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A dozen out of the 50 caves were painted with oil painting technique, using perhaps walnut and poppy seed oils, conclude Ms Yoko Taniguchi from the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, working with the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums-CNRS, France, the Getty Conservation Institute."This is the earliest clear example of oil paintings in the world, although drying oils were already used by ancient Romans and Egyptians, but only as medicines and cosmetics", explains Ms Taniguchi, leader of the team."My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe.These lead carbonates were often used, since antiquity up to modern times, not only in paintings but also in cosmetics as face whiteners.They couldn't believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside." A combination of techniques to study the paintings was crucial to conclude that oils were used, says Dr Marine Cotte, one of the team."We needed different techniques to get the full picture".The results showed a high diversity of pigments as well as binders and the scientists identified original ingredients and alteration compounds.Apart from oil-based paint layers, some of the layers were made of natural resins, proteins, gums, and, in some cases, a resinous, varnish-like layer.Protein-based material can indicate the use of hide glue or egg.
In 2001 the Taliban destroyed two ancient colossal Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan, around 140 miles northwest of Kabul, which were hewn out of sandstone cliffs in the sixth century and, measuring up to 55 metres, were the biggest of their kind.Although caves decorated with precious murals from 5th to 9th century A. also suffered from Taliban attacks on this World Heritage Site, they have since become the focus of a major discovery, revealing Buddhist oil paintings that predate those in Renaissance Europe by hundreds of years.Scientists have proved, thanks to experiments performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, that the paints used were based of oil, hundreds of years before the technique was "invented" in Europe, when artists found they could use pigments bound with a medium of drying oil, such as linseed oil.In many European history and art books, oil painting is said to have started in the 15th century in Europe.
But the team that used the ESRF, an intense source of X rays, found the Bamiyan paintings date back to the mid-7th century AD The murals show scenes with Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures.Other motifs show crouching monkeys, men facing one another or palm leaves delicately intertwined.