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1997: The return of Rembrandt’s Danae to public viewing following restoration work

In 1997 an exhibition was held to return Rembrandt's Danae, one of the most important canvases in the Hermitage collection, to public viewing following the completion of restoration work.

On 15 June 1985 Rembrandt's painting Danae was attacked by a maniac who poured sulphurous acid on the canvas and cut it twice with his knife. The entire central part of the composition was turned into a mixture of brown raised spots with a mass of splashes, vertical incrustations and areas of lost paint.

The process of restoration began the very same day. Following consultations with chemists, art restorers began washing the surface of the painting with water (while maintaining it in a vertical position) and managed to stop the chemical reaction. Then the paint layer was strengthened by a traditional Hermitage methodology using a three-percent concentration of sturgeon and honey glue.

Direction of the restoration work on the masterpiece was entrusted to a specially created State Commission, which included the biggest specialists in the field of investigation and restoration of paintings and representatives of the museum administration, as well the State Hermitage's Working Commission. The restoration of the painting was accomplished between 1985 and 1997 by staff of the State Hermitage's Laboratory of Expert Restoration of Easel Paintings Ye.N. Gerasimov (group leader), A.G. Rakhman, and G.A. Shirokov, with the participation of T.P. Alioshina in matters of scientific methodology.

The first stage of the work was restricted to a number of conservation and research measures. The basic task was to restore the physical solidity of what remained on the canvas. The conservation of the painting included strengthening the paint layer and the ground, removing two lining canvases, relining on a new canvas and a deep regeneration of the varnish. This work was completed towards the end of 1985.

It became apparent that the losses of Rembrandt's original painting did not exceed the percentage where one may speak of the destruction of a work of art. Over the course of a year and a half, work was carried out under a microscope to remove incrustations resulting from reactions with the acid, òî thin and even out the later layers of varnish and old paint layers from previous restorations. In places where the paint had been lost, a new ground of chalk and pigment was put down using a glue binder.

Paying all due attention to the various degrees and depth of the lost areas of paint, the Hermitage restorers applied paint only to separate damaged places which violated the general artistic integrity of the painting. Replacement of the losses was carried out using the Hermitage's traditional method for oil painting (identical to the original) on a layer of varnish which separated Rembrandt's original painting from the restoration retouching.

In this manner, applying very complex restoration techniques, Rembrandt's Danae was returned to life. As Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage wrote in his introductory article in the book Danae.The Fate of Rembrandt's Masterpiece: "Danae has managed to keep its soul. After disfiguration it nonetheless remains alive and radiates its mysterious light."


Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
Image in the Digital collection

Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage and E.N. Gerasimov, leader of the group of restorers, during the video conference between the State Hermitage and the Restoration Ateliers of the Museums of France
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