Experts examined the repaired cultural relics in the royal garden of Old Summer Palace at a meeting held by the Old Summer Palace Cultural Relics Restoration Organizing Committee on July 14. They praised the organizer for its contribution to repairing cultural relics, but also questioned the methods they used in making repairs, “Are the repairs consistent with historical records? If you cannot find any historical records, do not be hasty in repairing the precious cultural relics.”
The first batch of 20 pieces of experimentally repaired porcelain were examined yesterday, after restorers spent more than one month repairing them by filling broken parts with white gypsum, decorating the white gypsum with gold lacquer, and drawing fresh designs and patterns.
Experts examine a repaired relic.
Some of the porcelain was simply repaired with white gypsum, but others were also decorated with gold lacquer. After restorers had filled in the incomplete designs and patterns, these pieces of porcelain were restored to the way they looked when they were made in ancient times. The experts present at the meeting called into question the use of gold lacquer and white gypsum and the reason for artificially filling in incomplete designs and patterns.
The organizing committee announced that the second batch of relics to be repaired are 10 pieces of broken blue-and-white porcelain produced in state-owned kilns during the reign of Kangxi during the Qing Dynasty. These pieces, discovered in the Winery and Lotus Pool, include three bowls each painted with an image of two dragons playing with a pearl, which meet the minimum requirements for restoration after workers joined their different parts together using 365 fragments of porcelain; four plates with the scene of dragons moving across the sea; one chrysanthemum cup; one plate with a design of peaches and lotuses; and one underglazed red bowl with a design of dragons, tangled tree branches, and flowers. Experts said that these 10 pieces of porcelain have some historical value, but they are still not elaborate works of art.
Yang Zhijun, former director of the Cultural Heritage Conservation Department under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said that just like the ruins of Old Summer Palace, porcelain found there should not be completely repaired. It is important to carefully protect the broken cultural relics that hold historical information because they can provide visitors with a patriotic education simply by their brokenness.
Hu Dongbo, an associate professor at the College of Archeology at Peking University and a restorer of the cultural relics in Old Summer Palace, said that the restoration team will continue to repair the second batch of cultural relics with gypsum, but stop applying gold lacquer. Furthermore, they will not indiscreetly fill in the incomplete designs or patterns on cultural relics any more, unless they find relevant historical records to support them doing so.
Gold lacquer will weaken the feeling of historical vicissitudes
"Why was the gold lacquer painted on the surface of the repaired relics after plastering?" asked Wang Danhua, head of the Technological Protection Expert Group under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
"For the purpose of making the porcelain more beautiful," answered Yu Yang, member of Organizing Committee for the Old Summer Palace Heritage Repairs and who is in charge of specific repair work, said that like Japan, they had repaired the relics with gold lacquer, which not only looks more beautiful than white plaster but also allows these to be differentiated from the original relics.
To this, Yang Zhijun, the former director of Cultural Heritage Conservation Office under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said that this method could be used if the relics are pieces of monochrome glazed porcelain. However, the gold lacquer is not suitable for the porcelains in the Old Summer Palace, because the gold contrasts with the color of the porcelains and it will weaken the feeling of historical vicissitudes.
We should not supplement the designs arbitrarily
"Did these designs exist originally?" Wang asked again when he saw a plate on which there are five bats arrayed around a Chinese character, meaning "longevity."
Yu answered, "The three bats on the bottom of the plate are original and the other two were added when the plate was being repaired."
"Did you draw the bats based on some original photo?" asked Wang.
Learning that the other two bats were drawn according to the bats that already existed on the plate to complete the pattern, Wang said seriously, "Without a solid basis, you should not do any completion or make any additions."
Wang said that the original bats all had vivid legs, feet and eyes, while the newly drawn bats neither look charming nor even have visible brushstrokes.
She said that we must faithfully repair the cultural heritage, "we are not relic dealers and the repaired relics should not feel fake."
Large plaster particles give a distinctly rough texture
After careful identification of the repaired cultural heritage pieces, experts found that the textures of the repaired parts and the original parts were very different.
Wang believes that the main reason is that the gypsum particles are large; therefore the plaster has a rough surface. There is some difference between repairing porcelain and repairing pottery. The pottery is rough so the large gypsum particles can be used while the porcelain is smooth so the fine gypsum particles should be used.
Therefore, the official from Organization Committee of the Old Summer Palace Heritage Repairs said that they will use more fine gypsum particles in their repairs in the next stage.