Frequently Asked Questions

9. Completed!

Where are the vases now?

On 9th November 2007, all three vases went back on display in a specially designed case in the Flower Paintings gallery (Gallery 17), the upper room adjacent to the staircase where they were broken. The case allows the visitor to examine the vases closely from all sides.

Why weren't they reinstalled on the windowsill next to the stairs?

The windowsill was no longer appropriate for displaying the restored vases. The location receives some direct sunlight which can accelerate the ageing and yellowing of the adhesive and fills. There is also a huge amount of visitor interest in the vases and stairs are an inappropriate place for large groups to congregate.

What happened to the other 2 vases in the set?

The remaining pair of baluster jars from the garniture can be seen to either side of the case, in the niches above the stairs. In early 2007, they were removed for safety during maintenance work on the windows. They were recently cleaned and returned to the niches.

How long did the restoration take?

The restoration took 7 months from start to finish. There were long intervals in between some stages, such as waiting 2 weeks for the adhesive and fills to cure (See Bonding and Filling). The baluster vase was the first to be completed. It took 4 months, from April to July 2006 and was first unveiled at the Fitzwilliam's Mission Impossible? exhibition in 2006. The retouching of the first vase took 6 days. The two yan yan vases were worked on in tandem and took 3 months.

Was it possible to completely rebuild the vases?

Theoretically it would have been possible to reinstate every single fragment - except for those pieces which were ground into dust when trodden on, or exploded into so many tiny slivers they could not be reconstructed, such as the points of impact (see Sorting). The restoration would however have taken twice as long and cost twice as much, and some areas would still have required filling, including the old restorations. It was possible to replace all of the larger pieces and hundreds of the smaller ones, especially those from the inner and outer glazed surfaces. A very small proportion of the total surface area was not reinserted. Many of those fragments not replaced came from areas of the porcelain wall that had completely delaminated, i.e. separated into a series of brittle, wafer-thin slices.

What happened to the pieces left over after the restoration?

Many of the smallest chips and fragments could not be easily incorporated into the restoration. The museum will keep these as reference material and for analysis. Technological advances in the future may mean that, when the vases next need restoring, many more of the tiny fragments can be reintegrated. Some fragments however were ground in to dust or tiny splinters and are permanently beyond reincorporation. These can however be used for analysis of the porcelain and enamels, to shed further light on the techniques used in their manufacture, such as the compounds used and the temperature they were fired at. Most modern analytical techniques require samples no larger than a pin head.

Have the vases been analysed?

Not yet. The Museum currently does not have the funds to analyse the vases.

Where can I buy the mini jigsaw ?

The Fitzwilliam's best-selling mini-jigsaw postcard of the vases is on sale in the Museum Courtyard shop for £1.00 and by mail order. After writing on the back, the jigsaw is broken up and placed in an envelope. The recipient has to remake it to read the message.

Where can I find a conservator to repair my broken ceramic?

The Conservation Register online provides a list of many reputable conservators throughout the U.K. Their website allows you to search for a conservator by geographic region or specialism (e.g. ceramics). The search is free.

Where can I learn how to conserve and restore my own ceramics?

Some conservator/restorers offer short courses for the interested amateur. You may find people offering courses in the local paper, or possibly by searching on The Conservation Register online (search under 'course' &/or 'ceramics' and contact individuals: if they do not offer course themselves they may be able to recommend someone else): A reputable teacher will teach the basic ethics of conservation/restoration as part of the course.

My question isn't answered here. Who do I contact for more information about the vases?

The Museum has received a huge number of requests for information about the vases since the disaster. Many frequently asked questions are answered in these web pages and the vases interactive. Please read these thoroughly before contacting us. If you still cannot find the information you need:

Address press/media enquiries to:

Dr. Sean O'Neill,
Marketing and Press Manager
Tel: +44 (0)1223 764786

For information about the Applied Arts Oriental collections, including Chinese porcelain, contact:

Dr. James Lin,
Assistant Keeper of Applied Arts,
Tel: +44 (0)1223 332900

For information about other ceramics in the Applied Arts collection, contact:

Dr. Victoria Avery,
Keeper of Applied Arts,
Tel: +44 (0)1223 332900

For all other information, or comments on the website, contact the Museum. Your query will be forwarded to the relevant department:

The Fitzwilliam Museum,
Trumpington Street,
Cambridge CB2 1RB,
Tel: +44 (0)1223 332900
Fax: +44 (0)1223 332923

Disaster!! |  Recovery |  Sorting |  Cleaning |  Reassembly |  Bonding |  Filling |  Retouching |  Completed