The Imperial Hermitage did not have a special workshop for restoring monuments of applied art, but the archives of the Hermitage contain numerous documents evidencing repair, mending and restoration of various objects. They include instructions to the chief of the 11th department of the Hermitage, F.I. Labenskiy, requesting him to order repair of a damaged mosaic table and candelabras. Watchmaker Heideman was mandated to “fix Hermitage clocks which are under his supervision” (1842), while the sculptor S. Moderni was requested to “fix the malachite table and girandoles”; in 1885, suitcase master F. Martens undertook a big project to restore works of applied art.
Invoices for the restoration of objects from the Gallery of jewels, ceramic vases and bronze objects from the Kerch Hall, and book bindings from the library also survived.
In the late 19th and the early 20th century, the Hermitage collections were expanded with items from archaeological excavations, and in 1907 a chemist from the expedition to procure government papers named Wilhelm Weisenberg was invited to restore them. He can reasonably be regarded as the first specialist in the field of restoring archaeological metal. He restored findings from the mounds of Kul-Oba, Artyuhovskoy, Maikopskiy, Solokha as well as from Semibratniye and mounds near the village Kelermesskaya. W. Weisenberg worked at the Hermitage until 1922, where, in addition to his restoration works, he was researching different compositions of gold, silver, bronze and enamel.
In 1920s, N.N. Kurnakov and T.K. Weibel performed the restoration of objects dating to the period of the Byzantine Empire and the Scythian-Sarmatian division. During that time, some restoration work was also performed by gunsmith I.O. Budris.
In 1924, N.N. Kurnakov became head of the chemical laboratory of the Hermitage which was mainly engaged in the restoration of archaeological finds. They also carried out research into the causes of destruction of Limoges enamels.
In 1926, N.N. Kurnakov left the Hermitage and the activities of the chemical laboratory ceased until 1932, when N.A. Chernyshev and N.V. Kuranov recreated a chemical and restoration laboratory at the museum.
From 1923 through 1941, the Hermitage employed a goldsmith restorer named T.K. Weibel, who renovated many items made of precious metals and bronze
1933 is considered to be the founding year of the Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Works of Applied Art (LSRWAA). It was headed by M.M. Gerasimov. A new and a very important stage of the laboratory work began in 1934. That year, Boris V. Legran, Director of the State Hermitage Museum, signed an agreement with the State Academy of Material Culture. One of the points of this agreement was to develop and to transfer to the Hermitage methods for restoration of especially complicated metal objects.
In the late 1930s, the staff of the laboratory increased. M.F. Weibel, W.F. Klein, N.F. Demnov and L.Y. Yakovlev restored weaponry from the Oriental Department and the Department of West European Art,R. Muhammedov worked with ceramics, and V.N. Kononov conducted restoration and identification of paintings on ceramic vessels. During these years, the laboratory’s restoration plans included many topics more related to fundamental research, including: “Cleaning of Bronze and Gold-plated Objects” (D.I. Smirnova), “Restoration of Bronze Objects” (A.M. Anosova) and “Studies in Applied Arts in Ultraviolet” (Ye.A. Rumyantsev).
During the Great Patriotic War, the staff who remained in the laboratory took part in packing and evacuating the museum exhibits. After the Hermitage collections were returned from the evacuation, preparations for the opening of the museum and the early revival of the permanent exhibition began. The active participants in this work were those returning from the battlefield such as V.N. Kononov, N.N. Semenovich, T.N. Silchenko, and those who came back from the evacuation such as D.I. Smirnova. The new staff included P.I. Zakharov, P.L. Smelov, N.M. Zhadovskiy, V.Ye. Guseva, V.A. Shafrov and O.V. Vasilieva.
The 1950s were marked by a number of structural changes in the Department of Restoration, as well as in the laboratory itself. The need to address the new tasks demanded expansion of the laboratory staff and division into specialised groups for restoration: archaeological metal, ceramics, porcelain, glass, weapons, organic materials, etc. Thus, the restoration of archaeological metal was assigned to D.I. Smirnova and O.V. Vasilieva, new metal to P.I. Zakharov and V.A. Shafrov, ceramics to P.A. Smirnov and V.Ye. Guseva, organic materials to Ye.A. Rumyantseva, A.L. Yachneva and N.A. Korzhinskaya.
In the 1960s and the 1970s the laboratory, which was supervised by P.I. Zakharov, represented a fairly large division of the Hermitage. It engaged many restorers of archaeological metal (N.A. Panchenko - team leader, S.S. Sharipova, R.A. Vakunenkova, O.L. Semenova), ceramics, porcelain and glass (A.I. Pozdnyak - team leader, Ye.P. Cherepanova, V.I. Stroganova, N.V. Borisova), and organic materials (K.F. Nikitina – team leader, Z.Ya. Grushanskaya, A.B. Bryzgalova, N.A. Korzhinskaya, T.A. Baranova).
In the 1970s and the 1980s there were further structural reforms undertaken to create a special laboratory for restoration of works of applied art from organic materials. A group for restoration of clocks, cuneiform tablets and stained glass also appeared.
The laboratory has developed new methods of restoration and acquired new equipment. S.A. Smirnov, the head of laboratory from 1976 to 1986, applied a domestic-built laser device for soldering of the new metal objects, and, together with the Ye.P. Melnikova and M.N. Lebel developed a method of removing corrosion layers with surface-active polymers. Great contribution to the restoration of new metal was made by G.A. Shulga, who worked at the laboratory from 1977 to 1984.
Restorer of ceramics, porcelain and glass, V.I. Stroganova, substantially supplemented the method of restoration of cuneiform tablets developed by chemical laboratory specialists, N.G. Gerasimova and V.P. Vinogradova. Thanks to her efforts, priceless monuments of Babylonian writing were saved.
