Мастерская реставрации древнерусской живописи Отдела реставрации Русского музея

The Old Russian Painting Conservation Studio currently employs seven restorers (2 of them top-tier specialists) and one research fellow.

The sub-department, which goes back a long time, at different times employed such eminent masters as Yakov Sosin, Nikita Davydov, Nikolay Pertsev, Samuil Konyonkov, Innokentiy Yaroslavtsev, Irma Yarygina, and Sergey Golubev. While the greater part of their legacy continues to be treasured and passed on to new generations of restorers, much has changed in the work of the Old Russian art conservation team. In particular, the methods now used to remove later coats of paint from icons have changed completely in the past few years.

Department Divisions:

 Oil Painting Conservation

 Mixed Media Painting Conservation

 Old Russian Painting (Icons) Conservation

 Paper Graphics Conservation

 Ceramic and Glass Art Conservation

 Metal Art Conservation

 Textile Conservation

 Carved Icon and Wooden Sculpture Conservation

 Gilded Wooden Carving Conservation

 Picture Frame Conservation

 Lacquered Furniture Conservation

 Plaster and Stone Sculpture Conservation

 Contemporary Art Conservation

 Scientific Research

 Conservation Cordination Center


Художники-реставраторы иконописи Русского музея С.Ф. Коненков и Н.В. Перцев | Реставрация икон в Отделе реставрации музейных ценностей Русского музея

Restorers of the Old Russian painting conservation studio (left to right): Nikolay Pertsev and Samuil Konyonkov. 1960s

The traditional removal techniques, which involved softening added layers of paint with organic solvent compresses before they are scraped off with a scalpel, have been superseded by microscope-assisted precision. The regular surgical scalpels have been replaced by specialized micro-instruments. Macro- and microphotography are now part of the daily practice of conservation quality assurance.

The results obtained after removing additional paint from icons have improved thanks to these innovations. With the aid of a microscope, the restorer is able to more accurately assess the paintwork and keep the removal process confidently under control, whereas before, conservation specialists in most cases only had their intuition to guide them when clearing off added paint.

By using micro-tools only a fraction of the size of the smallest scalpel, restorers give the paintwork a much cleaner treatment without jeopardizing its integrity.

Removing paintwork under a microscope is certainly a much slower process, and works do take longer to restore as a result. But the quality of the job, as practice shows, makes up for it many times over. The new, microscope-aided methodology made all the difference during the restoration of Stroganov icons, known for their minuscule brushstrokes that require filigree precision during restoration, including the 14th-century icon Boris and Gleb, the late 14th- early 15th-century icon The Raising of Lazarus, and others.

As the practice of microscope-assisted paint removal progressed, restorers were enabled to take a closer look at the old paintings, and their observations have led to some adjustments to generally accepted ideas on the techniques and know-how of traditional icon painting. The most important implications for conservation practice stemmed from the discovery, in a great number of icons, of mixed painting techniques involving the use of colored varnishes.

Мастерская реставрации древнерусской живописи. Отдел реставрации музейных ценностей Русского музея.

Lead restorer Rudolf Kesarev completes the removal of additional paintwork on 16th-century Tikhvin icon St.Luke the Evangelist. 2016

It was generally believed by art historians that no varnishes were used in Russian icons until the late 16th century. However, evidence collected in the past few years has found that varnishes were used in icons as far back as the 13th-15th centuries. The 13th-century icon Theotokos and Child Enthroned with Sts. Nicholas and Clement in Attendance offers an interesting example of the use of varnish-based paints. Yellow and reddish-brown varnishes were used to paint the faces and in certain other parts.

Similar instances of complex, unconventional practices in icon painting have proven fairly numerous, forcing the conservation team to completely rethink the use of strong organic solvents in icon restoration. Investigations have shown that these solvents frequently cause irreparable damage to the paintwork. The result is that today, solvent compresses are only rarely used by restorers to remove later additions of paint. The principal emphasis is on “dry” removal techniques.

The removal of additions to the original paintwork of several 16th-17th-century icons from the Cathedral of the Dormition at the Tikhvin Monastery is arguably the studio’s most significant accomplishment in the past few years.

Research plays a crucial role in the work of the Old Russian painting conservation studio. A restorer who is well versed in the iconography, style, and nuances of artistic expression of Old Russian painting, and who also deeply understands the religious and philosophical concepts behind each work, will be able to avoid many errors and more fully reveal the artist’s original intent. The studio’s research has been presented in numerous reports at museum seminars, Russian and international research conferences, and in various academic journals that have published articles written by the conservators on the studio’s team.


Artwork Conservation I Department Divisions | Technological Analysis | History of the Department Contacts | Video I Русская версия

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