Summer Gardens Statues
to Be Replaced With Copies

A restorer works on one of the sculptures from the Summer Gardens at a studio in the Mikhailovsky Castle. A copy will later be made of the statue.
Photo: St. Petersburg Times

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Frightening pictures of damage inflicted on the statues from the Summer Gardens by nature and vandalism were shown Tuesday at a press conference organized by the State Russian Museum focusing on the restoration of the sculptures.

The Summer Gardens were closed for restoration this summer, and when they reopen in 2011, all the original 18th-century marble sculptures depicting figures from antiquity will be replaced with copies, while the originals will go on display in the Mikhailovsky Castle. The decision was taken back in 1986, but the final permit from the city authorities was only received in August 2009, after which restoration got underway immediately.

Ivan Karlov, deputy director for storage and restoration at the Russian Museum, said that the sculptures had been badly affected by wind, rain, air pollution and deliberate vandalism for centuries. There is not a single sculpture that has not been partially destroyed or undergone restoration.

Restoration from past centuries could also cause harm to the statues eventually, said Bella Toporkova, head of the group of restorers. For example, in the 18th century, sections of steel were put inside the statues to reinforce them, and now they are getting rusty and can be seen from the surface. Karlov said that the marble on the surface of many of the sculptures has “died,” or turned into limestone.

Tatyana Kozlova, head of the Summer Garden complex, which is part of the Russian Museum, said it was high time to remove the sculptures, because in a few more years they would be ruined completely. Protecting sculptures from the environment is a global process, said Karlov, and the same is being done in the parks of Versailles in France and Sanssouci in Germany.

Restoration work is now being carried out in seven studios on the premises of the Russian Museum. The restorers use a wide range of instruments, from modern laser cleaning machines to toothbrushes and surgical and dental instruments. Almost all of the sculptures are missing noses, fingers or other details.

Restorer Alexei Baruzdin says that if there are no photos of the original sculpture, research work is carried out to decide what a missing part should look like. Art historians search for similar images throughout Europe to find an analogy. After restoration, silicone moulds are created of the sculptures and filled with a mixture of marble crumb and polyether resin. After removing the mould, the statues are steam-cleaned. Karlov says the material is guaranteed to last for 15 years, during which time the sculptures will look perfect. The present copies are expected to stand in the Summer Gardens for the next 50 to 100 years.

The material is exported from Germany and is not cheap, according to Larisa Mukina, the general director of Art Studiya group, which is carrying out the restoration work. Mukina said the materials cost the museum more than the salaries of the mould-makers.

“Afterwards we will have a special place in the studios that will resemble a scene from a horror film,” said Karlov. “The silicone moulds will be stored there to make new copies in the future.”

Storing the moulds will also help to combat vandalism. At present, it is hard to make vandals pay, because the sculptures are priceless and it is difficult to define their precise sum. In future, vandals will have to pay for a new copy of a sculpture to be made using an existing mould. If the culprit is not caught, the copy will be partially replaced.

So far, 61 objects from the Summer Gardens have been restored, and replicas have been made of 20 marble originals. The original sculptures will be exhibited in the Mikhailovsky Castle, which is also a branch of the State Russian Museum. Karlov said that a hall had been found for them overlooking the Summer Gardens.

Kozlova said it was very important that the whole collection of sculptures stays together in one place. Some of the original sculptures will be exhibited in the Russian Museum this summer, added Mukina.

St. Petersburg Times
27 November, 2009