Museum of Archeology of the Chudov Monastery

Museum of Archeology of the Chudov Monastery
Sheaf-shaped capital in the process of restoration

How the stones of the Chudov Monastery were saved
Specialists of the Grabar Center conducted unique work with objects from the archaeological excavations of the Chudov Monastery in the Kremlin

The new Museum of Archeology of the Chudov Monastery in the Moscow Kremlin is an unprecedented example of an exhibition in Russia, where the main exhibit is an archaeological dig. On this site once stood the Chudov Monastery and its most important part-the Temple of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael in Khonekh. The monastery was founded in 1365 by Saint Alexy and was blown up in 1929. Called to save the frescoes, the painter and restorer Pavel Korin did not have time to do anything — no drawings, no measurements were left.

Museum of Archeology of the Chudov Monastery
Museum of Archeology of the Chudov Monastery

On the site of the destroyed Chudov and Resurrection monasteries, the 14th administrative building of the Kremlin was erected, which, in turn, was demolished in 2016, and the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences began excavations at this site. Now the excavation area is about 500 square meters. m is covered with a special glass, under it are the pits of the cellars of the end of the XII century, household pits, traces garden digging and Palisades pre-Mongolian time, white stone foundations of the monastic buildings of the XV–XVI centuries, and sarcophagi Chudovsky necropolis. In the showcases are objects made of ceramics and glass, and fragments of the northern portal of the Cathedral of the Chudov Monastery are effectively placed on a transparent glass frame.

Vladimir Putin visited the Archeology Museum of the Chudovy Monastery
Vladimir Putin visited the Archeology Museum of the Chudovy Monastery

Most of the objects that are now available to the public have passed through the hands of specialists of the All-Russian Art Research and Restoration Center named after I. E. Grabar. Oddly enough, restorers rarely encounter archaeological material (objects lifted from the ground); in this case, they had to perform some of their tasks on site, and simultaneously with construction and installation work. The restoration of the sarcophagi (there were 11 of them, and 39 more fragments of the portal) was carried out in the workshops of the center.

“At the first stage, the task was to antiseptize all the fragments of stone found,” says Tatiana Pimenova, a second-category restoration artist. — We took biological samples from the surface, and they found a variety of molds. Some fragments were wet, with efflorescences (salt deposits on the surfaces. — TANR). We dried them. Then the second stage-dedusting and cleaning. They did it dry, they were afraid to wet them: the white stone is porous, and what is inside could come to life again and come out. There were bones inside the sarcophagi, but they turned out to be random remains of small animals.”

“Many sarcophagi were broken into a large number of pieces, they had to be assembled as a puzzle,” adds Vladimir Simonov, head of the polychrome, wood and stone sculpture workshop. — Some of them we received literally in the form of a bag of stones. The difficulty was that the fragments did not have clear edges. When selecting them, we had to focus on the thickness of the walls (it is not the same, since the sarcophagi were cut down by hand) and the remains of the ornament.” In addition, if you assemble such a sarcophagus completely, it would be impossible to transport it because of the huge weight, so we decided to make them from several large parts already in place.

Museum of Archeology of the Chudov Monastery
Objects from Museum of Archeology of the Chudov Monastery in the Kremlin

The fact that architectural details could be painted is a well-known fact, but in the open air, the paint simply did not persist. Although the fragments of bases, consoles, melons and archivolts from the excavations of the Chudov monastery still revealed a residual pattern. “Limestone is a loose stone, and we had to keep the paint layer on this porous surface,” says Lidia Solotsinskaya, a researcher at the center. “It turned out that the paintings were repeatedly renewed — we found up to seven layers of paint.”

The staff of the restoration center had to carry out part of the work with the stone directly in the excavation. This is how Dmitry Kotov, the head of the stone sculpture restoration sector, and Alexander Khokhryakov, a second-category restoration artist, worked with the “Saltykov slab” – a tombstone that was found at the base of the column of the 14th building. After clearing the visible part, it turned out that it was the tombstone of Vasily Glebovich Saltykov, who died in Livonia during the capture of the fortress of Paida in 1572. This and other fragments of architectural details and walls of the Chudov Monastery have now been cleaned, preserved, highlighted and supplemented with inscriptions on the surface of the viewing glass.

Through the hands of Ekaterina Sharkova, head of the workshop for the restoration of ceramics and glass, and her colleagues passed more than 300 small objects raised from the excavation, mostly of the XII–XIII centuries. Among them — a cube with notches, probably intended for divination, a stone mold for casting a kettlebell, a rattle in the form of a bird, a lot of fragments — a Khorezm flask or ceramics from the Golden Horde. Each of the items is not unique, but together they speak of the widest trade relations, they literally restore the picture of the world of that era.

To recreate them, we had to apply new technological solutions. For example, in one of the sarcophagi, fragments of a thin-walled German glass vessel of the XVI century were found. To give the vessel the opportunity to stand (only the neck and bottom were preserved), a support for it was printed on a 3D printer. It was also possible to collect a pot of the early Iron Age, the fragments of which were found during excavations. It is made by a ribbon method, and it is far from being perfectly shaped; an unknown master from the middle of the first millennium BC rolled the ornament on top with a bump. After long meetings, we decided to order a similar pot made of rough ceramics to a modern potter, on the surface of which we fixed fragments of the original. Now all these items are displayed in the windows of the new museum.

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