The Study and Conservation of the Tapestry “The Triumph of Hope” from The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

The tapestry “The Triumph of Hope” [1] from the series “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues” was produced in a Brussels workshop at the time when the art of tapestry weaving was on the rise.

“The Triumph of the Seven Virtues” series depicting the triumphs of theological and cardinal virtues — hope, faith, love, prudence, temperance, justice and courage — was completed in Brussels for the first time in the mid-1520s and after that, it was continuously reproduced until the 1530-1535s.[2]

Throughout the almost five hundred years of its existence, the tapestry was mended and retouched many times following the tastes and wishes of its owners. [3] As a result, multiple patches, stitchings and alterations appeared on the tapestry dramatically changing its original design. Conservation experts from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and Fenomen Conservation Workshop worked to conserve this unique masterpiece from April to November 2018. [4]

During the first stage, threads of various colours were sampled to carry out comprehensive research of the natural dyes used on them. [5] with the contribution from the experts of the N.N. Vorozhtsov Novosibirsk Institute of Organic Chemistry, spectral and chromatographic characteristics of certain components of the dyes were studied.[6] The research confirmed that threads contained natural dyes of Eurasian origin. In those times, madder was mostly used to create the red dye. The analysis of the green threads proved them to contain such natural dyes as luteolin, apigenin and indigo, i.e. dyes extracted from mignonette and woad. The characteristic texture of the tapestry’s surface reveals it to have been occasionally washed.

When the tapestry arrived at the conservation laboratory, high-resolution panoramic photographs were taken. [7] After the backing was removed, traces of previous treatments were found: patches and fragments of several backing fabrics used to fix the most damaged parts of the tapestry. The suggestion about multiple treatments the tapestry had gone through in the past was confirmed.

A detailed study of the state of preservation of the tapestry, as well as archival materials, give reason to believe that it was restored at least three times. A large number of patches cut out from old Flemish and French tapestries were most likely made in the second half of the 19th century (Fig. 4). The main methods of work of the masters involved in the restoration of tapestries during this period were patchwork and fine drawing. To restore the through-holes, patches cut from other tapestries were used. This repair method was used in many Western European workshops.

In February 1928, the tapestry was brought for conservation to the Grabar Conservation Centre.[8] According to the “Preliminary estimate for restoration/consolidation and cleaning / of the 16th-century Dutch carpet with the image of the “Allegory of Hope”, which was brought to the Conservation Centre”[9], the tapestry was supposed to be washed with ethanol and also fixed to the canvas using woollen and silk threads.[10] The method of cleaning fabrics with “wine alcohol and petrol” was recommended by the “Instruction for the Museum Storage of Objects of Ancien Fabrics”, compiled by V.P. Sidamon-Eristoff[11] for the museum department of the People's Commissariat of Education in 1923[12]. During the last conservation treatment, fragments of the canvas with preserved stamp print were removed from the inside of the tapestry: «ФАБРИКИ Т-ва ВИКУЛА МОРОЗОВА ВЪ М НИКОЛЬСКОМЪ ВЛАД. Г.» (“FACTORIES of VIKUL MOROZOV IN THE NIKOLSK, VLAD. PROV.").[13] Probably, this canvas was used by the conservators of the Grabar Centre in 1928–1930 to line the damaged sections of the tapestry (Fig. 5)[14].

In 1972, while preparing the exhibition “Western European tapestries of the 16th – 20th centuries from the collection of the Pushkin State Museum and the Museums of the Moscow Kremlin. To the 60th anniversary of the Pushkin State Museum"[15], T.N. Wentzel carried out fragmentary consolidation of individual sections of the tapestry and other necessary preventive treatments [16].

Some of the biggest fragments of the backing fabric were temporarily left on the tapestry for the wet cleaning, which followed the dedusting. On a special table, conservators carefully washed the tapestry with deionized water and a specially made washing composition. At the final stage of the wet cleaning, yarns were treated with a 5% aqueous solution of PEG-400 (50g per 1m2). For drying, the tapestry’s edges were fixed to avoid cockling and deformation and dried with cotton fabric and absorbent paper. After the cleaning, the tapestry yarns became softer and more elastic, as well as got a natural shine. The fragments of the old backing fabric were removed at this stage.

