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Restoration of Netsuke from the State Hermitage’s Department of the East

The stocks of the State Hermitage include a significant collection of Japanese netsuke miniature sculptures. The keeper of the collection is Alexei Mikhailovich Bogoliubov.

Various types of objects came up for restoration, including manju – flattened rounded “tablets” carrying engraved images; ryusa with a similar shape to manju but a carved openwork image; katabori carved figurines depicting gods, the personages of legends, animals and ordinary people; netsuke in the form of little boxes with lids of various shapes; and inro. The materials from which they were made are also quite diverse: wood (box, cherry and cypress), sometimes finished with polychrome painting, ivory, horn, the bone of marine animals, coral and urushi lacquer.

The condition of the objects before restoration: surface soiling, various types of surface accretions, separation of the paint layer and the lacquer, cracks in the ivory, bone and wood, remnants of old glue and mastic where joints had come apart.

  • The netsuke collection before restoration
  • The netsuke collection after restoration
  • Netsuke: mask of a man before restoration. Wood and ivory. Techniques: carving, inlay
  • Netsuke: mask of a man after restoration. Wood and ivory. Techniques: carving, inlay
  • Round carved red lacquer box before restoration
  • Round carved red lacquer box after restoration
  • Netsuke in the form of a semi-recumbent man before restoration
  • Photomicrograph of a detail before restoration
  • Photomicrograph of a detail after restoration
  • Netsuke in the form of a fish before restoration
  • Photomicrograph of a detail before restoration
  • Netsuke in the form of a fish after restoration
  • Netsuke: An actor wearing a shōjō mask before restoration. 19th century. Painted wood
  • Netsuke: An actor wearing a shōjō mask after restoration. 19th century. Painted wood
  • Netsuke: A comic mask before restoration. Carved bone
  • Photomicrograph of a detail before restoration
  • Photomicrograph of a detail after restoration
  • Netsuke: Rectangular clasp before restoration. Carved lacquer
  • Photomicrograph of a detail before restoration
  • Photomicrograph of a detail after restoration
  • Netsuke: Rectangular clasp after restoration. Carved lacquer
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The following restoration measures were carried out:

  • photomicrographic recording: the study of the netsuke under a microscope made it possible to determine more precisely the technique used to make them, the presence of decorative elements, gilding, a layer of paint, and also to establish the state of preservation of the object for subsequent conservation
  • in some instances, investigation of the composition of the surface coatings, pigments and the materials from which the piece was made
  • reinforcement of the paint layer and separated areas of lacquer was carried out on a local basis using various adhesive compounds. The method was selected depending on the material from which the object was made
  • filling cracks and microscopic losses, tinting.

Over the course of the project, 165 netsuke were restored. The restored items were published in a fresh edition of the catalogue of the Department of the East’s netsuke collection with additions and corrections.

The restoration of the netsuke collection was carried out by artist-restorers from the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Organic Materials in the Department of Scientific Restoration and Conservation:

Ekaterina Mankova, artist-restorer, head of the laboratory

Elena Chekhova and Marina Michri, artist-restorers of the highest category

Evgenia Glinka, Ekaterina Kozlova and Tatiana Stoliarova, artist-restorers of the second category.

The project was realized with the support of individual members of the Hermitage Friends’ Club.