence of oils.
The development of viable techniques of oil painting has been attributed to the European Renaissance, but Buddhist images painted in the central Afghan region, dated to around 650 AD, are in fact the earliest examples of oil used in art history, according to Yoko Taniguchi, an expert at Japan’s National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.
Following is an excerpt from the Sri Lanka Daily News:
“It was very impressive to discover that such advanced methods were used in murals in central Asia,” Taniguchi said.
“My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe. They couldn’t believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside,” she added.
Painters of the Buddhist murals used organic substances — including natural resin, plant gum, dry oil and animal protein — as a binder, which even today is an important element in paint.
A binder keeps pigment particles together in a cohesive film and allows the paint to resist decay.
The researchers are trying to restore the murals amid international efforts to salvage what is left of Bamiyan.