The ceramic figure of Weituo is one of the most recognisable characters in the National Museum of Scotland. A protector figure in Chinese Buddhism, for 70 years he watched over the Museum from his position on the balcony.
In 2008, however, as work began to redevelop the Museum, Weituo was removed to our Collection Centre, where he underwent conservation treatment. Over 180 hours were spent examining, cleaning, repairing and documenting the terracotta figure.
Our main challenge was to understand the extent of the first restoration, undertaken by the Museum in 1937. Originally bought by a London art dealer, Weituo had suffered considerable damage in his journey from China to the UK, and the original restoration involved filling the legs with cement and iron dowels to support them, and making good the cracks in the ceramic body by filling and over-painting.
The over-paints were removed to reveal extensive filling and repair. The pedestal base of the figure was found to have been permanently dowelled to its wooden plinth as part of the repair. To remount the figure for display, the new plinth would have to be carefully designed and planned to include the wooden plinth and conceal it.
Weituo was finally re-installed in December, by a joint team comprising of our Museums’ Technicians Steven Anderson and Stuart Jack, and from Artefact Conservation myself, Diana de Bellaigue and Lisa Barter. The whole exercise was overseen by Exhibition Designer Charlotte Hirst. This is part of a series of large object installations currently taking place within the National Museum of Scotland.
The sculpture weighs 400kg in total, but separates into two halves at the waist. The figure was lifted into place using a two-ton aluminum gantry. As the object is heavy, and made from particularly weak and fragile ceramic, the lifting slings were fitted very carefully, and great care was taken during the actual lift.
The install was undertaken after our public opening time and completed in under two hours. Afterwards we celebrated with mince pies!