For consolidation and to restore the damaged parts of the tapestry it was fixed on a piece of strong cotton fabric. A machine with three horizontal rollers was specially made for the conservation. A detailed study of the tapestry showed some typical damages: numerous tears, mendings and patches, scuffs and weft threads losses. When the mendings and patches were removed it became clear that many of them covered warp and weft threads which lead to tears. Patches cut out of other tapestries and fragments of repp fabrics were previously used to mend the tapestry. In the process of the conservation, later additions were removed as they affected both the tapestry’s condition and its integrity.

While working on the tapestry, conservators used threads, yarn and fabrics, dyed in the conservation workshop [17], as well as purchased in specialized stores. [18] The main approaches were based on previously developed tapestries conservation methods. [19]

The scuffs of the surface were fixed with a needle, chequerwise, using threads similar in material and colour to the damaged area. Special attention was paid to the silk threads, which were the most severely damaged. Silk weft threads were fixed not only on the scuffed areas of the tapestry but also around them, by applying additional stitches. New threads of smaller diameter were introduced to the places where the warp threads were broken or lost, with a subsequent lining. On larger lacunas, ends of a new warp thread were left loose on the front side until the work with the weft threads was finished. This made it possible to regulate their tension and prevent the contraction of a fragment and the whole tapestry.

The losses of weft threads were compensated with a needle using a method of artistic hatching, which repeats in whole the weave of the tapestry, but has a lower density, performing two functions: consolidation and conservation of the damaged areas of the tapestry. All the traces of previous treatments such as mendings, stitches, darnings and patches were removed.

Some fragments required not only consolidation but also restoration of images. For that, trace drawings were made and the places with missing elements were studied: sometimes after the removal of old mendings, remains of the warp and threads weft and even small fragments (for example, of the prophet Daniel’s image) were discovered underneath that helped to fully or partially recreate the pattern and colour. When restoring the losses of warp and weft threads, specialists tried to imitate the style and manner of the original composition. Thus, the ornament on Susanna’s dress was recreated based on the rapport principle, whereas part of the cartouche on the border – according to the symmetry principle. To restore the missing letters on Mordecai’s handbag, a sketch with a font that most closely resembled inscriptions on other parts of the tapestry was created. In case of the birds in the rosettes on the lower border, the drawing was recreated by analogy, however, since all the birds on the tapestry were different in colour and did not repeat, the lost ones were made in a neutral grey-brown colour. To recreate the fully missing upper right corner, a hatching restoration technique was applied that was followed by the installation of the restored part in the corner. To implement that, the warp threads were counted and the linear-colour scheme was outlined. The required number of warps was pulled on a frame and the missing tapestry fragment was woven with the use of a hatching technique. After that, the warp threads were sequentially added to the edges of the missing part and consolidated with lining. This method allowed to delicately reconstruct the lost fragment. Thanks to this technique, the pattern and colour of the restored elements harmoniously match the original parts of the tapestry.

Upon completion of the main work, the tapestry was removed from the machine and was laid out on a horizontal surface. After the deformations that had occurred in some parts of the tapestry were fixed, conservators sewed a new lining with the Velcro contact tape along the upper and lower edges.

The piece was conserved and prepared for further storage and display.










[1] Inventory Number 2 II 2d. Transferred from Inventory Book II 2 «б» Инвентарная книга шпалер и тканей. Т. 1. С. 2. 420×530 см.


[2] Souchal, S. “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues”: Reconstruction of a Brussels Series (ca. 1520–1535) // Acts of the Tapestry Symposium. November 1976. San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1979. P. 103–154; Delmarcel, G. “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues” and Related Brussels Tapestries of the Early Renaissance // Acts of the Tapestry Symposium. November 1976. San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. P. 155–170.


[3] The tapestry “Triumph of Hope” comes from the collection of L.K. Zubalov (1853–1914), transferred by his descendants to the Imperial Moscow and Rumyantsev Museums at the beginning of 1917, in 1924 it entered the Museum of Fine Arts. Most of the acquisitions were made by Lev Zubalov during his trips abroad, as well as in antique shops in Moscow and at exhibitions where works of both Western European and Russian masters were bought.


[4] The following conservation experts contributed to this conservation work: S.G. Voitsekhovich, N.S. Gazizova, A.V. Markitanova, O.S. Popova, S.V. Skripnik, K.S. Chaikovskaya.


