Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Textiles
Laboratory director Marina V. Denisova
The State Hermitage has unique collections of textiles from the Pazyryk barrows (Altai Mountain Region) and Noin-Ula (Northern Mongolia); ancient, Coptic and Byzantine textiles; Western European tapestries; collections of high society and folk costumes; Russian, Oriental and Western embroidery; decorative fabrics; lace; and a collection of Russian and captured banners from the 18th and 19th centuries that is unique in size and artistic value.
The Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Textiles was founded in 1938. The Hermitage curator of banners N.N. Semenovich played a major role in its organization. He saw the need for urgent conservation of banners and standards, and he improved on old methods of gluing banners back together. Semenovich carried out scientific research and provided a theoretical basis for his method of conserving textiles. He developed the technology of a restoration process which consisted of reinforcing the exhibit by placing it on a new base material using glue made from flour starch. His method was used to restore a large number of banners and standards. This made it possible to save textiles which were disintegrating after World War II and which had been kept in wet premises for around four years. Now this method is used in cases of heavily damaged archeological textiles which need to be preserved and are exhibited unrolled.
In the 1960s a new method of restoration was developed and put into practice. This entailed mounting the museum textiles on a new base using the method of darning, which makes it possible to preserve the material's elasticity. This required special skills and knowledge and became possible only with the arrival of restorers who knew the art of embroidery.
Now work on exhibits is continuing. Each presents a difficult complex of materials with various techniques being used in their production: weaving; embroidery with silk, gold and silver threads, with beads and pearls.
The restoration of costumes entails not only cleaning and strengthening the textiles but also the reconstruction of the shapå and design, consequently knowledge of the material as well as inventiveness and taste. The restorers are constantly referring to specialized literature on the history of costumes and on works of the fine arts.
Restoration of archeological textiles is a complicated and responsible task. Worn out and severely damaged threads require a special approach to cleaning and conservation. The means of restoration for each concrete case is selected on the basis of laboratory research and visual observations.
A complex, multi-stage method of restoration was used to recreate the Great Imperial Throne (Master Nicholas Klausen, 1731, England), the Throne place of the St George Hall and also the canopy over the portrait of Alexander I in the War Gallery of 1812. These are all works carried out in the laboratory in recent years.
At present the laboratory is seaching for new conservation methods and materials for preserving the Hermitage collection of textiles. The laboratory staff are constantly exchanging experience with colleagues from museums around Russia and abroad. They teach courses for students of the St Petersburg State University and provide both theoretical and practical consultations. One important aspect of the laboratory's activity is also the participation of restorers in specialized restoration exhibitions.