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Bảo tàng lịch sử Quốc gia

Vietnam National Museum of History

10/01/2019 12:48 2959
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Fifteen years ago, an international conference called “What choices for Vietnam” and an exhibition named “Resurrection” were held at the National Museum of Vietnamese History. The event marked the successful partnership and reported the outcome of the collaborated project on artefacts preservations between the Museum of Vietnamese History (now the National Museum of Vietnamese History) and the Mariemont Museum (Belgium). With the sponsors of said organsations, the event supported and developed shared knowledge of the French-speaking Belgians living in Vietnam.

Inherited the rich traditions of the two museums, which were the Museum of Vietnamese History and the Vietnam Museum of Revolution, since founded, the National Museum of Vietnamese History (NMVH) had aimed to invest and open to international collaboration. Especially, much attention was paid on preservation of artefacts. As a result, there were many exhibits of different materials were successfully restored and preserved at the museum in order to fully portrait the historical values and storytelling to the public.

Contributing to the journey, the museum would like to honour the help of the Museum Kuyshu and the Sumitomo Foundation who had funded six consecutive fiscal years from 2013 to 2018 for the preservation of three valuable exhibits stored at NMVH. The sponsored fund amounted to over 24 millionJapanese Yen, which was equivalent to 4.8 billion Vietnamese Dong.Not only it was significant for the resurrection of artefacts, but it also provided an opportunity for NMVH’s staff to enrich their knowledge by working with the Japanese specialists.

Therefore, we would like to introduce the technical process of preservation and restoration of the three artefacts mentioned above. 

1. The Ham Long Pagoda Painting (Preserved in 2013)

The preservation work was carried out in a fiscal year and costed approx. 3 million Japanese Yen (equivalent to 607 million Vietnamese Dong).

This painting is made by the ancient Vietnamese, dating back to the 18th – 19th century. The frame is made of wood and itsdimensions are 141.2cm x 117.3cm x 2.6cm. The painting itself measures 128.0cm in height, 104.5cm in width and approx. 0.1cm in depth. Even though it is classified as a painting, there are components of the artefacts that are not paints. The white parts of the painting are made of a material that resembles “mitsudae” of Japan or oil paintings. In fact, the painting also uses many other materials other than paints.

The painting before restoration

1.1  Pre-restoration conditions

From the initial observations, several materials are used to draw on a piece of paper that is then glued over a wooden board. After that, a wooden frame is added to the painting. At the back of the frame, there are three wooden supporters installed horizontally. The frame and supporters are fixed with iron nails. However, the upper and lower supporters have started to expand. The surface of the painting is also starting to stain: vertical cracks start to appear; the paint begins to blister and peel off and the protective coating also turns into yellow waxy streaks with stained dots. The artefacts as a whole also contains a lot of marks of rusted and mottled nails. 

Along with the wood fibbers expanding and contracting, the rusting of iron nails also causes the paint to peel off gradually.

The yellow wax marks on the painting crack

The black wax cracks

The hole on the surface of the painting


The paints start to blister from the crack


Another peel off


Checking the crack damage


In previous restoration sessions, in order to repair the dents from the wood, a mixture of yellow wax and sawdust is used to fill in the cracks.

1.2 Methods of repair and restoration

The restoration must ensure that the artefact remains intact, which includes retaining the form and materials of the painting. The Japanese specialists have worked with NMVH’s staff and the Museum Kuyshu’s staff to establish a detailed preservative plan that is based on an intensive research and analysis of the artefacts’ conditions before restoration. In addition, the whole process is monitored in a regular basis. This includes writing and photographic documentation to compare pre-preservation and post-preservation state of the artefact.

1.3 The process of restoration

1.3.1 Remove all dirt and unsuitable materials from the surface of the painting. Examine parts that need to be restored during the process of removing dust.

The specialist in the process of restoring the artefact.


Remove the dirt using a soft and absorbent cloth. Use alcohol to remove excess paint during the re-painting process.

Remove the putty adhesive between the painting surface and its’ frame without chemicals: use a scalpel and a sharpened and thin bamboo stick to remove any wax left on the surface and avoid damaging the painting.

Remove the iron nails. This part takes a lot of effort, meticulousness and experience as it’s quite easy to damage the surface of the painting, as the nails are rusted. The job must ensure both the painting and its frame remain undamaged. Dozens of rusted nails have been removed on both sides of the paintings.

Removal of the frame.

1.3.2 Woodworm prevention: patch a mixture in the holes and cracks caused by nails removal.

1.3.3 Renew the frame: first of all, the frame’s measurements are taken accurately. A new frame is then get produced in Japan using these readings. The frame is made of the “Bánhhội” wood, which is a fine Japanese wood type. After the frame is built, a rough lacquer is coated on the frame.

1.3.4  Mend and seal the cracks from rusted nails

Perform patchwork in the holes and cracks cause by nails removal.

The paints near these cracks starts to blister, therefore we use adhesives to seal these cracks.

We also use Japanese bamboo to fill in the cracks after removing the nails to prevent woodworm from damaging the painting further. They are glued by wheat paste adhesive.

1.3.5 Adhere the blistered paint with a special Japanese gluewith 10% adhesive concentration.

During the restoration process, more nails are found under the colour paint layer. Therefore, the specialist has to lift the paint of the surface and remove the nail first. He then fills the hole with synthetic resin coating to prevent rusting. Repeat the steps with all remaining rusted nails found.

Use stainless steel nails to avoid rusting and polyvinyl acetate to assemble the wooden supporters at the back of the painting. These replacement supporters are redesigned with appropriate sizes and thickness to the painting.

1.1 The general process of restoration

Take photos before the restoration process

Clean and note down parts where the paints start to peel

Remove putty on the back of the painting

Remove the frame

Build a replacement frame

Restore the painting surface

Use of adhesives

Stablise the surface of the painting

Assemble the painting frame

Take photos after the restoration

Write a report

The conditions of the painting after restoration:

The artefact is preserved in a stable environment, at a temperature of 20 – 23 degree Celsius and humidity of 55 – 60%. The museum has made effort to minimise any sudden change in temperature and humidity during the day.

The artefact after being restored

MSc. Nguyen Thi Huong Thom

BA. Ngo Thi Thu Hien