[5] The tapestry was woven with silk (S-twist; density: 15-16 threads per cm) and wool (S-twist; density: 13 threads per cm) threads in the filling over the wool threads of the base (S-twist; density: 7-8 threads per cm). The woven depictions of the phoenix and lions have been proved to contain gold-brocaded threads.


[6] The chromatographic analysis was carried out on a liquid chromatography system with a spectrophotometric and mass selective detector (Agilent 1100 Series LC/MSD). The separation was carried out with the help of the Zorbax RX-C18 reversed-phase column, 4.6×150mm (5μм-particle size, 80Ǻ-pore size filler). For the research methods, see Polosmak N.V., others. Текстиль из «замерзших» могил Горного Алтая IV-III вв. до н. э. (Опыт междисциплинарного исследования). (Textile from the "frozen" graves of 4th-3rd centuries B.C. in the Altai Mountains (interdisciplinary research experience)). Novosibirsk: SO RAN, 2006 (in Russian). The authors of the article would like to thank E.V. Karpova, Candidate of Chemical Science, Senior Fellow at NIOCh SB RAS, for her help with determining the natural dyes.


[7] By A. Kudriavitsky


[8] Акт № 41 от 25.02.1928 г. // ОПИ ГИМ. Ф. 417. Оп. 1. Ед. хр. 49. Л. 3.


[9] ОР ГМИИ. Ф. 5. Оп. 1. Ед. хр. 765. Л. 29.


[10] In the preliminary estimate prepared by T. Alexandrova-Dolnik, it is indicated that for cleaning the “carpet” it was necessary to use: “Ethyl alcohol ... for 25 square meters/ based on consumption standards approved on 25 / VII-23, at a meeting of representatives of the Department of Museum Affairs and the District management of state distilleries/ 3/4 bottle per 1 square. meter - 18 bottles. ”


[11] Varvara Petrovna Sidomon-Eristoff (nee Shabelskaya) (186 (?) - 1943), the older sister of N.P. Shabelskaya (1868–1949(?)), was an employee of the workshop of Old Russian sewing at the Grabar Centre in 1923–1924. From 1925 she lived in France.


[12] The “Instruction to the Provincial Museums” (dated 03.08.1923 and signed by N.I. Trotsky), sent out in 1928, had a section “Fabrics and sewing”, which indicated that museums could repair them independently only for items no older than mid-19th centuries, all other works had to be approved by specialists of the Museum Department (ОР ГМИИ. Ф. 5. Оп. 1. Ед. хр. 765. Л. 10–14).


[13] The manufactories of Vikula Morozov and sons in the town of Nikolskoye, Pokrovsky district, Vladimir province, was established in 1882. In 1918, it merged with the Association of St. Nicholas Manufactory "Savva Morozov's Son and Co." (1873).


[14] The tapestry was returned to the museum on February 1, 1930 (ОПИ ГИМ. Ф. 417. Оп. 1. Ед. хр. 50. Л. 5).


[15] 31 of May - 27 of July 1972 (curator — G. Yesipova).


[16] Протокол заседания совета по реставрации памятников искусства ГМИИ от 06.01.1972.


[17] See.: Реставрация тканей. Крашение текстильных материалов. Методические рекомендации. ВХНРЦ им. И.Э. Грабаря / Сост. Е.В. Семечкина. М., 1990. С. 64.


[18] For consolidation and filling in the lost silk weft threads, cotton threads of a double mercerizing produced by "Gamma" were selected. These threads are tough, provide a fairly wide range of colours and also have a light shine, and, when mixed, make it possible to achieve the desired colour without additional dyeing. For working with wool weft threads of the tapestry we used wool embroidery floss produced by "Riolis". However, for complex, deep shades most of the threads were dyed with wofalan dyes with subsequent fixation in vinegar and repeated washing: to do this we used white threads produced by "Semyonovskaya yarn". For consolidation and filling in the lost warp threads, we used a grey cotton twisted yarn.

[19] Бородин И.В. Исследование и реставрация западноевропейских шпалер (Из опыта работы мастерской реставрации тканей ГМИИ им. А.С. Пушкина) // Грабарёвские чтения. VII Международная научная конференция. 22–24 октября 2008. М.: СканРус, 2010. С. 314–322.