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The Digital Gallery of Hōryūji Treasures


    The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures Interactive exhibition space
    August 1, 2023 (Tue) - January 28, 2024 (Sun)

    In The Digital Gallery of Hōryūji Treasures, visitors can examine and interact with digital reproductions of historic objects from the temple that cannot be kept on permanent exhibit. Reproductions on graphic panels and a massive 8K monitor give visitors the opportunity to authentically experience these works of art and the freedom to study them down to their smallest detail. Other replicas reconstruct what Gigaku masks and costumes may have looked like in their heyday, offering a window into the colorful world of this performing art, which once enthralled people.

Highlights of the Exhibition

The Important Cultural Property Glass Photographic Plates of the Murals in the Kondō Hall of Hōryūji Temple
Showa era, 1935 | Glass (dry-plate collotype); 363 plates | Hōryūji Temple, Nara

Mural No. 6: The Pure Land of Amida (detail) in the Kondō Hall of Hōryūji Temple
*Scaled-down graphic panels are exhibited at the venue.

The originals of these twelve murals—four large buddhas interspersed with eight smaller bodhisattvas—were highly regarded before they were damaged by fire. In 1920, Kuki Ryūichi, the first Director General of the Imperial Museum (forerunner of the Tokyo National Museum) wrote the following in his Investigative Report on Means to Preserve the Murals of Hōryūji Temple:

“The murals that adorn Hōryūji Temple’s Kondō Hall are generally recognized to be the finest known examples of the art form in any Asian nation.”

These glass photographic plates were designated Important Cultural Property in 2015, along with the negatives in the possession of Benrido, Inc. (eighty-three photographs taken at the same time, including four-color separation and infrared photographs). The plates were then digitized only after five years of cleaning and restoration.


Glass Photographic Plates of the Murals in the Kondō Hall of Hōryūji Temple — Digital Viewer

A series of murals, thought to have been painted between the latter half of the 7th century and the early 8th century, once covered the inner walls of the outer sanctum in the Kondō Hall of Hōryūji Temple. The originals suffered damage in a fire on January 26th, 1949; but these glass photographic plates, created in 1935 by the fine-art printing company Benrido show us what they once looked like.

The digital viewer presents ultrahigh-resolution images of the original plates on a large 8K monitor. Each plate was scanned at 1,500 dpi in five sections using a special scanner developed for this purpose. Distortions caused by the camera lens when the photos were taken and contrast issues that arose during the development process were then digitally corrected, and the scans were joined to create more than three billion pixels of data for each large mural and 1.7 billion pixels for each small one.

The Digital Viewer was released online in 2020 and is available on PCs, tablets, and smartphones. But at this exhibition, visitors will be immersed in this masterpiece of Buddhist painting and its beautiful brushwork through a 70-inch 8K monitor.

Inner Shrine at the Kondō Hall of Hōryūji Temple: The Glass Photographic Plates of the Murals in the Kondō Hall of Hōryūji Temple – Digital Viewer Operation Screen

Production: Hōryūji, Nara National Museum, National Institute of Informatics Takano Lab
With the support of: National Center for the Promotion of Cultural Properties (CPCP), Benrido, Inc.
Available in Japanese and English.

Glass Photographic Plates of the Murals in the Kondō Hall of Hōryūji Temple — Digital Viewer


Gigaku, with Reconstructed Masks and Costumes

Gigaku, a form of masked, outdoor performance, reached Japan from mainland Asia during the Asuka period (593–710). The fifth painting in the National Treasure Illustrated Biography of Prince Shōtoku shows the prince assembling youths to learn this art. Their teacher, a performer named Mimashi, studied Gigaku while living in what is now China before he returned to Japan via the Korean peninsula in 612, during the reign of Empress Suiko. Gigaku declined in the Heian period (794–1192) and is now known only through written records and inscriptions on masks.

The Hōryūji Temple treasures in the Tokyo National Museum’s collection include thirty-one Gigaku masks. Although the Shōsōin Imperial Repository and Tōdaiji Temple in Nara preserve other examples, most date from the Nara period (710–794). Only the Hōryūji collection includes masks made in the Asuka period. The Tokyo National Museum and the National Center for the Promotion of Cultural Properties collaborated to create replicas of two Gigaku masks in 2018, and two costumes in 2019, consulting surviving records to recreate what these items originally looked like.

Original; Gigaku Mask: Garuda
Asuka period 7th century (Important Cultural Property)
The Gallery of Hōryūji Treasures, Room 3
Displayed only on Fridays and Saturdays for preservation.

Reproduction; Gigaku Mask: Garuda
produced in 2018
復元模造 伎楽面・伎楽装束の写真
Reproduction; Gigaku Costume: Robe (Hō)


*This project is supported by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, through the Japan Arts Council, Fiscal Year 2022.


details (CPCP Website)