Conservator Minah Song, a recipient of CCAHA’s American Academy in Rome fellowship, recently completed her research at the Vatican’s Missionary Ethnological Museum conservation laboratory (labratorio Polimetarico dei Musei Vaticani). Minah is the first of two fellows from CCAHA invited to study historic preservation and conservation through the Academy, whose mission is to foster the pursuit of advanced research and independent study in the fine arts and humanities.
Minah spent most of her six-week fellowship working with a paper conservator and an intern on treatment of a 16th/17th-century Chinese painting. She also participated in meetings and toured the conservation lab of the newly renovated Vatican Library. As part of the fellowship, Minah will eventually present her work at a professional conference.
Examining the museum’s methods of conservation of East Asian art was a natural choice for Minah, who has researched this topic since studying East Asian art history in graduate school in Korea. She was particularly intrigued by the Vatican Museums’ placement of these objects within a larger ethnological collection as opposed to a separate Asian art department, the designation prevailing in most American museums since the early 20th century.
Pope Pius XI founded the Missionary Ethnological Museum in 1926 following the end of the Universal Missionary Exhibition. This exhibition showcased fine art and folk art objects that missionaries working in non-Western cultures had collected or received as gifts during their time abroad. Some objects were returned after the exhibition ended; those that remained in Rome formed the basis of the Missionary Ethnological Museum’s collections. Its lab is one of four paper-based conservation labs in the Vatican, but it also includes conservators of paintings, metal, and textiles, as many objects in the collection are composed of a variety of materials.
Both CCAHA American Academy in Rome fellowships are funded by the William Penn Foundation.