Artifacts damaged during World War II are the subjects of this photo exhibition in Chennai

A photo exhibition at Chennai’s Russian home captures the process of restoration of precious artifacts damaged during World War II

A photo exhibition at Chennai’s Russian home captures the process of restoration of precious artifacts damaged during World War II

When the legendary work of Renaissance sculptor Donatello, John the Baptist, arrived at the Pushkin State Museum in Moscow, it was missing both feet, an arm and part of a cape. Many thought it was beyond repair. The statue had survived two separate fires while being stored in a bunker on the outskirts of Berlin in 1945, as the end of World War II approached.

The museum found a plaster copy made before the war, which served as a reference for bringing John the Baptist to life.

That same bunker also contained precious artifacts transported from what is now known as the Bode Museum in Berlin, to prevent damage during the war.

Months after the accident, several of these fragments were sent to the Soviet Union by two trains. After gigantic efforts spanning several decades, 750 museum objects were restored in the Pushkin State Museum in 2010.

Now a photo exhibit aptly titled Twice Rescued attempts to capture this impressive restoration process, having reached Chennai after many spells of postponement from a pandemic.

At the Russian House, Chennai, 30 of these objects are captured in frames in the exhibition space. Although the exhibition, which will be on display until June 12, does not present a display worthy of its content, a visit opens a portal of welcome into the history of the World War.

Borodin Igor Viktorovich, Head of the Conservation Department at the Pushkin State Museum, says: “By preparing the Twice Rescued photo exhibition, we wanted to show that after nearly 77 years, museum staff, curators and art curators can see the wounds, the damage to world-famous works of art. ”

He continues: “We didn’t just want to show the results of the work, but also remind people of the fragility of the world around us.”

A dino with two sphinxes believed to have been made in eastern Greece in the early 6th century BC

A dino with two sphinxes believed to have been created in eastern Greece in the early 6th century BC | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Take, for example, the leading photo: a red-figure amphora depicting the Theban hero, the death of Actaeon. The time spent on restoring this single artifact was more than 10 years. It was brought into the museum in 130 fragments. Conservators working on this object essentially had to piece it together like a puzzle.

A Dinos (ancient Greek pottery – a mixing bowl or cauldron) with two sphinxes believed to have been made in eastern Greece in the early 6th century BC; Giovanni’s sculpture Saint Jerome Penitent (1420-1491); a bronze bust of Giovanni himself believed to have been made after 1508 – the series gives a glimpse into numerous classical pieces and their restoration processes.

Borodin gives us a scale of the project by taking us back to John the Baptist.

“For several months, the Pushkin Museum’s restorers have not only strengthened the damaged parts of the piece, but also solved the complex technical problem of preserving and displaying it upright. In addition, individual fragments of the statue had to be made to replace the lost fragments. And the figure of John the Baptist became the forerunner of the whole project.”

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