Filed under: ceramic | Tags: broken, decreated, fractured, glued, reconstructed, restored, shattered, smashed
Susan Sontag’s novel, “The Volcano Lover”, contains an account of the vandalism, restoration, and re-restoration of the Portland Vase:
“One February mid-afternoon in 1845, a young man of nineteen entered the British Museum, went directly to the unguarded room where the Portland Vase, one of the museum’s most valuable and celebrated holdings since its deposit on loan by the Fourth Duke of Portland in 1810, was kept in a glass case, picked up what was later described as ‘a curiosity in sculpture,’ and started beating the vase to death. The vase broke, fractured, shattered, was decreated. The young man whistled softly and sat down in front of the heap to admire his handiwork. Guards arrived at a run.
“The constables were summoned and the young man was taken to the Bow Street Police Station, where he gave a false name and address; the director of the museum set out to break the unpleasant news to the duke; the curators went to their knees to gather up all the little pieces. Careful not to miss any! …
“… the vase, in one hundred and eighty-nine pieces on a table in the museum’s basement, being examined with tweezers and loupe, was put back together by one intrepid, skillful employee and assistant in seven months.
“Can something shattered, then expertly repaired, be the same, the same as it was? Yes, to the eye, yes, if one doesn’t look closely. No, to the mind.
“Back inside its glass case, this new vase, neither replica nor original, was enough like its former incarnation that no visitors to the museum observed it had been broken and restored unless it was pointed out to them. A perfect job of reconstruction, for the time. Until time wears it out. Transparent glue yellows and bulges, making seamless joints visible. The jeopardous decision to attempt a better reconstruction of the vase was made in 1989. First, it had to be restored to its shattered condition. A team of experts immersed the vase in a desiccating solvent to soften the old adhesive, peeled off the one hundred and eighty-nine fragments one by one, washed each in a solution of warm water and non-ionic soap, and reassembled them with a new adhesive, which hardens naturally, and resin, which can be cured with ultraviolet light in thirty seconds. The work, checked by electron microscope and photographed at every stage, took nine months. The result is optimal. The vase will last forever, now. Well, at least another hundred years.”