The Hermitage collection numbers over 2700000 items. All of them require conservation and since all of them are subject to aging, they are also in need of restoration to bring forward their original qualities.
The restoration tradition at the Hermitage is closely linked to the history of the museum itself. In the 18th and 19th centuries, attention was mostly paid to the restoration of paintings which formed a considerable part of the collection. Engravings and drawings also underwent some surface restoration and mounting, while coins, medals, and weapons were polished and antique vases reassembled.
After the Revolution of 1917, restoration started to emerge and develop as a rigorous science.
Since the museum’s collections greatly increased in the 1920s and 1930s, it was necessary to establish a proper restoration department, equipped with new workshops and laboratories. Workshops specialising in the restoration of graphic works, textiles and objects of applied art were founded at that time. In 1936, the country’s first X-ray lab was opened at the Hermitage in order to undertake a structured study of the artefacts in its possession.
During the Second World War, the restorers shared the same concerns as the rest of the museum staff. The museum’s exhibits had to be evacuated and preserved in appropriate conditions. The museum buildings and the remaining pieces also had to be saved.
After the war, restorers focused their practical efforts on conserving the exhibits returning from evacuation as well as damaged exhibits. Alongside practical specialists, the department now included artists, art historians, historians, technical experts and scientists. Using the advances in scientific research and technology, they developed a holistic approach to the restoration of works of art. The Hermitage established laboratories for the restoration of mural paintings, gemstones, and a chemistry lab.
The Department currently numbers 14 laboratories which specialise in areas corresponding to the museum’s collections.
The Department of Scientific Restoration and Conservation has 172 employees.
Over the course of each year, around 4000 exhibits are subjected to conservation and restoration treatment (4391 items in 2013).
The number of pieces undergoing restoration is growing as the museum is expanding its exhibition capacities and launching new sites such as the Hermitage Amsterdam, Kazan, and Vyborg Exhibition Centres, where new exhibitions of works from the Hermitage open twice a year.
The Department’s employees are responsible for the overall conservation and restoration of exhibits ahead of external exhibitions. They also carry out routine restoration of items from museum collections. Their permanent duties include monitoring the state of the artefacts in storage and on display and selecting exhibits for restoration. They regularly take part in meetings of academic, restoration and expert councils and committees as well as in archaeological exhibitions organised by the Hermitage.
Other important aspects of life at the Department include research and methodology, experimenting and teaching. Art restorers take part in seminars and conferences, publish articles, develop new methodologies and adopt innovative materials and equipment. Efforts are made to streamline the document turnover and to improve the existing system of restoration record-keeping, to establish standard forms of restoration documents suitable for electronic processing.
The labs of the Department offer annual placement opportunities to Russian and foreign experts.
The Department’s specialists also organise teaching programmes in the following areas:
- Training placement students in the Department labs; supervising pre-graduation and graduation placements of students from relevant colleges.
- Taking part in restoration and attestation committees of relevant colleges to assess graduation papers and presentations.
- Organising lectures and practical workshops for students.
- Leading introductory excursions to restoration labs.