ForUm has visited the restoration workshops of the National historical sanctuary Kyiv Pechersk Lavra to learn more about relics and restoration works.
The workshops are situated on the territory of Upper Lavra, in some old one-story buildings surrounded by country scene - fruit trees, roses and silence. Head of the restoration workshops of Lavra Svetlana Gaga kindly agreed to be ForUm's guide.
The first stop is a workshop on restoration of polychromic sculptures. Scrubs, brushes and various vials and pots all over the place are the part of creative chaos. Ancient wooden sculpture of Crucifix in the center of the table is waiting for a new look.
Restorer of polychromic sculpture and carving Ludmyla Pronenko explained the very technology of restoration.
- Linden with its light-yellow color and barely noticeable texture used to be the most common material for manufacturing wooden sculptures, as it is soft and easy for carving. The carving was covered with gesso (chalk and gelatin glue) first and then colored. More professional carvers used leaf-gold to cover polyment. Within the time both the wood and coating crack down. Peeling of the colors, dirt, repeated repainting damage the sculpture. Our task is to study the object, to draw up a restoration program, to carry out photofixation. There is often the necessity to treat the wood with preservatives against wood fretter, fungus and mold.
Following the cleaning process we establish the original look of a sculpture. Chemical tests help to establish where there is authentic layer of polychromy and where there is later coating. The final decision on further works is made by the restoration council board.
Now we are working on the sculpture "Sacrification of Abraham" of XVIII century made of linden.
We go further, looking at icons of Pechersk Saints hanging out in the corridor. Images of saints are covered with whitewash, dust and dirt. We found similar icons hanging in the next room - workshop on restoration of paintings.
Our guide Svetlana told us these icons used to decorate the front of Refectory church. They are hundred years old, and need immediate interference after being exposed to open air for all this time. The restorers have already held consultations to determine the program and methods of restoration works.
A junior research associate Anna Marchenko kindly shared the working process with us:
- We receive all kind of paintings and icons of various states of preservation and times of manufacturing. Paintings and icons we restore are painted on all kinds of material: wood, canvas or metal. Currently we are restoring metal icons. There are no universal recipes. Every case is individual and requires special approach. Every single case we have to decide how to remove dirt, whether to couch and tint or simply to conserve author's painting.
Now we go to the next room, which is also a part of the workshop on paintings. Half of the wall is covered with the portrait of Metropolitan Petro Mohyla. Frames and easels are holding icons of XVIII century, painted with oil on wood.
Fine art expert and restorer Olga Ryzhova, who welcomed us at the doors, specializes in restoration of paintings on wooden bases and canvas. She showed us the photos of Mohyla's portrait before the restoration. The painting is peckled and faded.
- The painting is faded, because the varnish has lost its transparency. With a special mixture we selected the varnish has regained its properties. This process took three years. Now we are fixing gaps. This work is very delicate and computer technologies cannot help. To restore gaps a restorer has to pass three stages of restoration: first to make an underlayer, then to put the principle color and finally to apply glazing.
Now icons... The most common damage is blub and peeling of paint and gesso from the wooden base. Due to temperature fluctuations the wood casts and the paint and gesso swell. In order to cast the paint in place a restore process it with warm solution of sturgeon glue (sometimes with honey). This solution softens the paint and allows sticking it back to the base. Then the 'raw spot' is covered with tissue-paper and gets ironed. When the paint layer is well stuck the tissue-paper is removed with a wet wool cotton ball.
Having learned the process of painting restoration we go to metalworkers. Mostly they work with gold and silver. The workshop is equipped with sophisticated security system, including the alarm, window and door grates and safe.
Restorer Vitaly Kurlov told us some details of jewelry cuisine:
- The restorers have many objects from Assumption cathedral of Lavra. When Bolsheviks blew it up back in 1941 while leaving Kyiv they did not even bother to take all the values. The majority of relics remained under the fallen rocks, including royal gates and various ornaments and crosses.
