The Purpose of Restoration and the "30-Centimeter Rule"

By National Palace Museum of Korea

The conservation treatment of an archaeological object requires a careful selection of methods that are proven to be most suited to the purpose. In some cases, traces of conservation treatment are deliberately left untouched so as to reveal to the viewer how the artifact has been treated for conservation.

Shepherdess Figure_Before (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

Shepherdess Figure(19C, Staffordshire, England, Private Collection)

This shepherdess figurine belonging to a private collector was broken into several pieces.

Shepherdess Figure_Before (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

The collar and legs of the shepherdess as well as nose portion of the sheep were missing,

Shepherdess Figure_Before (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

portions of overglazed enamel had been delaminated.

Shepherdess Figure_After (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

Because the private collector wanted the piece to be preserved as if it had never been broken, the fragments were joined so that no traces of the restoration remained, and the missing sheep nose was restored to be indistinguishable from the original artifact. Furthermore, certain sections were color-matched as they had never been delaminated.

Shepherdess Figure_After, 2016, From the collection of: National Palace Museum of Korea
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Shepherdess Figure_After, 2016, From the collection of: National Palace Museum of Korea
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Pottery Bowl_Before (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

Pottery Bowl(Late Bronze Age, Lachish, Islael, British Museum)

Belonging to the British Museum, approximately one-third of this pottery bowl was missing. To better understand the original shape, the missing part was restored with gypsum and color-matched.

Pottery Bowl_After (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

As can be seen from the post-restoration photograph, the seam where the original and newly-created part meet has not been altered, making the restoration easily distinguishable. Although the overall color of the original artifact and restored piece appears similar in the photo, the difference is obvious up close and in person.

Okjeok - Jade Flute_Before (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

Okjeok - Jade Flute (Joseon Era, National Palace Museum of Korea)

This jade flute was broken into three pieces before restoration, and a portion toward the middle about 7 cm in length was missing. Surface contamination was severe, and identification numbers in black and red remained visible.

The surface was cleaned with solvents, and the seams along the fragments were left visible. The missing part was restored using gypsum after estimating its length by referencing remaining parts and other similar artifacts.

Okjeok - Jade Flute_After (2016)National Palace Museum of Korea

Although it may be difficult to distinguish from a distance of more 30cm, the restored portions of the jade flute are easy to see within 30cm.

The artifact can be understood in its entirety due to the restoration. The color similarity makes the piece appear whole from a distance, but detailed pictures reveal the difference between the original and restored segments.

Of course, not all artifacts need to be restored to the same standard. I hope, however, that the above information regarding the purpose of artifact restoration and the 30-centimeter rule was clear and easy to understand. When observing artifacts preserved in museums in the future, take a look and compare the original and restored parts from afar as well as up close and consider the process behind a conservationist's work to add another level of enjoyment to your visit.

Credits: Story


Hyo-yun Kim

※ The use of the above images has been authorized by the respective private collector (Mrs. Lyster Cooke, 2008; Restoration performed at West Dean College) and the British Museum (2009).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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