PMA 2004-7, Tibetan Buddhist altar (19th to 20th century)

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In addition to Tangka, furniture plays an important role in worship in the Buddhist tradition.The buddhist altar collected by Philadelphia Museum of Art was originally built into the walls of a Tibetan home, most likely in a room reserved as a sacred space for daily ritual worship by Tibetan-Buddhist lay practitioners [1].

© Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA Polychrome domestic altar (PMA 2004-7-1a1--1e1i), Tibetan, late 19th-early 20th c.

Photo accessed from Museum of Art online catalog

Summary of results

Detail of the gilded altar door. image adopted from reference [1] with author's permission

Small fragments from the top of the metallic decoration was removed, extracted and analyzed by Liquid chromatography-diode array detector-mass spectrometry (LC-DAD-MS). It was found that the altar door showing imitation gilding with berberine-toned brass flake, brass leaf and tin leaf. LC-DAD-MS analysis showed berberine [M+1 352] and palmatine [M+1 336] and jatrorrhizine [M+1 338], compounds found in barberry species. LC profiles of the altar colorant and Tibetan barberry (Berberis tibetacae) were similar. Detailed analytical results including pigments applied to the alter could be found in publications by B. Price [1] and X. Zhang [2].

HPLC profile

Absorbance at 350nm (mAU). analyzed by X. Zhang [1]

Identified compounds


[1] Price, B., Malenka, S., Sutherland, K., Paul, K., Kingery, A., and Zhang, X., A Tibetan Polychrome Domestic Altar and Four Six-Panel Cabinets: Materials Analysis, Dating, and Conservation. ICOM-CC, New Delhi, India, September, 919-925 (2008).

[2] Zhang, X., Mouri C., Mikage M., and Laursen, R. A., Identification of Sources of Protoberberine -Alkaloids Used as Yellow Dyes in Asian Objects of Historical Interest. Studies in Conservation 55 177-185 (2010).