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Donatello and other Renaissance masters:
research and conservation

Together with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation
and the Berlin State Museums’ Sculpture Collection

2015 — 2025

About the project

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts together with The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and The Collection of Sculptures from the State Museums of Berlin have launched a project on research and conservation of sculptures from the collection of Transferred art pieces. The pieces originally belonged to the museum of Kaiser Friedrich in Berlin, whose legal successor is currently the Bode Museum, and were brought to Moscow in 1946.

The result of a collaborative research and conservation should be an exhibition of the pieces, among which there are works by such renowned Renaissance masters as Donatello, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Mino da Fiesole, and Andrea del Verrocchio. Most of the pieces were badly damaged during a massive fire in Berlin's Friedrichshain bunker in the last days of the war.

A larger part of the collection taken to Russia after the war was stored in the USSR Ministry of Culture's Archive of Art Treasures in Zagorsk. The pieces were moved to the Pushkin State Museum in 2003.

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The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts together with The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and The Collection of Sculptures from the State Museums of Berlin have launched a project on research and conservation of sculptures from the collection of Transferred art pieces. The pieces originally belonged to the museum of Kaiser Friedrich in Berlin, whose legal successor is currently the Bode Museum, and were brought to Moscow in 1946.

The result of a collaborative research and conservation should be an exhibition of the pieces, among which there are works by such renowned Renaissance masters as Donatello, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Mino da Fiesole, and Andrea del Verrocchio. Most of the pieces were badly damaged during a massive fire in Berlin's Friedrichshain bunker in the last days of the war.

A larger part of the collection taken to Russia after the war was stored in the USSR Ministry of Culture's Archive of Art Treasures in Zagorsk. The pieces were moved to the Pushkin State Museum in 2003.

The museum conservators started working on the collection long before this project even started. In 2005 the museum held an exhibition called "Archaeology of War: Return from Non-Existance" featuring more than 600 conserved ancient pieces of art. In a dire state, often almost completely destroyed, with many losses and covered in soot, they were prepared to be exhibited again by the museum's leading experts.

The 2014-2015 exhibition "Art of Ancient Cyprus" featured many objects from the Transferred Arts Foundation: painted vases, sculptures and 3000 BC terracotta figures, among which were rare images of gods and prayers. The Ceramics and Stone Conservation Workshops specialists had worked on more than 350 pieces for 4 years.

The Object Conservation Workshop specialists performed treatments on two bronze busts from the Bode museum collection: Francesco del Nero by Giulio Mazzoni and Voltaire by Jean Antoine Houdon.

The Renaissance collection that is the subject of the Russian and German project includes pieces of art made of different materials: metal, ceramics, stone, and terracotta.

All of them bear damages of different degrees: stone sculptures have various losses, they are often in a fragmented condition, sometimes the case is that one part of a sculpture is held in the Pushkin State Museum in Moscow, and the other one – in the Bode museum in Berlin or in the State Hermitage in Saint-Petersburg. A marble panel by Michelangelo was broken into pieces, contaminated during the fire, and some of its fragments were lost.

Metal sculptures are covered in layers of soot; molecular structure of the metal itself was damaged. Ceramic pieces have layers of molten glass and soot on them, the structure of the clay they were made of was also damaged.

Such various and heavy damages require a comprehensive approach and thorough research by experts in various fields of conservation, and that is the main challenge of the project.

Research

Given the bad condition of the pieces, the most important stage of the work is conducting comprehensive physical and chemical studies. The main partner of the museum in this project is the National Research Centre "Kurchatov Institute", which unites the leading nuclear-physical institutes of Russia.

The ongoing comprehensive studies to evaluate the state of preservation of the pieces are aimed at developing new methods of preventive conservation, as well as a comprehensive risk assessment strategy for all preventative and conservation treatments, development of new materials and compounds, innovative technologies in conservation and restoration, and appropriate methods for studying, monitoring and testing the pieces.

During the research, manufacturing methods used to create the objects are studied. To do this, we study the elemental composition and characteristics of the materials, which allows us to draw conclusions about the practice of art workshops, as well as conduct case studies on artists, trends, periods and influences.

Conservation

The program of conservation treatments is designed individually for each piece, based on the comprehensive studies. At the first stage of the work, the conservators had to consolidate the most heavily damaged fragments, and clean the many contaminations, which in this case were mostly caused by fire. Having been subjected to high temperatures, many objects have hidden defects and cracks, which means that we have to be especially careful with them while cleaning.

One of the main issues that will have to be solved, is restoring the missing details and certain elements. The help of our German colleagues who have preserved archival materials and plaster casts for most of the pieces will be invaluable. Using 3D technologies will help us minimize the invasive treatments and solve the problem of restoring the original look of the objects most delicately, taking in consideration the historical and artistic value of each object.

Another important stage will be the creation of special supporting constructions that will be used for fixation of the damaged details and exhibiting the pieces. To do this, we will have to use engineering calculations and contemporary materials that meet the requirements of museum conservation.

Partners

Bode Museum

National Research Center «Kurchatov Institute»