The virtual exhibition
Disclosures of the Belarusian restorers 2010
“An icon emitted a deep, thrifty odor of mature lime wood, nowadays transformed into a thinning old time flavor” [3,161].
There is the first virtual exhibition, dedicated for the creative work of the Belarusian restorers, before your eyes. After all, the audience has never seen what these masters and devotees of art monuments were doing. We are going to lift the veil. It is no coincidence that the exhibition is called like that: this is the way through a disclosure in the sense of restoration and in the technical sense to a disclosure, as the attainment of holy beauty.
During the 1960–1980s the collection of the Ancient Belarusian art of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus has been actively replenished with the help of the expeditions of the scientific researchers. A lot of monuments, which today constitute the golden fund of the Old Belarusian culture, have been saved throughout all the regions of Belarus. Some of these art works have been shown to visitors in varying degrees, but not all of the saved cultural values are available to researchers because of their poor preservation and the need for difficult restoration works up to this day.
The very art works have been included into the exposition of the virtual exhibition. They have been gradually taking their original appearance of auteur painting on the restoration tables, which (appearance) was hidden from the eyes during the latest hundred years, and even during the latest three hundred years, and only now they give us all their original beauty.
The icon Our Lady Hodigitria, which today is dated back to the 17th century, is one of the earliest among the represented monuments. It is the icon of a small format (63.3 x 50 cm), which today is a rarity among the surviving monuments of iconography, it is executed in mixed media (tempera, oil). The painting, which is available for the primary analysis, was dated back to the end of the 18th–19th centuries. Scarlet splashes of the omophorion of Mary and golden ocher highlights of the clothes of the baby Jesus were read under the darkened and decayed varnish; good plastic of personal painting was seen. The icon entered on the restoration table of Arcady Shpunt – the specialist of the highest category.
In the process of removing the later records it became apparent that the original background of the icon was carved, it also had a surprisingly rich range of colors: the golden himation of Jesus is being supported with the gold edging on the collar and cuffs of the clothes of Mary, but a traditionally red color of the omophorion is being shaded with cool turquoise and blue. Such a celebratory peal of colors is a characteristic of the Belarusian iconography of the 17th century, as well as the painting style of personal painting including light-and-dark modelings and a slightly elongated plastics of hands, a gentle roundness of the facial contours of Mary, the specificity and national character in the treatment of prototypes. The icon comes from the Minsk region, more precisely from the village of Golynka, which is situated close to Slutsk, which at that time was a major artistic and educational center, where it was, most likely, painted. It is obvious that this art work is of a very high artistic quality and its study will allow inserting another one interesting chapter into the history of Belarusian school of icon painting of the 17th century.
View of the icon before the restoration. The icon was repeatedly restored, the background was recoated with levkas and gilded, the traces of burns, and the marks of nails, by which the icon-setting was fixed, the darkened varnish (linseed oil) were seen on the painting.
The icon is in the state of the researches. At this stage the methodology of the restoration is being worked out: the removing of layers, darkened varnishes, records, and late levkas over foundations.
Painting in the process of disclosure. At this stage, the removal of late records, of the two layers of the darkened varnish, and of the four layers of the over foundations in the carved and gilded background of the icon are being executed.
Painting of the icon after the removal of pilings.
Painting after the under priming of the foundation in the areas of loss and toning of the paint layer. Now the icon looks like this.
The following two art works of tempera painting of the 18th century also come from the Minsk region. These are “Our Lady Hodigitria” and “Christ Pantocrator”. Both icons had late records alongside with losses of the paint layer. Thanks to the skills of the restorers Sergey Shatilo (the restorer of III category) and Dmitry Karlionov (the restorer of II category) nowadays we can see the two magnificent examples of the Belarusian school of icon painting with the characteristic use of wooden onlays “stones”, carved patterns of the background of a cut-back centre portion of the icon panel, and margins.
State of the icon “Our Lady Hodigitria” of the 18th century, when passing for the restoration to Sergey Shatilo (the restorer of III category). Visible losses of the original paint layer and foundation, the largest ones are in the lower part, the remains of the darkened varnishes and the two layers of late recordings are seen on the painting. The boards of the basis are torn in the places of gluing; they are deformed. The wood of the foundation is damaged by a beetle-grinder. The previously performed fragmentary clearances, both before the layer of the first record and the auteur painting, are visible. The upper layer of the recording is made with oil paints. The first record is presumably done with egg tempera.
