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Taking care of rarities. A report on how the Hermitage restoration workers operate


A painting by the Dutch artist Govert Flinck “An old man by the window”, which was once in the possession of the Hermitage, was sold at the Christie's for $10 million.


 Back in the days, the masterpiece belong to the collection acquired by Catherine the II. In 1862 the painting was transported to Moscow. It was then purchased by Wilhelm Friedrich Mertens, who back then lived in St. Petersburg, and then he moved the painting to Leipzig. But right now items on display at one of the biggest treasuries of the country are being restored. How exactly have those made it to our days – in Tatyana Bazhenova’s report

Any movement of a hand in this workshop is at risk for the person doing it. Because very demanding clients, some of them are very very old, are on the table. This is how these items are treated by the employees of the Hermitage restoration lab. This department is operational at Staraya Derevnya. And some of the items get here in a lamentable condition. But they always leave the lab in a much better state

Elena Krylova, head of restoration section: “Every item is unique. We don't have a unified approach. First of all, it's important where it will end up. The museum items are one thing, but those behind the glass is a totally different thing. So were using different materials”

At this part sunlight only gets through the glass. And artists are making sure those are fine. It's impossible to make a forecast as to how long would every restoration last. For instance, this European glass of the 16th century has been in the works for more than a month

And the item will take its place at the Romanov gallery – according to the order made by Mikhail Piotrovskiy, and there will be more of those at the Hermitage. Possibly, the museum’s collection will be enriched by this large object – the monastery’s gates from Velikiy Ustyug. By the way, it was found by the employee of the Hermitage – during a business trip in the 1950s. The museum has inquired to get the valuable object into its possession.

Marina Subbotina, restoration worker at new metals section: “The engraving is made by stamping – gold and silver. It's about different things. The Old and the New Testaments. The doors are made of two parts. One is already being renovated; the other one is still being researched

The restoration center at Staray Derevnya has been having laboratory for quite a short time – artists moved here from the historic building back in 2008. They now have more space and more light – as well as new equipment. Everything they need for scrupulous work. And the audience reacted with more interest

Alexey Bantikov, head of restoration lab: “This is quite surprising. There are people coming to our lab just for fun. Just to have a look. There are those who even buy season tickets. Restoration workers come after work and tell about their work. There are many children and many youths

Right now at Staray Derevnya, the specialists are working on parts of mosaics, archaeological and new metal, ceramics, glass and porcelain. As for the latter, the specialists are creating masterpieces as if in a magical book – re-creating vases, cups and plates from shards and bits

Tatyana Bazhenova, reporter: “The modern restoration is not attempting to mask what the items have lost. In the world of the specialists, there is a long-standing tradition – to retain the historic object, not to add gloss to it. So this antique vase is almost ready to become a museum item – its stitches will not be painted over, so that the spectators can see how this item reached today