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Cultural relics restoration is a demanding job, not only to master cultural relics knowledge and material science, but also to have enough patience and dexterity to restore the original appearance of a cultural relics. In the process of cultural relics restoration, experts often copy a new artifact, which makes the requirements higher. For example, there is a legendary cultural relic in the Shanxi Museum, “One Buddha and Two Disciples Say Dharma Buddha Shrine”, experts used three tricks to perfectly copy it, how did it do it? If you are also curious, the following editor will reveal the secret to you from the beginning.

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Located in the provincial capital of Taiyuan, the Shanxi Museum was founded in 1919 and has a history of more than 100 years. In the Shanxi Museum, there are more than 500,000 collections, the most distinctive of which are bronze and stone carved Buddha statues, which have written thousands of glorious history on the land of the Three Jin Dynasties. In recent years, experts from the Shanxi Museum have begun to focus on the protection and restoration of cultural relics, and in the process, they have also used the latest technology to restore a number of fine cultural relics, such as the Buddha Shrine of One Buddha and Two Disciples.

The Buddha Shrine is a stone statue from the Southern and Northern Dynasties, about 58 centimeters high and 61 centimeters long, unearthed at a Northern Wei architectural site in Datong, with a history of more than 1,700 years. After research, the carving technique of the cultural relic is very fine, the facial demeanor of the Buddha statue is depicted vividly, it has high historical research value and artistic appreciation value, and after two thousand years of history, it has been perfectly preserved, and it is indeed a legendary cultural relics. However, it is a pity that the two disciples of the Buddha said that the Buddha shrine is carved in sandstone, so the surface is very fragile and susceptible to corrosion.

In the 90s of last century, one Buddha and two disciples said that there had been many cracks in the Buddha shrine, and although experts had repaired it many times, the effect was not obvious, but because the restoration technology and materials were not mature enough, it brought some artificial damage to the cultural relics. By 2016, the Shanxi Museum decided not to put the Buddha shrine of one Buddha and two disciples in the display case, but to transfer it to the underground sealed in an oxygen-free constant greenhouse room, so it needed to make another copy and put it in the original display case, so the experts who restored the cultural relics had a headache.

For conservation experts, how to replicate is the biggest problem they have to solve. At the beginning, they planned to find a piece of sandstone of the same material, and then find a stonemason to imitate the carving, but after repeated attempts, they found that the carved stone statue had no charm, that is, “look like it, but it is not”. In order to make the replicated stone statues have both gods and shapes, experts after several studies and discussions, decided to use a method of reproducing cultural relics commonly used in museums in Western countries – silicone rubber reproduction mold.

Silicone rubber reproduction mold is to use existing cultural relics to make a set of molds, and then fill the silicone mold with materials to replicate cultural relics. The advantage of this method is that the silicone mold made can be used repeatedly and copied indefinitely, but there is also a very troublesome problem, that is, when making the mold, it is easy to cause human harm to cultural relics, especially for cultural relics with fragile surfaces, the damage is irreversible, such as mold materials leaving dirt in the stone statue, once infiltrated inside the stone statue will corrode the cultural relics.

The antiquities experts consulted several experts in the chemistry of materials, and finally came up with a proper treatment plan. First of all, to establish an isolation layer, chemical experts recommend using a mixed solution of 2% acrylic resin and ethyl acetate, which will not corrode the stone statue and will not have other adverse effects, so applying the solution to the surface of the stone statue will form a closed protective film. It is worth mentioning that the solution protective film will not accumulate in the stone statue, so it will not affect the molding of the silicone mold.

Then after the protective film is formed, you can start making silicone molds. The production of silicone mold is not difficult, the melted silicone liquid is applied to the stone statue, and the silicone film can be uncovered by waiting for the silicone gel to solidify naturally at room temperature, so the outer outline of the stone statue is obtained. Immediately afterwards, the silicone mold is trimmed and spliced, and then the material prepared in advance is injected into the silicone mold, and when the material solidifies, the silicone mold is removed, and the raw edges are polished clean, and an identical stone statue with both gods and shapes is obtained.

Finally, one cannot forget to wash the solution on the stone statue. Experts said that although the original solution protective layer has no effect, for the convenience of storage, it is still necessary to wipe the Buddha statue with distilled water, which can not only remove the solution protective layer, but also clean the sweat on the surface of the stone statue, and then keep it in an oxygen-free constant temperature room. The similarity of the Buddha and the two disciples of the Buddha can reach 99%, and even the irregular cracks and subtle spots on the surface of the Buddha statue are completely restored one to one. In this way, it is placed on the booth, not only can visitors look comfortable, but also feel the vicissitudes of history, which is also good for cultural relics protection.

The wisdom of experts in restoring and replicating cultural relics is infinite, so that these witnesses of history are properly protected. Every artifact is priceless, and it requires each of us to love and protect it, so that it can be passed down forever, and it is also a valuable historical and cultural heritage that we have left for future generations.


From Cultural Relics Restoration to Scientific and Technological Protection, by Chongqing Academy of Cultural Heritage, Publisher: Science Press

Wen Xiucai, editor-in-chief of Wenlan Hairun Studio, written by Special History Contributor: Liu Lijiang