Painting in the process of researches, the paint layer is hardened, the gluing of the foundation boards is performed, the margins are cleared, the late insertions of the foundation are removed, the work on the stage of the removing of late pilings.
Fragment of the icon. Marks of the layers: 1 – auteur painting, 2 – the first record, 3 – the second record.
Disclosure of auteur painting is being done at this stage, the implementation of the losses of the auteur foundation is performed.
State of the icon “Christ Pantocrator” of the 18th century at the moment of passing to the restorer of II category Dmitry Karlionov, general view. Beginning of the researches. As in the previous icon, only fragmentary clearances, which have been carried out earlier, are visible.
Condition of the paint layer icon at the moment of passing to the restoration table of Dmitry Karlionov.
View of the art work in the process of the restoration. The paint layer is hardened, and the gluing of the foundation boards is performed. The work which has been done on the stage of clearing of the late pilings.
View of the art work in the process of the restoration. At this stage the clearing of the carved background of the icons and margins have been conducted, the restoration foundation has been played false in the places of the losses.
View of the icon from the reverse side, on which, in addition to the museum inventory numbers, the following text is placed: “This icon was restored by Sinklipiya Bachko from the village Lopatich, for the pardon of the sins of her husband – Dmitry of 1877”.
The final stage of the restoration. Toning of the losses of the paint layer was done. The icon after restoration looks like that.
The icons of the Apostles, originating from the iconostasis from the Cathedral of the Holy Assumption (1613–19th c.) of the Zhirovichi Monastery (the Grodno region) are of extraordinary interest. The icons were transferred to the museum in 2009 in connection with the renovation of the iconostasis, and naturally, they were in need of the restoration works.
“The Apostles: Simon the Cananaean, Bartholomew, James – the son of Alphaeus – and John”, the second quarter of the 18th century. The restorer of the III category – Sergey Shatilo. View of the icon in the process of the researches. (1 – the auteur layer, 2,3,4 – the later pilings) a trial disclosure of the auteur painting, the sampling for the chemical analysis of the paint layer’s spectrum (A, B, C, D, E).
At this stage of the restoration the paint layer’s hardening was carried out, the base (of the board) is conditioned with a chemical affinity from a beetle-grinder, the painting is cleaned from muddings and late refreshments, the darkened varnish is refined. The art monument is prepared for the exhibition.
The icon “Apostles Paul and James Zebedee”, the second quarter of the 18th century. The restorer of the I category – Svetlana Dikut. View of the art work before the restoration.
View of the icon in the process of the auteur painting’s disclosure, clearings of late pilings.
The iconostasis of the Cathedral of the Holy Assumption of the Zhirovichi Monastery is a unique monument of the Belarusian art. Performed in the same stylistic vein, the elements of the carved decoration and the picturesque paintings (which have been preserved in rather a few quantity in Belarus), placed in three tiers, represent an ensemble of breathtaking beauty. “The Apostles” vividly demonstrate the typical techniques of the Belarusian sacred painting, combining both the Eastern and the Western traditions of the iconography and the technological peculiarities of the mixed media of painting.
The icon by Tomasz Mikhalski – “Nativity of the Blessed Virgin” of 1751 – was sent to the museum collection in a ruined condition. The specialist of the highest category – Arkady Shpunt – set himself for its restoration.
View of the icon during the initial stage of the restoration. The hardening of the paint layer has been made, the frame has been dismantled, the foundation of the painting (board) has been strengthened, and the foundation has been played false in the places of the losses of the paint layer.
View of the art work in the process of the restoration. Toning of the losses of the paint layer was done.
View of the icon after the restoration, the installation of the framing is carried out, the ultimate toning and varnishing of the paint layer is performed.
This festive image – bright and rich in details – has been presented to the audience at the exhibition “Altar painting of Belarus of the 18th–19th centuries”, which was held in 2009, for the first time.
The following art works: “Annunciation”, “Feretron. Mother of God with the Attended Saints”, “Saint Mary Magdalene”, “Saint wearing a wreath” and “The Crucifixion” – have been exposed at the same exhibition. These art works are performed in the technique of oil painting on canvas and are a composition, amazing by its performance’s beauty, in the Western European iconography.
