Chinese horizontal painted scroll: The Great Wall of China

great-wall-of-china-1113691_960_720A Chinese proverb says “the person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” Would you believe a person who said they wanted to build a wall that was 5,550.3 miles (8,851.8 km) long? And what if that person said that the only materials they needed were stone, brick, tamped earth and wood? With what probability would that wall become the most extensive construction project ever realized by man? Would you believe that wall could last for more than 2,000 years? This has all happened with the realization of the Great Wall of China. In fact, in the 3rd century BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, ordered the wall erected in order to prevent incursions from barbarian nomads into the Chinese Empire. Although this aim was never truly fulfilled under a practical point of view, the Wall indeed worked as a psychological barrier between Chinese civilization and the world. It is estimated that millions of people worked on the wall over the course of more than 1,000 years.Great_Wall_of_China_at_Dandong

After all these centuries, the Great Wall is still symbol of the country’s enduring strength. Even more, it is an emblem of how extravagant Chinese art and architecture can be. There are many paintings, poems, operas, stories, and legends inspired by the Great Wall. Among them is the “Chinese horizontal painted scroll: The Great Wall of China.” The scroll, of which the artist is unknown, dates back to the seventeenth century and is a detailed map depicting the Great Wall, as well as geographical terrain and camps; it is a testimony of great documentary value and historical interest. Signs and captions permit extensive knowledge of the area. Another unique aspect is the representation, following Chinese orientation, of the north in the lower part of the work.

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This scroll once belonged in the collection of Cardinal Stefano Borgia in Velletri. This work of art is at the core of the oldest section of the Ethnological Museum as attested by the Cardinal’s letter dated January 14th, 1792. It became part of the Borgiano Museum of Propaganda Fide in 1805. Around 1928, it was acquired by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide for the Ethnological Museum’s collection.

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Unfortunately, this work of art was in a poor state of preservation. There were extensive surface deposits and traces of glue on both the front and back of the painted scroll, as well as various stains, pigment separations, and general browning. Also, the scroll was left in unfriendly conditions due to long term preservation, which contributed to the artwork’s damages. For example, the decision to roll the scroll for such a long period made the glue harden, thus creating folds on the silk and paper. The degradation of the artifact was chiefly due to the temperature and humidity of the environment in which it was stored.

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Thanks to the wonderful sponsorship of The Singapore Chapter, this special piece has been bought back to life, paying homage to its beauty. Along with the immense generosity of our Patrons, our expert conservationists have managed to restore and maintain the precious artistic heritage. The first procedure was an anoxic disinfestation: a process devised for insect control on artifacts. The second step involved a surface cleaning process. Initially, conservationists dusted the surface using a soft bristle brush and scrubbed it with a sponge and micro suction. Then, restorers removed the old glue with a scalpel and cleaned the back surface by moisturizing it with a water-alcohol solution.

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Mechanically, restorers eliminated the old restorations, because these previous changes were made with very thick and inadequate Japanese paper. All the weakened parts were reinforced with Japanese gauze, whereas the pigments were consolidated with Jun-Funori adhesive at 1% water solution and applied with brush. Additionally, the gaps were closed using Japanese paper, pigmented in the same tone of the original.  Conservationists further used a wheat starch glue to close the gaps between the silk and paper. Finally, the scroll was lightly moistened and flattened between antacid cardboard, as this type of cardboard is highly durable.