Unknown Chinese artist

Kangxi vase, Late 17th to early 18th century, Porcelain, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Nothing So Damaged That It Cannot Be Repaired

Commentary by Christina Juliet Faraday

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Read by Ben Quash

In January 2006 a visitor to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK, tripped and tumbled down a grand stone staircase, his fall broken by the three Kanxi vases on a windowsill at the foot of the stairs. The vases shattered into thousands of fragments: anyone looking at the twenty-four trays and many small bags collected after the incident would have been forgiven for thinking the repair impossible.

Yet, astonishingly, specialist conservator Penny Bendall was able to sort the fragments and reassemble the vases in eight hours, a miracle of conservation and patience.

Ezekiel’s gesture of joining two sticks is heightened by the seeming impossibility of the reunion he describes. It is a union of the southern remnant of the original twelve tribes of Israel (Judah and Benjamin)—who had formed the kingdom of Judah and were now in exile together in Babylon—with the other ten tribes (vv.15, 19)—once part of the northern kingdom of Israel, now dispersed among the peoples who invaded them. The repaired vase could equally stand for the miraculous restoration and reparation of the breaks experienced by the tribes during their separations and scatterings.

As a Qing Dynasty vase in an English collection, the object might itself seem to be in a kind of exile. However, such vases were usually made for the European export market, their exotic motifs designed to attract wealthy customers looking for objects to fill their stately homes and demonstrate their taste and status. Although the vase, therefore, can’t be seen in terms of forced separation from its culture, the wealth that enabled its purchase in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries may itself have come more or less directly from the profits associated with the displacement of people in the transatlantic slave-trade. Issues of exclusion and separation run deeper than the cultural displacement of the jar’s enamel birds, waterfalls, and butterflies.

The joining of the two sticks signifies, not only the reunion of the tribes of Israel, but also their purification, salvation from ‘backslidings’ in preparation for a renewed relationship with God (v.23). However disastrous the situation, the vases stand as a reminder that nothing is so broken that it is beyond repair, if we only know where to look for help.



See full exhibition for Ezekiel 37:15–28

Ezekiel 37:15–28

Revised Standard Version

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16“Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the children of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write upon it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Eʹphraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him’; 17and join them together into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. 18And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not show us what you mean by these?’ 19say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (which is in the hand of Eʹphraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him; and I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. 20When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, 21then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land; 22and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. 25They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. 26I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. 27My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28Then the nations will know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore.”