Conservation of the Tang Horses

The stone reliefs depicting two of the favorite horses of Emperor Taizong (r. 626-649 CE) are among the Museum’s greatest treasures. Examinations conducted in 2008 showed that the mending, done sometime shortly after the reliefs arrived at the Museum in 1918, was no longer stable.

With support from generous donors Mr. and Mrs. John R. Rockwell (W’64; WG’66), the Museum undertook the conservation of these important objects.

The first phase of the treatment took place in the China Gallery. A team led by Julie Lawson of the Museum’s Conservation Department removed decades of grime, accumulated before the reliefs were covered with plexiglass vitrines. At the same time they closely examined and documented the reliefs, looking for clues to how the pieces were originally mended, since there are no records giving this information.

Next, the reliefs were carefully disassembled by specialists in handling heavy works of art, under the close supervision of Museum Conservators. The pieces were removed to a nearby workspace further cleaning and reassembly.

The Museum Conservators worked with engineers and steel fabricators to produce a steel support structure that will provide stability for the reliefs so that they may be exhibited safely in the future.

Visit the Penn Museum BLOG where Head Conservator Lynn Grant posts about the conservation of the Tang Horses.

Photo caption: Conservator Julie Lawson has begun cleaning the first of the two reliefs. The lighter area on the left shows where she has removed decades of grime by lightly moistening the surface with steam and blotting off the mobilized dirt with absorbent toweling.


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