CRCAO member - Japan Team

Mechtild Mertz

Researcher, CNRS


My research project focuses on the study of religious wooden sculptures, that are important testimonies of Japanese and Chinese culture. In particular, I wish to improve the knowledge of their geographical provenance and their period of manufacture, important but often lost data.

My research is applied to Buddhist, Shintô and Taoist sculpture. I have included in this last category the statues of ancestors for domestic cultic use, as well as Taoist masters and local and national deities.

My project initially focuses on pieces preserved in Western collections, in anticipation of one day having access to Chinese national collections.

Buddhist sculptures preserved in Japan have been the subject of in-depth studies by Japanese researchers, and Shinto statuary, which is still little explored, is given priority.

My approach is multidisciplinary and developed according to four axes. The first is based on an innovative methodology applied on a large scale in Japan; it is based on techniques developed in wood anatomy. The second is based on a classical, stylistic and iconographic analysis of Buddhist sculpture. The wealth of information collected from traditional woodworkers during my doctoral research leads thirdly to extend this fieldwork to sculptors of religious and cultual statuary, as close as possible to the material and technique. In the fourth axis I envisage a cooperation with sinologists to exploit ancient texts that refer to the significance of the wood species in religious sculpture.

My goal is to organize the collected data in a multilingual database to facilitate their exploitation. I will put it online to allow broad and international access to researchers, art historians, archaeologists, curators and conservators.

Research thematics

  • Collaboration in the realization of a microscopic atlas of 1000 Chinese wood species, a project led by an international team of Chinese (Nanjing Forestry University) and Japanese (Kyoto University, RISH) specialists
  • Religious and cultual wood species of Japan and China (Buddhism, Taoism, Shintô)
  • Excavated wooden remains
  • The woods of Chinese and Japanese Buddhist sculpture
  • Material culture
  • Microscopic wood species identification through the cellular microstructure analysis

Publications (HAL Archive Ouverte)

  • Mechtild Mertz. Ki 木 le bois. Philippe Bonnin, Nishida Masatsugu 西田雅嗣, Inaga Shigemi 稲賀繁美. Vocabulaire de la spatialité japonaise 日本の生活空間, CNRS Éditions, 2014, 978-2-271-08059-2. ⟨halshs-02996003⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz, Takao Itoh. A Study of the Wood Species of 73 Deity Sculptures of the Hunan Province, from the Patrice Fava Collection. Religions and local society - Interdisciplinary Studies Hunan Province, Cahiers d’Extrême- Asie 19, 2010. ⟨halshs-02986891⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz, Takao Itoh. Analysis of Wood Species in the Collection. Wisdom Embodied - Chinese Buddhist and Taoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010. ⟨halshs-02986696⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz. 中国由来の仏像彫刻の用材 Chûgoku yurai no butsuzô chôkoku yôzai. 木の文化と科学 Wood Culture and Science, Kaiseisha, pp.105-120, 2008, 木の文化と科学 Wood Culture and Science, 978-4-86099-225-5. ⟨halshs-03096552⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz, Takao Itoh. The Study of Buddhist Sculptures from Japan and China Based on Wood Identification. Scientific Research on the Sculptural Arts of Asia Proceedings of the Third Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art, 3, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2007, Forbes Symposium proceedings, 978-1-904982-20-3. ⟨hal-02994701⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz. Wood Species used in Traditional Japanese Architecture. Archiv Weltmuseum Wien, Verein Freunde der Völkerkunde, 2015, Archiv Weltmuseum Wien, 65, pp.188-195. ⟨hal-02994911⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz, Sangeeta Gupta, Yutaka Hirako, Pimpim De Azevedo, Junji Sugiyama. WOOD SELECTION OF ANCIENT TEMPLES IN THE SIKKIM HIMALAYAS. IAWA Journal, Brill publishers, 2014, 35 (4), pp.444-462. ⟨10.1163/22941932-00000077⟩. ⟨hal-02986659⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz, Takao Itoh. Identification des bois de huit sculptures chinoises et de deux sculptures japonaises conservées aux MRAH. Bulletin des Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire (Bruxelles), 2005, Bulletin des Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, 76, pp.148-176 et 217-224. ⟨hal-03088112⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz. Datation d'une statue d'Amida-nyorai exposée au musée Guimet. Arts Asiatiques, École française d'Extrême-Orient, 1995, 50 (1), pp.94-104. ⟨10.3406/arasi.1995.1373⟩. ⟨halshs-02988116⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz, Takao Itoh. Wood species identification of the sculptures of Anjô-ji temple. [Technical Report] Kyoto University. 2008. ⟨halshs-03096582⟩
  • Mechtild Mertz. Publication d’un ouvrage sur la culture du bois au Japon. Bureau CNRS de Tokyo pour l’Asie du Nord-Est, 2021, pp.21. ⟨hal-03192878⟩