Shanxi tomb recreated to display impressive ancient wall paintings

The much-anticipated "Ancient Wall Paintings from the Shanxi Museum" opened to the public yesterday.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Visitors admire the largest piece of the “Ancient Wall Paintings from the Shanxi Museum” exhibition yesterday at Shanghai Museum. The painting was unearthed from the Jiuyuangang Tomb in Xinzhou, north China’s Shanxi Province. 

The much-anticipated “Ancient Wall Paintings from the Shanxi Museum” opened to the public yesterday.

The exhibition features 89 wall paintings — all of them tomb artworks — of the Northern Dynasties (386-581), Song (960-1279), Jin (1115-1234) and Yuan (1206-1368) dynasties on loan from Shanxi Museum, most of which have never been exhibited before.

This is the largest exhibition focusing on ancient wall paintings in China — in both scale and quality.

The largest piece on display is a fresco dating back more than 1,500 years. It is 3.2 meters long and 3.5 meters tall and was unearthed from the Jiuyuangang Tomb in Xinzhou. 

The piece was a part of a 200 square meter colored mural found in the tomb that depicts scenes that include hunting animals such as tigers, bears, goats and deer during the Northern Dynasties.

Shanghai Museum, for the first time, had to remove its southern entrance gate to get the fresco inside the building.

“These wall paintings are telling great stories as well as showing a high level of painting skills,” said Yang Zhigang, the director at Shanghai Museum.

Established in 2005, Shanxi Museum is noted for its collection and restoration of wall paintings.

The museum applied the so-called “reestablishment technique” as a new method to restore and maintain the wall paintings after they were taken from their original site.

To restore the tomb paintings, experts cut the paintings piece by piece and rejoined them after reinforcing each section and treating each section for erosion.

Restoring damaged murals is considered the best way to prevent them from being destroyed. After restoration, they must be stored in temperature and humidity controlled rooms.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A visitor admires wall paintings yesterday from the Shuiquanliang Tomb being displayed at Shanghai Museum.

The wall paintings from the Shuiquanliang Tomb of the Northern Dynasties were cut into dozens of pieces to be restored. The recreated masterpiece is a highlight of the exhibition.

“There will be a special screening introducing the special restoration technique for wall paintings at the exhibition hall,” said Li Zhongmou, the vice director at Shanghai Museum. It will tell how much effort and contribution has been spent on the whole process, Li added.

To present a perfect atmosphere, Shanghai Museum has recreated the original Shanxi tomb to the same size. The 7- square meter space can only accommodate six visitors at a time, however.

“So visitors need to make an appointment on site at the museum to enter the tomb,” said Li.

The three-month long exhibition, which ends on March 4, shows the daily lives of ancient Chinese people, reflecting the funeral customs of the time, when a tomb was regarded as an auspicious house and a fortune chamber.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A wall painting from Lourui Tomb in Taiyuan City.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE
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