The Slovenia Times

Chinese experts restoring precious collection at Ljubljana museum

Chinese experts restoring artefacts from Skušek's Chinese collection at the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum. Photo: Boštjan Podlogar/STA

Chinese experts have arrived in Slovenia to restore a rare model of a wooden Chinese house and decorative screens of an aristocrat's home from the 19th century. Kept by the Ethnographic Museum, the artefacts are being reassembled more than a century after being taken apart to be shipped to Slovenia.

The items are part of a Chinese collection compiled by navy officer Ivan Skušek Jr (1877-1947) during his stay in Beijing between 1914 and 1920. Featuring about 500 items, it is the largest collection of Chinese artefacts in Slovenia. It was bequeathed to the museum 1963 by his Japanese wife Tsuneko Kondō Kawase.

Having returned home with two railway carriages full of Chinese antiquities, Skušek wanted to open a museum of Chinese culture but lacked the funds to ever realise the plan. He kept the artefacts in his apartment, often visited by the acclaimed architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957), who drew inspiration his collection.

The collection includes high-end furniture, paintings, Buddhist statues, ceramics, porcelain, textiles, musical instruments, coins, books, photographs and albums. Skušek even managed to get old of the cupboards that used to belong Yuan Shikai, the first president of the Republic of China.

Parts of a traditional Chinese house being restored and assembled at the Ethnographic Museum (SEM). Photo: Boštjan Podlogar/STA

The museum is planning to an exhibition on the collection in 2024, which is why it has invited experts from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City to help it restore the wooden screens and the house model, which have never been assembled since arriving in Slovenia in boxes over 100 years ago.

Visitors can see the restoration work in progress on the first floor of the Ethnographic Museum. The project is being conducted in cooperation with the the Asian studies department at the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts and and the Koper Science and Research Centre.

The museum said they first met experts from the Palace Museum in Bejing in 1993. When a team of Chinese restorers visited the Ljubljana museum in 2014 they found that the Skušek collection contains a quality rare model of a traditional Chinese house and eight decorative screens from an aristocrat's home from 19th century, at the time of Qing dynasty.

Additional research on the Chinese house model was conducted by an Austrian-Slovenian research team, but then the plans for the Chinese experts to arrive in Slovenia to assemble the house and the screens were delayed by several years by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The restoration work will shed light on the forgotten skills of Chinese craftsmen and artisans, contributing to the preservation of intangible cultural heritage. After being kept in depots for a century, the restored artefacts will comprehensively showcase Skušek's Chinese collection," curator Ralf Čeplak Mencin, who heads the project, was quoted as saying by the Ethnographic Museum.


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