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Restoring Chinese art
date: 2018.06.12

Experts seek to put emphasis on the background stories in the restoration of ancient Chinese art and calligraphy at this year's international forum on art preservation in Beijing. [Photo/Xinhua]
 
Restorers of ancient Chinese art and calligraphy need to focus on the historical context of the artworks when working on them.
 
"We should focus not only on the ancient calligraphy and paintings themselves, but also on the art, culture and civilization hidden within," says Zhang Bin, the director of the Conservation and Identification Center of Documents and Paintings at Renmin University of China.
 
Zhang made these comments at the 2018 International Summit Forum on the Authentication, Restoration and Protection of Chinese Ancient Calligraphy and Paintings which took place in Beijing between June 5 and 7.
 
According to Zhang, the center has been seeking to connect with world-renowned museums, galleries, institutes, artists and critics, to protect Chinese ancient art and calligraphy on a global scale since the first forum was held in 2016.
 
So far, the forum received academic support from 28 museums and archives from China, the United Kingdom and the United States, including the Palace Museum and the British Museum.
 
Echoing Zhang's concerns, Yu Hui, the director of the Research Laboratory at the Palace Museum, focused on the earlier preservation and restoration work done on five renowned pre-Yuan-Dynasty paintings.
 
  
Experts seek to put emphasis on the background stories in the restoration of ancient Chinese art and calligraphy at this year's international forum on art preservation in Beijing. [Photo/Xinhua]
 
"The original historical and cultural information was often misinterpreted by later generations (during those restorations). So, we should look at the historical background so as to restore the original features of the works."
 
In his case study on the work of Emperor Taizong Receiving the Tibetan Envoy (Bunian Tu), Yu countered the assertion of artist Ning Enbao, that the Palace Museum had damaged the painting during the restoration process, resulting in the disappearance of a white cloth bag and the obscuring of the view of a maidservant's hand.
 
According to Yu, the "white cloth bag" was in fact an illusion from a piece of damaged silk, and the seeming obscuring of the hand was caused by low-resolution printing.
 
Yu pointed out that art restoration goes hand in hand with art research. "So, only when we know the reason for the damage (of the artwork) and the history of its restoration, can we restore it properly."
 
Context is also key in calligraphy authentication. This is showcased by Cai Yaoqing, a researcher at the Museum of History at Taiwan, who investigated artist Wang Duo's copy of calligrapher Yan Zhenqing's work, Liu Zhongshi Tie.
 
Though the work is listed as a copy by Wang, the piece differs greatly from Yan's original work.
 
Explaining the difference, Cai points out that 1639, the year when Wang produced the copy, was when Wang's second daughter died. It marked the continuation of Li Zicheng's peasant rebellion at a time when there was widespread famine.

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