The altar paintings, at that time represented in the process of the restoration, are the brightest examples of the mastering and understanding of the art of the European Baroque by the local painters. This is traced in “Annunciation” (the restorer of the II category – Svetlana Alishevich), and “Saint Mary Magdalene” (the restorer of the I category – Svetlana Ishmaeva). Both of these art works are dated back to the 18th century. Their compositions are full of dynamics of the figures’ movement; this effect is being increased by the complex contour of the draperies. If “Annunciation” is performed by an unknown artist, but rather a professional one (according to the hypothesis of Natalya Trifonova, Candidate of Arts, it is probably that this art work comes from the collection of a famous Polish collector of the 19th century – Tomasz Zelinsky) [1, p.27], then the icon “Saint Mary Magdalene” is performed in the somewhat different manner, which is a characteristics of a folk master. It is being expressed in the position of the figure of Mary Magdalene, in the depiction of the Saint’s outburst of tears, as well as in the interpretation of the landscape environment.
View of “Annunciation” of the 18th century at the time of the passing to the restoration table of the restorer of the II category – Svetlana Alishevich. Numerous losses of the paint layer and the foundation around the perimeter of the art work, and nail punctures of the base (canvas) are seen.
Fragment of the art work before the restoration. The losses of the auteur paint layer and the foundation are visible.
View of the art work in the process of the restoration. The hardening of the paint layer has been done, and the restoration foundations have been played false on the perimeter.
View of the art work at the final stage of the restoration. The icon is cleaned from muddings and old varnish, toning of the foundation in the places of the loss of the paint layer has been done, the protective coating has been applied.
It has been the view of the altar painting – “Saint Mary Magdalene”, before the restorer of the I category – Svetlana Ishmaeva – set herself for its restoration. The entire surface of the painting has been covered with a layer of the decomposed (to a powdery state) lacquer, the losses of the foundation and the flow slides of the paint layer have been seen, and there has been a threat of the complete destruction and decomposition of the paint layer, that is, a complete death of the art work.
At this stage of the restoration the process of hardening of the paint layer and the foundation has been carried out, then the removal of the varnish (mechanically, using a water compress and a scalpel) has been held. For the reason that the varnish has been removing with the water, the cleaning of the lacquer has been held earlier than the restoration foundation has been played false. The overture of the auteur varnish has been made right in the upper left corner, in the image of a cherub.
View of the art work in the process of the restoration foundation’s playing false.
View of the art work after the restoration works: a complete clearance of the decomposed varnish has been carried out, and toning of the losses and abrasions of the auteur paint layer has been performed. A small control portion of the auteur varnish is left at the bottom edge.
The image of “Saint wearing a wreath” is dated back to the 18th century, is performed in the technique of oil painting. The art work was transferred into the museum collection in 1974, but the restoration works have been recently completed.
That was the view of the art work, when it was passed to the restoration table of Ella Pashkina – the restorer of the II category. The doubling of the foundation and nail punctures, flow slides of the paint layer and the foundation, the aging of the varnish are visible.
Fragment of the art work before the restoration. The flow slides of the paint layer are visible.
View of the art work during the final stage of the restoration. Walling up of the losses of the basis, the hardening of the paint layer, the removal of the darkened varnish, the playing false of the restoration foundation and the toning of the losses and attritions of the auteur paint layer have been carried out.
The icon – “Saint wearing a wreath” – is performed in the manner peculiar for the Belarusian painting of the late period of Baroque. Creating an image of the Saint framed in an oval, the painter makes it a canon and surrounds it by cherubs, as if praising not only the Saint herself, but also her entire image. “Portrait in portrait” is the result. The pedestal, on which a frame with carefully painted elements of carving is being mounted, contributes to this impression. The composition is close to such art work as – “Feretron. Mother of God with the Attended Saints”.
Picturesque images of the portable leaved altar “feretron” are infrequently found in the Belarusian painting, and the composition of the 18th century, which is represented at the exhibition, arouses the liveliest interest. The art work was passed into the museum collection in 2008, and it had a bad integrity. After the restoration works, carried out by Svetlana Alishevich, the icon began sparkling with the entire beauty of its bright colors and presented to the researchers another one example of the sacred art, performed by a folk master. It is reported by the artist’s painting style, the chosen range of colors, the composition’s lineup. The upper part of the feretron contains an image of the Crucifixion and the New Testament Trinity. In the central part of the composition there is the image of Mary with the Christ Child in the iconographic type of “Tenderness”; the apostles Peter and Paul are the frontal figures of the composition. The master also conveys the expressive Belarusian carving, by which the portable altar and the interior details such as lamps, hanging high and slightly ahead of the altar, are being adorned.
View of the art work before the restoration.
Fragment of the art work. Condition before the restoration; the losses of the paint layer and the foundation, as well as the signs of the decomposition of varnish are seen.
Fragment of the art work. Condition before the restoration. Nail punctures and ruptures of the basis (canvas) are visible.
