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Chinese Imperial Jades in the Collections of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
A pair of jade tripod. A pair of white jade tripod cups in the shape of an ancient bronze ritual vessel, jue. Inscribed underneath “Da Qing Qianlong Fang Gu (Great Qing Emperor Qianlong imitation of the antique)” H: 14.4 cm; W: 7.6 cm (mouth) Oscar Raphael Bequest, 1941.

LONDON.- This special display will focus on 6 pieces of jade from the Qing imperial collection, which are in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum. They will also feature in an exhibition of jades from the Museum's collections to be held at the Fitzwilliam in early 2009.

These jades were carved during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong (r.1736-96), and their materials would have been mined and carefully shipped to Beijing to be carved in the imperial workshop. Some of the pieces on display bear poems composed by the Emperor himself emphasising the important status of jade in Chinese art and culture.

Imperial documents show that the Emperor Qianlong was a dominant influence on the jade carving style in the imperial workshop. Objects were often altered a number of times until they met with his satisfaction. Emperor Qianlong was very fond of the top quality jade from Khotan and he composed more than eight hundred poems on themes related to jade from this source. He often emphasised in his poems that these jades should not be wasted on common craftsmen; a typical example can be observed from the poem “Eulogising the dragon tailed gong made from jade of Khotan” incised on the inside edge of the jade rhyton in the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The 6 pieces on display will demonstrate different features of Qing dynasty jade carving, including copying of ancient objects, particularly bronzes (such as a pair of white jade tripods in the Fitzwilliam Museum), the translation of a two dimensional landscape onto a three dimensional jade (such as a green jade boulder with figures in landscape) and new innovations, such as an openwork censor.

Recently, three monumental late 17th century Chinese vases, damaged last year at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, are back on public display today (9
November) following the complex process of restoration. A specially designed case, overlooking the staircase where the vases had originally been displayed for almost sixty years, now houses the imposing lidded baluster jar - 80 cm in height and weighing approximately 45 kg - flanked by two slightly smaller porcelain vases of 'yan yan' shape. All three vases had been smashed into hundreds of pieces when a visitor collided with them in January 2006.

The restoration of the vases was undertaken by Suffolk-based ceramic conservator Penny Bendall and took six months to complete. Penny, who trained at West Dean College and holds a Royal Warrant, said, "The sheer size and weight of the vases proved a challenge at times during the conservation process but I am very pleased to have brought this extensive project to a successful conclusion. The emphasis on minimum intervention throughout has hopefully demonstrated that, in the majority of cases, conservation to exhibition standard can successfully be achieved without excessive retouching."

Fitzwilliam Museum Director Duncan Robinson said, "We are very pleased with the result of this major restoration project and delighted to see the Qing vases back on display in the Museum. The risk that sunlight and heat would eventually degrade the adhesive used in their conservation has prevented us from putting them back in the window recess where they were originally displayed, but the advantage of their new location is that visitors will be able to walk around them."

Cambridge law firm Hewitsons generously supported the restoration of the vases and Managing Partner John Dix was on hand as they were installed in their new case ready to go on show to the public. "The restoration of these vases is a remarkable achievement," he said. "It is a great pleasure for Hewitsons to have been associated with this project and we are delighted that visitors to the Fitzwilliam may now continue to enjoy these magnificent vases as they have done for many decades."

The Fitzwilliam Museum's Chinese Vases
The three restored Chinese vases are Qing Dynasty, reign of Kangxi (1662- 1722) and date from the late 17th or early 18th century. From a set of five vases which entered the Fitzwilliam Museum's collections in 1948, they had been displayed for decades - in line with the Fitzwilliam’s distinctive house style and without incident - on a recessed window sill on an imposing 1930s marble staircase and enjoyed by the Museum’s 300,000 visitors a year, until damaged by a visitor in January 2006.

Painted in enamels in the famille verte palette with traces of gilding, the vases are decorated with peonies and other flowering plants, phoenixes, pheasants, butterflies and insects. Two vases are of ‘yan yan’ shape (height 71 and 72.5 cm) and one is a heavy baluster jar with cover (height 80 cm) which weighed about 45 kg and could not be lifted single-handed by a curator.

The impact that toppled the vases resulted in pieces of porcelain being distributed over a wide area of the staircase landing and no less than 28 steps. After careful evaluation of the damage, the site of the accident was photographed and the vases systematically documented and removed over a period of two and a half days. The pieces were then placed in 24 large lined trays, carefully labelled and cross-referenced with the location from which they were retrieved.

Museum staff were confident at an early stage that the vases could be restored and sought advice from experienced oriental ceramic conservators. Following careful evaluation of the damage, Penny Bendall was appointed to carry out the conservation work in March 2006. In August 2006, the restored baluster jar went on public display in the Museum's exhibition Mission Impossible? Ethics and Choices in Conservation.

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