The leading institutions of Russia and France working in the spheres of scientific and technological research along with the preservation of cultural heritage have signed an agreement to work together.  The signing took place on December 14 at the Russian Museum.

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Conclusion of the memorandum on cooperation marks the first step toward setting up a mobile laboratory that will expand the possibilities of doing research on and restoring cultural monuments in different regions of the country and abroad.  Opening the official ceremony, Olga Babina, Deputy Director of the Russian Museum for Registration, Preservation and Restoration of Museum Values, pointed out that the preservation of cultural heritage is one of the few cross-national ideas that are not limited by national borders or language barriers. 

The idea of setting up a mobile laboratory is especially important for Russia, given its vast territory.

Deputy Director of the Russian Museum for Registration, Preservation and Restoration of Museum Values Olga Babina

“The Russian Museum is one of the largest centres whose work includes research on and restoration of cultural artifacts.  It has several departments, such as the Climatological Department or Chemistry and Biology Research Laboratory, and also fifteen restoration workshops, which in 2022 will celebrate their centennial,” Ms Babina noted.  “We have amassed a wealth of experience that we are prepared to share with our colleagues, and we have high hopes for this international collaboration, which will help us to create new conditions for the preservation of our cultural heritage.”

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The State Russian Museum and St Petersburg University are both participants in this agreement, and they are joined on the French side by the Centre for Research on Preservation of Museum Collections, the Historical Monuments Research Laboratory and also the Foundation of the Sciences and Cultural Heritage.

Ms Babina also said that the Russian Museum has a close working relationship with St Petersburg University, which is actively conducting research on monuments of Old Russian art in the Novgorod Region.  But in order to determine what materials a fresco painting is composed of and what pigments were used when it was done, each and every time it is necessary to bring samples back to the Technical-Technological Research Laboratory in St Petersburg.  The availability of a mobile centre will significantly expand the possibilities of conducting research on architectural monuments and paintings, and it is no coincidence that St Petersburg University is playing a role in its inception.

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Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for Foreign Affairs at St Petersburg University, noted that the signing of this memorandum was an important landmark in the development of cooperation between Russia and France, both of which are endowed with top-flight museum collections.  “What is even more important, our countries possess a rich fund of knowledge in the area of preserving cultural heritage and the scientific capabilities to do so.  In the almost 300 years of its history, the University has educated many, many great scientists and has developed interdisciplinary research credentials that will help us deal with these global problems today.  This is why St Petersburg University put forward an initiative to become a part of this agreement,” Mr Andryushin elaborated.  “The experience that the University has gained from setting up a unique research park will help us play an important role in the founding of a mobile laboratory, and our longstanding, fruitful collaboration with French universities and research-and-development centres will secure more effective results.”

The Consul-General of France in St Petersburg and the chairperson of the educational council of the University’s additional educational programme the French University College, Mr Hughes de Chavagnac, attended the official signing ceremony.  He stated that cooperation between Russia and France in the sphere of cultural heritage and its preservation has been going on for a long time, but in recent years the pace has quickened appreciably.  The new agreement unites two key priorities in the collaboration of the two countries – science and culture – permitting the use of the latest technologies and research for the sake of preserving our cultural heritage.  The Consul-General added that our persistent efforts are a true embodiment of the collaboration between the two countries, which was reinforced in May of this year, during the St Petersburg Economic Forum, by the conclusion of a memorandum between the cultural ministries of Russia and France.  He pointed out that it is possible for new participants to join in on this new agreement related to objects of cultural heritage. 

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The Technical-Technological Research Laboratory, based on which, according to the plans, the mobile laboratory is going to be built, has been working for almost fifty years with restorers and art experts from all the reserve collections of the Russian Museum.  Its experts study all kinds of artifacts, from paintings and icons to objects of applied art.  Here, in this laboratory, technicians are able to employ physical and optical techniques, which, every so often, allow them to discover new dimensions to what would seem to be familiar museum objects.  For example, this year, under a layer of paint on Petrov-Vodkin’s painting Collective Farm Women, researchers at the museum discovered a portrait of Alexander Pushkin, which had been believed to be lost for eighty years. 

But if the staff at the Technical-Technological Department come up against problems that are more challenging and require serious scientific assistance to deal with them, they turn to their colleagues at the universities and research institutes for help.  At the present time, experts from the Russian Museum are working actively with chemists from St Petersburg University under the terms of an agreement of cooperation with the University.  They are examining pigments and their binding agents, and, at the same time, they are investigating a rather curious problem, that of glass sickness, or crizzling.  There are still differing points of view as to why, over the course of time, some glass takes on a milky appearance and becomes covered with fissures, which come from within the glass.  Some of the experts trace this back to an elemental breakdown in the technological process when the glass was made or atmospheric contaminants that penetrate deep into the glass through hairline fractures and break it down from within.  Curators at the museum, however, tell stories about how “sick” glass, if it is stored for a long time in the same closed box with “healthy” glass, can contaminate it.  The University has charged the chemists with the task of discovering what causes this damage and finding ways of restoring the affected glass.

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