http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-34059664I reported yesterday about the unnamed 12-year-old boy that stumbled into the news, last Sunday 23 August, by punching a hole into a $1.5m USD (£960,000 GBP) masterpiece painting by the 17th Century Italian painter Paolo Porpora. Taiwanese restorer Leo Tsai has performed a minor miracle by patching it up in 2 days. Here is the painting:
...and here is a composite of the restoration:
The page on the BBC site (link at top) then goes on to report on other famous art stumbles. My favourite concerns a student that fell down the stairs at Cambridge University's Fitzwilliam Museum.
The museum – as you do – had some vases on a shelf as decoration in the stairs (in the Museum's words “installed on the recessed windowsill of the grand staircase of the 1930s Smith and Brewer extension building”). They had been there, without incident, ever since being gifted to the museum by Anthony de Rothschild in 1948, and were valued at the time at up to £300,000 GBP ($471,000 USD).
Here is a picture of the 3 affected jars, now nicely restored & housed in a glass case:
The vases were produced in late 17th or early 18th century China during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) of the Qing Dynasty. Intended to be decorative rather than functional, they are very large and extremely heavy. The baluster jar is 80cm high and weighs approximately 100lb (45.45 kg); it requires two people to carry it. The yan yan vases are approximately 71cm and 72.5 cm high respectively. The ceramic walls are up to 3cm thick in places. Sets of such vases were usually made for the European export market. They were popular with a wealthy clientele for decorating the rooms and corridors of their large houses.
Then, one fateful day in early 2006, a certain young man decided to visit the museum & used the staircase:
The disaster happened on the landing of the grand stone staircase connecting the first-floor Flower Paintings gallery (Gallery 17) and ground-floor Islamic gallery (Gallery 33).
The main flight of stairs rises from the ground floor to a central landing beneath a large window, then divides into two smaller flights left and right. The visitor tumbled down the right-hand flight of stairs, then along the windowsill from right to left, colliding with each vase in turn. The impact reduced them to rubble and scattered them across the landing and stairs. The stone flags were gouged in places where he skidded on some of the hard porcelain sherds. Other fragments were crushed by staff coming to help him. The noise of the crash was immense and echoed through the galleries.
Museum attendants and first-aiders quickly attended to the visitor at the scene, moments after the crash. Although an ambulance was called, he later walked away unharmed.
Shortly afterwards the Museum discovered the value of publicity:
On Monday 30th January 2006, The Daily Telegraph newspaper published a photograph taken moments after the smash by another visitor with his mobile phone. It showed the man sitting amidst the devastation on the landing. The incident captured the public imagination and sparked a global media storm. The Museum was inundated with an unprecedented flood of queries from all over the world. The Fitzwilliam's small press team worked round the clock and cancelled leave.
The Museum has amassed several enormous files of press cuttings. The event became so well known that, by the time the restoration began, it continued to be lampooned in satirical political cartoons. References were even made to it in insurance adverts.
Later, the German sculptor Thomas Demand was inspired to replicate the exact scene of the smash, including the stairs and window sill. His work was exhibited in his exhibition L’Esprit d’Escalier at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Ireland in Spring 2007.
--------- Alex Kemp