Back to all projects

Restoration of the “Gatchina Venus” statue

Statue of Venus (Aphrodite), known as the Gatchina Venus. Roman after a Greek original statue of Aphrodite of the 3rd–2nd century BC. Large-grained marble. Height: 194.0 cm

This statue was brought to Saint Petersburg in 1768. It is believed to have been acquired in Rome by Ivan Shuvalov, the first President of the Academy of Arts, for the Silvia Park that is situated by the Gatchina Palace. In 1886 it was transferred to the collection of the Imperial Hermitage.

When it came up for restoration, the restorers assessed its state of preservation, identifying particular characteristics of the state of the marble and traces of previous restorations made between the late 18th and 20th centuries. For example, it was suggested that the ancient head did not belong to the statue. This is borne out by the quality of the marble, the state of the preservation of the surface and traces of reworking with tools.

Besides that, the seams of the numerous joints between the ancient parts and old restoration additions were soiled, filled with mastic of various dates. They stood out sharply from the light-coloured marble and hampered a proper perception of the ancient sculptural group. The state and methods of joining and fixing parts of the sculpture were a particular concern during the examination of the work. Both lead and some yellow-coloured substance were found to have been poured into fabrication holes. The restorers’ hypothesis that the yellow substance was sulphur was confirmed by the results of analyses carried out in the Hermitage’s Department for Scientific and Technical Examination.

  • 1 / 7
  • 2 / 7
  • 3 / 7
  • 4 / 7
  • 5 / 7
  • 6 / 7
  • 7 / 7

In the 1860s–80s many significant artefacts were assembled using molten sulphur and from a constructional point of view the combination of iron, lead and sulphur provided a maximum of strength and durability, which ensured the preservation of a piece in an urban environment. The discovery of this combination of materials on the Gatchina Venus made it possible to determine what technological methods were in the arsenal of Academician Matvei Afanasyevich Chizhov, the sculptor-restorer and keeper of the collection in the Imperial Hermitage. After the sculpture came into the collection, Chizhov embarked on its thorough restoration. The sculptor reconstructed Venus’s hands, elements of the hair and parts of the sculptural group of the putto on a dolphin. Credit should go to Chizhov not only for recreating fragments that are artistically and sculpturally important: he tackled one more essential task in providing the group with structural stability. He made a plinth of fine-grain white marble into which the statue was inserted and introduced a bracket in the form of iron bars forged in the shape of the sculpture of a dolphin and mounted into the lower part of the plinth.

  • The surface of the metal carcass before restoration
  • The surface of the metal carcass during restoration
  • The surface of the metal carcass after restoration
  • 1 / 3
  • 2 / 3
  • 3 / 3

After convincing themselves of the structural firmness and stability of the piece, the restorers concentrated on the problems with the surface. Because the sculpture had spent around 90 years in a park, studies of the surface were carried out to identify effects of the marble having been in the open air. Patches indicative of biological infection of the marble were a cause of concern. Studies carried out in the Hermitage’s Laboratory for Biological Control did indeed identify particles of lichens, spores and mycelia of microscopic fungi. However, detailed investigation showed that special biocidal treatment of the marble is not required. Thus, the restorers concentrated their attention mainly on the removal of soiling from the surface of the marble and the materials from previous restorations – mastics that had lost their functional and decorative properties. After that the fabrication holes and seams of the joints were filled with fresh mastic to visually unite the ancient fragments and the historical restoration additions.

  • A fragment before restoration
  • A fragment after restoration
  • A fragment before restoration
  • A fragment after restoration
  • A fragment before restoration
  • A fragment after restoration
  • A fragment before restoration
  • A fragment after restoration
  • A fragment before restoration
  • A fragment after restoration
  • 1 / 10
  • 2 / 10
  • 3 / 10
  • 4 / 10
  • 5 / 10
  • 6 / 10
  • 7 / 10
  • 8 / 10
  • 9 / 10
  • 10 / 10

As a result of the restoration work, the piece is now in a condition suitable for presentation to the public, providing the opportunity for it to be fully appreciated in the permanent display of the Hermitage’s Department of Classical Antiquity.

Work on the restoration of the sculpture was carried out by artist-restorers from the State Hermitage’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Sculpture and Semiprecious Stone – Ekaterina Andreyeva, Alexander Androkhanov, Vera Klur, Viacheslav Tsvetkov and Irina Tsvetkova. The head of the laboratory is Svetlana Petrova.

The keeper of the sculpture is Anna Trofimova, head of the Department of the Classical Antiquity. Irina Nikulina, researcher and keeper of the Department of the Classical Antiquity, was involved in organizing the restoration work.

The restoration was carried out with the support of the Gedeon Richter company.