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Section 3 — Research

Destroyed and Divided Works

In May 1945 devastating fires in the Friedrichshain flak bunker destroyed a large portion of the works from the Bode-Museum that had been stored there for safekeeping during the Second World War. In the immediate post-war years Soviet trophy brigades transported many works to the Soviet Union. The majority of them were returned to the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in East Berlin in 1958. With the reunification of Germany, the first works that had been separated for 45 years could be reassembled. Other fragments (PDF, 144 KB) in our collections are still searching for their counterparts, some of which are in St. Petersburg and Moscow. For several years now, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Bode-Museum have been working together to bring war-damaged artworks back into public awareness. In a joint effort involving the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, the Rathgen-Forschungslabor (Rathgen Research Laboratory) and the Gipsformerei (Replica Workshop) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and other institutions, conservation technologies are being developed with the generous support of the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung (Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation). Presently it is being explored whether an object’s missing fragment, located in one museum, can be copied and used to complete the original object in the other museum. The first results have been on display in the two museums since 2020. Both Germany and Russia lay claim to these works of art; however, where they end up can only be determined at the governmental level.

The Responsibility of Restoration

Should a work (PDF, 88 KB) convey its history or appear as the artist originally created it? To be able to answer this question, historical changes to the object must be carefully researched and evaluated. Conservators then devise specific concepts ensuring an appropriate conservation and restoration approach. Working techniques and preservation methods always conform to the latest state of research. Nevertheless, not all past restoration measures have benefitted the objects, and some are now showing their shortcomings.

How Research Changes Our Perception

For many objects there is little or no verifiable information on their context of origin. Art historians and archaeologists research them with the help of historical documents, iconographical criteria and stylistic comparisons, while conservators analyse the works using art-technological examinations. In collaboration with scientists, they investigate production techniques and identify materials, such as the pigments and binders in a layer of paint. The results can confirm or change the attribution to a specific artist. New findings often also lead to a reassessment (PDF, 97 KB) of an object. Are works of art, once they are no longer associated with the names of famous artists, less beautiful or valuable?