The Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Oriental Painting (LSROP) of the State Hermitage Museum was founded on 26 January 1998, currently employing six art restorers. Ye.G. Shishkova, art restorer of the highest category, PhD in Art History, has headed the Laboratory since its foundation.
The main objective of the Laboratory is to carry out systematic work on the restoration of paintings of Asian and Eastern countries from the collection of the Oriental Department (OD), totalling about 3000 works of art. The Laboratory is occupied with three basic areas of restoration: Chinese painting on silk, paper and canvas; Japanese painting on scrolls, screens, fans and albums with painting; glue painting on canvas and silk such as Buddhist thangka icons of China, Tibet, Mongolia, Buryatia, and glue painting on cotton from Bali.
Prior to the formation of LSROP, restoration of monuments of oriental painting at different times was performed by employees from different laboratories. So, the first restorer of Buddhist paintings was N.N. Semenovich, an expert in textiles (from 1932 to the beginning of the 1960s). From the beginning of 1960 to 1982, N.N. Maximova was engaged in the restoration of oriental painting. From 1977 to 1985, she worked with Ye.S. Kulikovskaya.
Only starting in 1998 did systematic work on the restoration of monuments from the paintings collection of the OD begin. V.Y. Matveyev, Deputy Director of the State Hermitage Museum, K.F. Nikitina, Head of Department of Scientific Restoration and Conservation from 1994-2005, and K.F. Samosyuk, custodian of the Oriental Department, significantly contributed to the formation and preparation of a long-term Laboratory development plan. All OD painting storages were surveyed gradually. This made it possible to understand the state of collections in order to prioritize actions for conservation and restoration of monuments.
The Laboratory has existed for more than 16 years and its staff has restored about 350 monuments of oriental painting.
The specific character of the restoration of oriental painting is that the base materials and techniques are very diverse. In addition, the monuments belong to different historical periods, starting with the 8th century and ending with the 20th century; therefore, they require a variety of methodological approaches to restoration based on knowledge from different fields of art and science.
The difficulty of dealing with such complex monuments lies in the fact that Russian schools do not prepare experts in restoration of oriental painting. Young restorers start with courses of theory and practice in the Laboratory and then, depending on specialisation, they can go on with their studies in foreign restoration centres in Asia, Europe and America, where there are experts in this field.
Another way of advancing the skills of LSROP employees is organisation and implementation of research projects and conducting the conduction of research and practice seminars with experts from related restoration areas.
The Laboratory organised and participated in three international projects, the purpose of which was not only to survey the collections of oriental painting and photography, but also to train restorers in traditional and the latest techniques of restoration and, ultimately, to restore monuments from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum.
More than 85 thangkas were restored during the years of existence of LSROP. It should be noted that a Buddhist thangka is a complex object which comprises a picturesque image on primed canvas, a frame of silk, brocade or cotton, a silk veil covering the image, wooden rollers on which the frame is mounted, metal hooks and ribbons for hanging the thangka, decorative finials on the rolls of metal, wood, bone or ceramic and ribbon-ties.
All thangkas displayed the damage typical to Buddhist scrolls. These scrolls, which hung next to candles, became covered in soot. They were also periodically rolled and unrolled during the temple service, and so developed cracks, with the paint layer and primer coat falling off. The scrolls became deformed and aged. Each thangka required a different approach. Before starting work with such complex monuments, restorers learned the techniques of Tibetan painting, made painting models and conducted experimental work on selecting materials for framing and testing methods of the framing attachment to the thangka and tablets. It should be noted that the primer coat and distempers to fill the loss of primer coat and paint layer were prepared by restorers using a special technique.
Until 2011, the Laboratory was also involved in the restoration of photographic materials. A total of 937 photos and daguerreotypes were restored from the collection of the Department of History of Russian Culture and the Department of Manuscripts and Documents. In 2011, this line of restoration was separated as an independent Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Photos (LSRP).
Exhibits restored by LSROP over the years of its existence were presented at 60 different national and international exhibitions.
All diverse restoration processes are documented in the method instructions drawn up on the basis of proven advice and practical developments of the Laboratory. Work with exhibits is carried out in parallel with the research activities of the staff from the Department of Scientific and Technical Expertise, LBKZ and Quality Control Laboratory. The Laboratory also works closely with colleagues from other laboratories of different specialisations, such as restorers of fabrics, organic materials, furniture, metal, mural, easel and tempera painting.