Special Exhibition “Investigation and Restoration of Cultural Relics at the National Palace Museum” Melds Art and Technology
As the only institution in Taiwan to establish an independent department dedicated to the conservation of artifacts, the National Palace Museum (NPM) has organized a special exhibition to share its practice of using scientific research and analytical tools to enhance conservation methods and techniques. “Investigation and Restoration of Cultural Relics at the National Palace Museum” opens today to showcase the museum’s ongoing efforts to conserve its collection of nearly 700,000 artifacts spanning several millennia, thereby preserving and extending the civilizations and the cultural legacies they represent.
This exhibition is divided into three sections: 1) “Scientific Analysis of Antiquities” uses X-ray and other imaging techniques to analyze the materials and internal structures of a bronze vessel, lacquerware, a revolving vase, and an ivory ball; 2) “Restoration of Porcelain” demonstrates the process for restoring ceramics—highly prized for their aesthetics and craftsmanship—to their original appearance; 3) “Restoration of Calligraphy and Paintings” features two paintings on silk, showing their mountings and deteriorating conditions, and illustrating the conservators’ considerations and technical approaches.
Uncovering the inner secrets of cultural relics
In the first section, X-rays and CT scans reveal the previously hidden interiors of four artifacts, thereby solving the mysteries of their respective structural composition: a set of carved openwork concentric ivory balls, a revolving vase with swimming fish in cobalt blue glaze, a square gui food container with Ya Chou emblem, and a hollow dry lacquer statue of Bodhisattva . Alongside are interactive multimedia displays that present the NPM’s accomplishments in recent years of melding the humanities and current technology in order to examine and understand artifacts in a new light. For example: analyzing the skills and techniques involved in decorating the Tibetan Dragon Sutra and Xiqing Xujian mirror cases; deciphering methods for crafting the concentric ivory balls, revolving vases, and bronze vessels; identifying jades, precious stones, and materials used in paintings and ceramics. All of the above exemplify the crucial role of scientific advancements in informing the NPM’s approaches to conservation, research, exhibition, and acquisition.
Retaining the value of cultural relics through restoration
The NPM maintains offices dedicated to the conservation of four categories of artifacts, each with distinct materials and requirements for preservation: calligraphy and painting, rare books and historical documents, antiquities, and textiles. The five ceramics in the “Restoration of Porcelain” section were part of the Qing imperial collection, including the three porcelains that were accidentally damaged in recent years. In order to repair these items and recover their aesthetic value, conservators drew upon their knowledge of the original firing processes as well as the composition of the clay bodies and glazes.
In addition to their natural aging, the two paintings on silk in the “Restoration of Calligraphy and Paintings” section had deteriorated in places from the treatment of painting materials and mounting methods over time, consequently requiring the partial or complete detachment of the mountings. In both cases, the conservators took a minimally interventionist—as well as reversible—approach in an effort to preserve as much as possible the original mountings and, along with them, the inherent artistic messages as well as historical information. Their hope is to achieve “even thickness, cleanliness and smoothness.”
“Investigation and Restoration of Cultural Relics at the National Palace Museum” Special Exhibition
Dates: March 31 - June 10, 2023
Venue: Gallery 105, Main Building, National Palace Museum Taipei
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