Acquisition Science

last edited on Fri. April 1 2016

Last summer, a very old little green monk went to the University of Chicago Medicine for tests.

The monk—in Korean, nahan, one of the original disciples of the historical Buddha—was not a patient, but an exceptional and rare celadon ceramic sculpture that the Smart Museum of Art was thoroughly examining prior to purchasing. 

Aided by curator Richard A. Born and registrar Sara Hindmarch, the hospital technicians and Dr. Christopher Straus, Associate Professor of Radiology, examined the nahan using a computed tomography (CT) scan.

The imaging revealed that a visible break line between the head and the body of the figure was a level, horizontal match, and showed the density of the clay from head to toe. The technical data supported visual analysis of the color and pattern of the green glaze covering the figure, suggesting that the separately fashioned head and body were joined when the work was first manufactured by hand.

Based on this, and an earlier thermoluminescence test, the Museum determined that the head and body are contemporaneous to one another and that the sculpture dates to the 11th or 12th century.

The purchase was finalized, the nahan entered the Smart’s collection, and is currently on view in the Janis Kanter and Thomas McCormick Gallery of Asian Art.

The Richard A. Born Fund

A new fund (PDF) has been established in honor of Senior Curator Richard A. Born, who formally retired at the end of 2015. The fund celebrates and furthers Richard’s work building the Smart Museum’s Asian art and Modern Art collections over his 35-year curatorial career here. Contributions to the Fund will make possible new acquisitions and critical conservation work as well as other initiatives that activate the collections in unique ways and facilitate their use by faculty, students, and the public.

For more information, contact Bill Lynerd at or 773.834.1960.

A version of this article was originally published in the winter 2016 edition of At the Smart.