"the precious jewels of Jao-chou"
May 5, 2008 11:13 AM   Subscribe

In 2006 in the Fitzwilliam Museum three enormous porcelain vases from seventeenth or eighteenth century China were smashed by a museum visitor who fell down the stairs. This presentation "follows the vases' progress from scattered fragments to their redisplay in the Fitzwilliam Museum. The site includes slideshows, film clips of the conservation process and a timelapse of one of the vases under reconstruction".

Also: interview with the visitor who smashed the vases - My precious vase hell; two versions of a picture of the visitor sitting among the shards, Daily Mail and Times; information about the man's arrest (he was released without charge); the lack of insurance; the columnist Craig Brown on the affair; and an article on the reconstruction.

And here're are translations of three letters written by Père Francois Xavier d'Entrecolles about porcelain manufacture in China around the same time the vases were made.
posted by paduasoy (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
They had these vases sitting on a low window sill "for decades" and they think the patron had criminal intent? I assume children have never been allowed in the Fitzwilliam.
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on May 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was feeling so very very sorry for the person who fell and broke the vases, and then I read the interview with him, and now, not so much.

Great post!
posted by JanetLand at 11:34 AM on May 5, 2008

Cool process, though. I should try cellophane tape and capillary action next time I break the sugarbowl.
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on May 5, 2008

I can remember visiting the Fitzwilliam before the incident happened and thinking 'those vases are in a bit of a precarious position - they must be copies/not worth a great deal'. How wrong I was ... but the museum was totally mental, putting them there. Though I thought someone might accidentally kick one rather than actually plunge down the stairs right on top of them.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2008

They were put there during a time when museum design was considerably more casual than it is today and the crowds were much smaller. I don't blame the original curators who made that decision, after all they were not aware of the vases' value - but I question the current management's failure to adjust their displays to the times. Hopefully this was a wake-up call.
posted by Spacelegoman at 11:51 AM on May 5, 2008

posted by blue_beetle at 12:16 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nice post! Oh, and what is a "Norman Wisdom moment"?
posted by languagehat at 1:03 PM on May 5, 2008

Apparently, the unknown man - a regular visitor, we are told, though it is hard to imagine that ("coo-eee!") he will be putting his head around the door again very soon - tripped over his shoelace before plunging headlong down the stairs.

In fact, Nick Flynn appeared at the museum the very next day, with the purpose of taking various interested parties on a guided tour. His behaviour raises more questions than it answers. Meanwhile the museum benefits from all the publicity. Interesting story.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:19 PM on May 5, 2008

I heard that being anti-china is quite popular. It never looked like much fun before today.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:36 PM on May 5, 2008

In January, Nick Flynn was caught on camera as he fell down a staircase at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, smashing three 17th-century vases worth an estimated £500,000.

Love to see that video.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:51 PM on May 5, 2008

And yes, he sounds like a total twit.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:52 PM on May 5, 2008

He might be a twit, but to intentionally take a fall down a stone staircase? That could result in five or six broke arms, a few broken legs, and perhaps two broken necks. I doubt it.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:22 PM on May 5, 2008

Wow - this Nick Flynn guy is, well ... he's kind of a Grade A tool, isn't he?


Anyway, I have to say I'm incredibly impressed with the repair job, but I do wish they hadn't retouched the paint in the fill areas. I tend to lean towards the conservation side of things: the vases have been broken - that's part of their story now. Don't try to imitate the painting stytle of yesteryear - let them show their cracks!
posted by bettafish at 2:38 PM on May 5, 2008

I assumed they would have used cyanoacrylate adhesive, and so began formulating the appropriate witty riposte in my mind. But I was surprised to see they used our Bisphenol A based friend epoxy! I didn't know that epoxy was available that was thin enough to "wick" itself into fine cracks like that.

Like my father said; learn something new everyday, sometimes two things on good days.
posted by Tube at 4:16 PM on May 5, 2008

Yeah, I was also surprised how easily the epoxy "wicked" into the cracks... I figured that would be the most difficult part... well, that and deciding whether to spend an extra month sorting shards or just chuck 'em and paint it fresh. I'm not entirely happy with their painting technique, but this was fascinating nonetheless. Thanks!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:47 PM on May 5, 2008

I think I must have read a different interview. He just sounded like...some guy. I didn't get any toolishness vibe at all.
posted by DU at 5:04 PM on May 5, 2008

this is an awesome post. thanks!
posted by brandz at 8:25 PM on May 5, 2008

Not two months earlier I caused a docent quite a start when I dropped to the floor of the Fitzwilliam to sketch the assembly of an arts and crafts era chair. I think he thought I had a massive heart attack right there in his wing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:30 PM on May 5, 2008

I had no idea my accident was going to turn into an international news story. When I walked out of the museum after it happened, I forgot all about it.

Nice attitude from a regular visitor to the Fitzwilliam. I'd be heartbroken if I smashed one of my friend's vases (even the $2 op-shop bits), let alone three whopping great 200 year old plus museum grade pieces. What a wanker.
posted by Jilder at 11:44 PM on May 5, 2008

Very interesting. If you read the Guardian piece, he comes across as a total buttwipe.

Money quote: "I knew it wasn't my fault."

It may have been an accident, but it was entirely his fault. Clumsy twat.
posted by rhymer at 1:52 AM on May 6, 2008

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