Мастерская реставрации резных икон и деревянной скульптуры | реставрация в Русском музее

The Carved Icons and Wooden Sculpture Conservation Studio currently staffed by four restorers and one research fellow.

The State Russian Museum lists upwards of 6000 works with carved wooden bases, including old Russian polychromic iconostasis sculptures, carved sanctuary doors, carved decorations and structural details, old Russian small statuary, decorative furniture, historical household objects, and Russian and Soviet sculptures.  

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


Мастерская реставрации резных икон и деревянной скульптуры отдела реставрации Русского музея

Wooden Sculpture Conservation Studio in 1971. Left to right: Lyudmila Prokhorova, Irina Dubovik, Yuri Chumandrin

Until the 1960s, the Russian Museum would restore artworks with a carved wooden base only from time to time, despite the fact that the integrity of many such pieces in its possession left much to be desired.

The integrity of traditionally crafted old Russian wooden sculptures (carved wooden base, partial or blanket pavoloka (canvas layer), primer (levkas), paintwork (tempera), gold or silver plating) was particularly endangered.   

The condition of these works had been lamentably preordained by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in its decrees of 1722, 1727, 1832, and 1835, which banned the depiction of three-dimensional images of saints. Whenever Old Russian polychromic sculptures or iconographic images from the icon-cases of a set of sanctuary doors had to be restored, it was customary for the Russian Museum to give the job to tempera painting restorers. It is to be regretted that this work was only done periodically and selectively.  

In the 1950s, the Russian Museum sent out numerous expeditionary field groups to salvage Old Russian artworks from ruined and abandoned churches across northern Russia, where they had been stranded after the war of 1941-1945. This activity resulted in a much-enlarged collection of Old Russian artworks, but the integrity of the new arrivals was usually less than satisfactory – they urgently needed restoration and conservation. This effort was greatly facilitated by the Russian Museum’s decision, in 1961, to set up a studio dedicated to wooden sculpture conservation comprised of three sub-sections: for polychromic wooden sculpture, gold-plated decorative carving, and furniture.  

Appointed to steer the new studio was Irina Dubovik, a graduate of the Industrial Art School in Leningrad and one of the best restorers on the Russian Museum’s staff. Dubovik had personally participated in many an expedition party, recovering countless works of Russian polychromic wooden sculpture and carved items in northern Russia and along the Volga. Many up-and-coming restorers – future acclaimed masters in the making – learned the secrets of art conservation under Dubovik’s tutelage: Yuri Chumandrin, Lyudmila Prokhorova, Galina Preobrazhenskaya, Lerra Lapina, Marina Uryupina, and others.

Реставратор дерева Жанна Максименко | Мастерская реставрации резных икон и деревянной скульптуры | Русский музей

Lead restoration artist Zhanna Maksimenko working on an 18th-century carved icon. 2010

In terms of hands-on work, which continued without interruption, the studio’s history can be formally divided into several periods. In its first years, it was entirely engrossed in the conservation of the many pieces whose condition was defined as “extremely poor” and required emergency action. Those were the formative years, when the staff perfected the strengthening techniques for painted and gold-plated primer. Initially drawing on the expertise of tempera restorers, whose tradition went back quite a long time, the techniques had to be adapted to a new challenge -- tackling complex, three-dimensional objects. This period was filled with hard work and coincided with a surge of genuine interest in the scientific fundamentals of art conservation, the formation of its ground principles, and the emergence of new manmade materials with properties that seemed to be well-suited to the practice of art conservation.   

The wooden sculpture conservation studio flourished during this period, forging collaborative ties with the Hermitage, the National Art Conservation Studio (GTsKhRM), the All-Union Research Institute for Art Conservation (VNIIR), and a number of chemical labs. It also continued its search for new formulas that would reliably strengthen disintegrating wooden bases and gold-plated primers. The studio experimented with a polybutylmethacrylate (PBM) xylol solution, a vinyl resin alcohol solution, wax and resin mastics, and a PVAc dispersion. The studio tested the PVAc (polyvinylacetate) dispersion in practice and discussed the results with the staff of VNIIR and GTsKhRM. The chemical lab at VNIIR developed several formulas based on the PVAc dispersion and blended polymers with 2 ethylhexyl acetate and ethylene to effectively strengthen disintegrating gold-plated primers. The wooden sculpture conservation studio subsequently tested and incorporated them into its conservation practice.

The search for new conservation formulas and techniques to use on wooden sculptures was prompted by the poor condition of certain wooden sculptures created in the early 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, and more recently. Sculptors’ hasty use of materials that were either raw or not properly prepared had a most unfortunate effect on the longevity of their works. Not infrequently, the sculptors themselves would be compelled to fix multiple cracks that appeared in their pieces even before they were finished, with all manner of fillers. Some sculptors would even use materials that did not agree with wood (the sculptor Suvorov, for instance, used cement to plug up the cracks in some of his wooden sculptures).   

Реставрация Амвона 1533 года из собора Святой Софии (Софийский собор) Великого Новгорода в отделе реставрации Русского музея

The restored 1533 ambon at the exhibition Veliky Novgorod Art in the Era of Metropolitan Macarius. 2017

Photo: Virtual Russian Museum

As these fillers disintegrate, they will usually cause the cracks to expand further and also create new ones. The first period of the studio’s history included many years of hard, painstaking work on the conservation of artwork with significant damage to the wooden base, canvas, primer, paintwork, and gold-plating.

The previously mentioned decrees of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, issued in 1722, 1727, 1832, and 1835 and prohibiting the three-dimensional portrayal of holy figures, were directly to blame for the impaired longevity of Old Russian polychromic sculptures. Following the ban, these sculptures had to be hidden, most often in unsuitable conditions. Improper storage caused all kinds of damage and loss to the sculptures, and later, when the sculptures were allowed to return to the churches, they were repaired and retouched. Keeping this and other information in mind, the staff of the wooden sculpture and scientific research sub-departments of the Russian Museum do comprehensive studies of Old Russian sculptures to clarify the condition of the original artwork.

The methods of “freeing” original Old Russian artworks from later re-paintings and additions are consistently being improved. The studio has adopted a “dry” clearing technique whereby the added paintwork is lightly moistened with turpentine and then scraped off with a micro-scalpel. All the work is done under a microscope. The clearing process takes longer, but the delay is made up for by the quality of the original image that can be maintained.  

The comprehensive restoration of an Old Russian masterpiece – the 1533 wooden ambo from the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Veliky Novgorod – is one of the most recent fascinating conservation projects undertaken by the wooden sculpture team.


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

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