Danae - The Fate of Rembrandt's Masterpiece
14 October 1997 - November 1998
This exhibition covered the history and restoration of one of the most
celebrated works by the foremost 17th-century Dutch painter, Rembrandt
Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669).
The painting was created in 1636 and reworked by the author ten years
later. The myth of Danae had been popular from Antiquity and was taken
up by such prominent artists as the Italian masters Correggio and Titian
and the Netherlandish painter Jan Gossaert. Rembrandt's interpretation
of the myth, however-distinguished by its depth and originality and incorporating
a depiction of the female nude, which was exceedingly bold for 17th-century
Dutch painting-is perhaps the most wonderful and striking in the history
The Danae was acquired in France by Catherine II in 1772 for the Hermitage
as part of the Baron Crozat collection, and was considered one of the
consummate masterpieces in the Hermitage collection.
But on June 15 ,1985, Rembrandt's Danae was feared lost forever. That
morning at 11:45 a.m., a man slashed the canvas twice with a knife and
threw acid over it. Later, the perpetrator, a Lithuanian national, was
judged by the court to be insane.
Immediately after that tragic incident the complex process of conservation
and restoration began. The damaged canvas was taken out of its frame and
carried to a restoration studio. The surface of the canvas was doused
with water to neutralise the acid. By evening, when the biting power of
the acid had been contained and the physical condition of the surface
had been stabilised, it was discovered that over 70 per cent of the paint
surface remained undamaged.
The Ministry of Culture established a special Commission to direct the
work. It included art historians, historians, artists, conservators and
members of the Museum administration.
Hermitage artists and restorers E. Gherasimov, A. Rakhman and G. Shirokov,
were charged with the restoration work.
The scientific and methodological approach was developed by the State
Commission Secretary, T. Aleshina.
Conservation of the picture, consisting of fixing the paint layers and
the ground, removing two lining canvases, relining on a new canvas and
a deep regeneration of the varnish, was completed by the end of 1985.
Over the course of the next few years, a great deal of work was done:
removing incrustations, laying a new ground of chalk and pigment to create
the effect of the author's original light-grey ground in the damaged areas.
In June 1987, after the State Commission approved the work done, the
final stage of restoration began. This process was based on a traditional
method: the damaged surface was varnished and a reversable restoration
was executed, with the damaged areas retouched in order to create the
impression of an aesthetically complete picture.
Displayed in the Hermitage, along with the restored Danae, were numerous
photographs illustrating various stages of the restoration process. Watercolours
depicting 19th-century Hermitage interiors also provided interesting information
about the history of the celebrated painting within the Hermitage.
There were also comparative works on the same subject, by Titian (from
the Hermitage collection) and J. Blanchard (from the former Imperial palace
of Tsarskoe Selo), as well as a Greek vase decorated with the same scene.
Drawings and prints from the
Hermitage collection illustrated the influence of Rembrandt's work on
his contemporaries and followers.
An important part of the exhibition was a multimedia programme created
by the Museum, bringing to life all aspects of the restoration and how
the artist developed and
changed the composition. There was information about Rembrandt's life
and the iconography of the painting and a special section devoted to the
scientific research and restoration of the painting. A special "Zoom"
facility enabled viewers to examine fragments of the painting before and
after the damage, in the course of restoration and after its completion