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

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

A photo exhibit in the Russian House in Chennai captures the process of restoring priceless artefacts damaged during World War II

A photo exhibit in the Russian House in Chennai captures the process of restoring priceless artefacts damaged during World War II

When Renaissance sculptor Donatello’s legendary work Saint John the Baptist arrived at the Pushkin State Museum in Moscow, it was missing both feet, one arm and part of a cape. Many thought it was irreparable. The sculpture had survived two separate fires while stored in a bunker on the outskirts of Berlin in 1945, as World War II drew to a close.

The museum has found a plaster copy made before the war, which served as a reference to resuscitate Saint John the Baptist.

This same bunker also contained priceless artifacts that had been transported from what is now known as the Bode Museum in Berlin, to avoid 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 decades, 750 museum objects were restored in 2010 at the Pushkin State Museum.

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

At the Russian House in Chennai, 30 of these objects captured in frames line the exhibition hall. Although the exhibition, which will run until June 12, does not give a presentation worthy of its contents, a visit opens a welcome portal into the history of the world war.

Borodin Igor Viktorovich, Head of the Pushkin State Museum’s Conservation Department, says: “In preparing the exhibition of Twice Saved Photos, we wanted to show that after nearly 77 years, museum staff, curators and art curators had to heal the wounds, the damage done to world famous works of art.

He continues: “We wanted to not only show the results of the work, but also remind people of the fragility of the world around us.

A dinosaur depicting two sphinxes believed to have been made in eastern Greece in the early 6th century BC. AD | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Take for example the principal photograph: a red-figure amphora depicting the Theban hero, the death of Actaeon. The time spent on the restoration of this unique artifact lasted more than 10 years. It was brought to the museum in 130 fragments. The restorers who worked on this object essentially had to put it together like a puzzle.

A Dinos (ancient Greek pottery – a mixing bowl or cauldron) depicting two sphinxes believed to have been made in eastern Greece in the early 6th century BC. Sculpture by Giovanni Saint Jerome penitent (1420 to 1491); a bronze bust of Giovanni himself believed to have been made after 1508 – the series provides insight into many classic pieces and their restoration processes.

Borodin gives us a scale of the project by bringing us back to St Jean Baptiste.

“For several months, the curators of the Pushkin Museum not only reinforced the damaged areas of the piece, but also solved the complex technical problem of how to store and display it in an upright position. Additionally, individual fragments of the sculpture had to be made to replace those lost. And the figure of Saint John the Baptist became the forerunner of the whole project.

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