Ca'Pesaro, Oriental Museum, 18th-Century Chinese Screen, 2006


Coromandel screen depicting scenes of hunting on horseback, in black lacquer on wood with decorative work in gold and silver dust and inlaid mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell. China, second half of the XVIII century; twelve panels, each 205 x 39 cm; overall size 205 x 475 cm. Property of the Museum of Oriental Art, Ca' Pesaro, Venice.

The Museum of Oriental Art in Venice was formed around the collection of Prince Enrico di Borbone, Count of Bardi, most of which he acquired during a 2-year visit to Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula, Indochina, China and Japan in 1887-89. This recently restored* Coromandel screen, however, was already in the possession of the family. Within a decorative border featuring flowers and birds the twelve panels together depict a procession of mounted noblemen and others, some on horseback, some on foot, engaged in hunting animals and birds with various weapons, including slings, bows and arrows, guns, spears and a kind of bolas.

Each panel comprises two vertical planks of coniferous wood, joined by bamboo dowels and prevented from buckling by two battens set into the back to a depth of about half the thickness (2 - 2.5 cm) of the planks. The 3 mm-thick black lacquer base is decorated with inlaid tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl and applied gold and silver leaf and dust, with painted details.

The screen had been kept in storage for over 30 years while awaiting conservation treatment. There were three main problems: 1) the fact that the screen had been used and manhandled; 2) a previous crude maintenance operation involving the use of improper cleaning materials, perhaps including caustic soda. This had ruined the lacquer finish, left visible drip marks and areas of milky opaqueness and penetrated below the inlay work, resulting in widespread lifting (and some loss) of the mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell; 3) replacement of the original hinges with fleur-de-lys shaped substitutes, painted gold and crudely screwed to the panels, causing the lacquer to crack and flake and exerting undue pressure on some panels.

Restoration was preceded by extensive analysis and research to establish the nature of the materials used and their current state of conservation, the decorative techniques, etc., and tests to decide the best ways of dealing with the various problems. Following cleaning and consolidation of the surfaces, removal of overpainting, stucco infills and other inauthentic materials and resetting of the hinges where necessa

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