We were shown a photo with an unidentified object, probably a holy vessel. Then the restorer showed us this object already restored. It turned out to be a lamp.
Vitaly's colleague, metalworker Vyacheslav Ralemski told us about the restoration process of the penscript of the Gospel Book of XYII century.
- The Book was in a very bad state. The cover was torn off, the original medallion on the clasp was once replaced with a plastic one and then nailed to the cover...!
As it is a functioning part of the book we made a new detailed from bronze. All sculptured images of evangelists are hand-hammered.
We've been working on this Book for two years. By the end of the year we are planning to finish the works. We wish we had more financing.
The workshop experts also work on the restoration of the early printed books, drawings and documents. We were shown how to restore a chromolithography dated 1914. Chromolithography is a printed color image, something like a modern printer image. The lithography depicts Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery. The image of the monument is in a poor condition, there are tears and some sections are completely torn.
The artist-restorer Tatyana Lanko applies dry cleaning, removes dirt and fly specks.
Then chemical cleaning will be applied, and later the lost pieces of paper will be filled by other ones, similar in properties, quality and thickness of the paper, with glue. Finally, the missing details of the image will be tinted in colors.
The chromolithography depicting Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery, apparently hung on the wall of some house. Its previous owner glued small paper icons on it, so the restorer had to separate these icons from the image.
- We will not stick them back. They will be returned in the restorer passport, in a special envelope. Look, there are some inscriptions at the back of the icons. Perhaps they are interesting for historians, Tatyana said.
But most of all we were impressed by the work of restorers of fabrics and liturgical clothes.
All restorers work with old and timeworn objects, but the restorers of fabrics work with dust, literally. And from this dust they resurrect ancient artifacts.
The working shop of fabrics restorers looks like a tailor's shop, but instead of trousers and dresses they work with canonical dresses.
A restorer Volodymyr Nazar showed us a fragment of rotten fabrics.
- It was found during archeological digging in Assumption cathedral. This is a fragment of the silky Byzantine fabrics, probably a part of the funeral dress of one of the dukes. Starting from 12th century the cathedral used to be a burial place for dukes of Rurik and Gedeminovich dynasties. The fabric is dated to the end of XII - beginning of XIII century.
- Is it even possible to create a whole showpiece from a rotten piece of fabric, we asked.
-Huh, you have not seen its original state. It was crumpled, dried out and shabby. We've just started the restoration. The fabric was disinfected and plastic-laminated for further works. Now you can see an ornament. After the processing with special agents the ornament will be even more vivid.
Volodymyr shows another fragment of fabric.
- This is a Chinese fabric named “kasa”, made in tapestry technique. We can see a geometric pattern and the remnants of once bright colors. This showpiece is aged 800 - 900 years. It was also found in the sarcophagus burial in the Assumption Cathedral.
The restorer said that in general he deals with more modern and undamaged things - canonical dresses, mantles.
Volodymyr points to a unit of a canonical dress. "Here it is a surplice made in 1750."
The interesting fact is that we know the name of its donator. He is Vasiliy Kushkin, the merchant from Serpukhov, Moscow region. He paid for producing this surplice and then gave it to the monastery. The inscription on the back of the showpiece testifies to this.
The surplice is sewed of French fabric and decorated with river pearls.
It looks almost like new, only a lower ham is a bit worn. It needs restoration.
The workshop also has fully restored things, for example liturgical fabrics "Deposition in the Tomb" of XYII century.
- You see, even back then they knew the value of this fabric. There is an inscription "Preserve as a relic".
Here comes the end of our excursion. What can we add to everything seen in the workshops? The work of a restore requires not only knowledge and skills, but also enormous patience. The work on a square centimeter of a relic can take a whole day, and the work on the whole showpiece can take years.
It is good that despite poor financing there are still enthusiasts who try to bring back our history and culture, so we remember our roots.
Dmytro Khyliuk, photo Viktor Kovalchuk
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