Fragment of the art work. Condition before the restoration. The nail punctures and ruptures of the basis (canvas), the heavy muddings, and the decomposed auteur varnish are visible.
Fragment of the art work. Condition before the restoration. The heavy muddings of the paint layer and the doubling of the basis are visible.
View of the art work after the restoration. The hardening of the paint layer, the gluing of the doubled beam threads, the duplication of the canvas, the clearing from the decomposed varnish have been made. The foundation has been played false and the tint coating has been performed in the places of the paint layer’s loss.
The “Crucifixion”, which has originally been dated back to the 19th century, deserves a special attention. The art work comes from the Grodno region and it has been transferred into the museum collection in 2008 in rather a poor condition. The restorer of the I category – Svetlana Dikut – has been working under its restoration and, thanks to her, nowadays, the researchers have been given the opportunity of studying this art monument, indeed in the course of the restoration the exact date of the art work’s creation: “A. H (?) 1806 ... Jul ...” has been discovered, and it should be taken into consideration that there is rather small quantity of the dated picturesque images of the “Crucifixion” in the collection of the Ancient Belarusian art of the museum. The composition, represented in the exhibition’s exposition, is characterized by severity and laconism. The figure of the crucified Christ is being distinguished by a careful draughtsmanship of the anatomical constitution; it definitely points out to a kind of the painter’s professional training. At the same time, the rendering of the wounds and the flowing blood of Jesus, as well as the elaboration of the landscape environment convey the artist’s folk manner. The red tiled roofs and white walls of the buildings of an evidently European city are being seen by us out of the Golgotha. The trees, bending in the gusts of wind, the sparkling lightning and the leaden clouds, covering the sky, against which we see the figure of the crucified Christ, add a necessary sharpness of the dramatic experience of the existent things to the composition itself.
The art work before the restoration: numerous losses of the paint layer and the basis, the fractures of the canvas, the yellowed with age varnish and the general intense muddings are seen.
Fragment of the art work, at which severe fractures of the basis, muddings, turbidity of the varnish are seen.
The art work in the process of the restoration: the art work is extended on the working stretcher over the craft fields, the removal of the contaminated lacquer coating, a little overture is fragmentally done on the left side.
The art work in the process of the restoration: the clearing and playing false of the restoration foundations have been done, a partial toning of the foundations has been performed. A test fragment of the auteur varnish is visible at the lower right edge of the image of the city.
The art work in the restoration process: the full toning of the grounds has been done.
The final process of the restoration: the tint coating of the paint layer and the varnishing have been performed.
The given examples of the sacred art of Belarus of the 17th–19th centuries represent a tremendous interest in the context of the studying of the national school of art and provide wonderful opportunities to their researchers. The dilapidated canvases and dusty, broken boards have been turned into the museum pieces and have been put into the scientific circulation with the help of the labor and skills of the following scientific employees: Arkady Shpunt, Svetlana Dikut, Svetlana Alishevich, Svetlana Ishmaeva, Sergey Shatilo, and Dmitry Karlionov. Within the framework of one virtual exhibition it is certainly impossible to fully disclose the complexity of the restoration works, but the significance of what our Belarusian restorers are doing for the preservation of our cultural and historical heritage as well cannot be diminished. A small piece of their souls is being preserved in each of all the displayed exhibits.
- Altar painting of Belarus of the 18th–19th centuries. The catalog of the exhibition / Collective of the authors / the introduction article by Alexander Yaroshevіch. – Minsk.: NAM RB, – 35 p.: ill.
- N. Vysotskaya, Sacred painting of Belarus of the 15th–18th centuries / N. Vysotskaya. – Minsk.: Belarus, 2007. – 219 p.: ill.
- Arkady Shpunt, Our Lady Hodigitria (DBG-69, KP-12470). Notes of a restorer / Arkady Shpunt // Reports of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus. Issue 8. – Minsk.: “Belprynt”. – P. 161–176.
Researchers worked on the exhibition:
the restorer of the highest category – Arkady Shpunt,
the restorer of the I category – Svetlana Ishmaeva,
the restorer of the I category – Svetlana Dikut,
the restorer of the II category – Ella Pashkina,
the restorer of the II category – Svetlana Alishevich,
the restorer the II category – Dmitry Karlionov,
the restorer of the III category – Sergey Shatilo.
Text author: the Head of the Sector of Multimedia Technologies – Polina Yanitskaya (edited by Arkady Shpunt).
Photos: Yury Moiseev, Dmitry Kozlov