Scaffolding Philadelphia Museum of Art – Ceiling from the Zhihua Temple
It’s not fancy but this 15’ high, frame scaffold, rolling tower with a stair tower access instead of the usual hook on ladder had to be erected with the utmost care.
Our scaffold was erected to help get Chinese researchers and their equipment up to the top of this 500-year-old, hand carved ceiling that was originally installed over a Buddhist altar from the Ming dynasty.
The crew is using special equipment to map out the entire structure, inch by inch. Once completed, they will take their photos, data, maps, and bring them back to China where they can analyze the construction and details to learn more about it and even recreate the work of art.
We’ve done several scaffold builds in the Philadelphia Museum of Art where we are trusted to never have any incidents. All of the scaffold materials had to be wheeled in, by hand, through a maze of corridors and elevators past ancient artifacts and priceless works of art and delicately assembled. It was definitely a white glove job.
The coffered ceiling comes from the Hall of Transforming Wisdom. This work of art is over 500 years old and was originally decorated with lustrous red lacquer and brilliant gilding. It’s one of the best-preserved examples of imperial Buddhist architecture from the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
It’s constructed entirely of wood using interlocking joinery instead of nails. The ceiling holds designs that incorporate imperial and Buddhist motifs to depict a heavenly realm. A dragon writhes in the center with phoenix-like birds, lotus plants, and Buddhist celestial beings filling the surrounding sections. Miniature pavilions, each originally containing a crowned Buddha, encircle the central dome.
The ceiling comes from the Hall of Transforming Wisdom, one of the main buildings within the Zhihua temple complex. The infamous eunuch Wang Zhen built the temple around 1444. It was originally installed over a Buddhist altar with Buddha figures flanked by eighteen Luohan (enlightened monks).
Like me, you are probably wondering how on earth did it get to the Philadelphia Museum of Art? The Museum purchased it in 1928. The building that originally housed it – the Zhihua temple in Beijing – enjoyed imperial patronage until the mid-1700’s after which the structure fell into disrepair. The temple still stands today and the Museum is collaborating with the temple and researchers in the United States and China to find out more about this important monument. The detail is truly stunning to see up close.
We are always thankful and proud to work with the museum on these priceless works of art! This is just one of many fantastic pieces at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I urge you to go check them out.
Today’s musical number is from the era.
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