N.A. Panchenko together with N.G. Gerasimova developed a method for the restoration of lead molivdovuls, which helped to preserve several thousand monuments of the Oriental Department.
In 1976, a special sector of restoration of stained glass was established in the laboratory. It was headed by Ye.M. Krylova. The complexity of establishing criteria for restorative approach when dealing with the collection of the Hermitage stained glass was conditioned by the fact that the restoration of the stained glass windows of the museum was the first instance of such work to be done in the country.
Today LSRWAA consists of four sectors, each specialising in the restoration of monuments of certain materials.
Archaeological Metal Restoration Sector
Items made of archaeological metal, which spent a long time in the ground or water, undergo significant changes so that there is a partial or complete replacement of metal with corrosion products. This leads to a significant distortion in the shape of objects, an increase in their volume and hiding of the surface pattern. A top priority for the restorer at this stage is to protect the artefact from further destruction by stabilising the active corrosion.
Sector employees are constantly searching for new methods of stabilisation and conservation of metal and upgrading the traditional ones.
S.G. Burshneva applied and improved sulphide iron treatment in the Hermitage. New methods of preservation and storage using vacuum are being successfully introduced by O.Yu. Senatorova and M.G. Borovikova.
Identification and restoration of the shape of objects often involve special difficulties. Very often corrosive layers are significantly harder than the metal of the monument itself. Items often arrive in the restoration laboratory with numerous fragile fragments lost. This requires the restorer to be extremely careful and qualified. The constant search for new techniques and technologies is especially important when working with such exhibits. Currently, A.V. Pankova is working on introduction of laser technology into the restoration of archaeological metal.
The key to preserving archaeological artifacts at the stage of excavation is the active participation of restorers. Field conservation techniques allow not only correct removal of the item correctly from the ground, but to save it for science and history. N.A. Panchenko, O.L. Semenova, S.G. Burshneva, N.B. Yankovskaya all greatly contributed to these techniques.
New Metal Restoration Sector
In museum practice, any metal that hasn’t been buried in the ground is called new metal. This is the main difference between new metal artefacts and archaeological monuments. However, sometimes corrosion layers on the items made of a new metal have characteristics similar to archaeological metal, and, as a result, restoration techniques in some cases are also similar. Existence of many items made of new metal (weapons, jewellery, religious objects, tools, etc.) is due to their constant use and, consequently, the risk of destruction, loss of integrity and decoration, weakening of their hardness and changing of their appearance. Restorers are faced with a variety of sometimes unexpected combinations of materials, processing techniques, various decorative finishes and stylistic features.
In their work, the restorers use traditional tools, equipment and accessories, as well as modern equipment: microscopes, laser units, X-ray fluorescence analysers, casting complexes and apparatus for heat treatment, etc.
Restorers of objects made of new metal are actively involved in numerous joint projects of laboratory sectors and collaborate with colleagues from other laboratories.
The sector for restoration of new metal items is headed by A.I. Bantikov and consists of A.I. Karpechenkov, A.V. Chulin, S.A. Smirnov and M.I. Subbotina. They successfully meet the challenges of finding and implementing the most advanced modern technologies, including laser treatment of a metal surface and 3D-technologies for replenishing losses (scanning, 3D-modelling to create computer reconstructions, models for casting and electroplating).
Stained Glass Restoration Sector
Creation of this sector was due to the need to address the issue of restoration of stained glass in the museum collection.
The State Hermitage Museum has a vast collection of cabinet and other stained glass, so the presence of a restoration school based on the latest developments and achievements allowed development of techniques for the restoration of stained glass elaborated by restorers of glass and metal. Ye.M. Krylova and Ye.P. Melnikova developed restoration adhesives and mastic compounds which have been successfully used for a long time now.
The Stained Glass Restoration Sector guided by Ye.M. Krylova and consisting of V.N. Lebedev, Ye.A. Dutova and N.V. Semenova not only successfully solves the tasks assigned to them, but also actively participates in the Corpus Vitrearum, the president of which is Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum; the Sector contributes to the convergence of the Russian school of restoration of stained glass with the oldest restoration schools in Europe and America.
Sector of Restoration of Ceramics, Porcelain, Glass and Cuneiform Tablets
Ceramic and glass items make up a large part of the Hermitage collection. The basis of porcelain, faience, biscuit porcelain, majolica, terracotta and archaeological ceramics is clay and the features of its composition, the baking specifics and the conditions in which the items were before entering the museum, define a variety of restoration actions. Removal of traces of previous restorations and unskilled interventions that were carried out using materials that eventually changed their properties are particularly difficult. The restorers often have to re-create items from dozens or even hundreds of fragments. Restoration of lightly-baked and unbaked clay and, first of all, cuneiform tablets required creating a unique method of heat treatment and strengthening of the exhibits.
Handling glass, considering its particular fragility, optical properties, iridescence and other features of this material, requires special restoration techniques that were developed and put into practice by N.V. Borisova.These techniques allow restorers to engage in a broad spectrum of activities for restoring, preserving and preventing further destruction of these exhibits.
Participation in archaeological expeditions is a very important aspect of the restorers’ work. Foundations are set at this stage and a plan for following restoration measures for the monument conservation is drafted.
The Sector of Restoration of Ceramics, Porcelain, Glass and Cuneiform Tablets guided by N.L. Pavlukhina and consisting of A.I. Pozdnyak, N.V. Borisova, K.V. Lavinskaya, N.A. Bolshakova, O.M. Shuvalova, T.I. Shlykova and Ye.M. Ktitorova represents a dynamically developing restoration group.
Currently, the LSRWAA staff consists of 23 employees. LSRWAA has been headed by A.I. Bantikov since 1986.