Advanced Mid The Chief Restorer

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This episode introduces an art expert who restored a diverse range of works of art. In the episode you are going to hear himself, his daughter, friends, and colleagues talking about his projects, accomplishments and his great contribution into restoration of artistic and historical heritage of Russia. He died at the age of 70 in 2009 in the ancient city of Pskov where he was working last years.

If we had to choose a single famous art-historian, fine art restorer and publicist who was among the first in the USSR addressed the issue of maintenance of cultural heritage of Russia, that one would certainly be Savely Yamshchikov, ‘Savva, the Big Nest ‘(this name alluding to the Vsevolod the Big Nest, 13th century Russian Prince) as his friends have affectionately called him while also compared him to Sergei Diaghilev. During his 40-years long career, Yamshchikov succeeded in conservation of hundreds medieval icons, few unique collections of the Russian portraits of 18-19th centuries and neglected art works from the Russian avant-garde. In Soviet time, in series of consistently outstanding exhibits, he helped define esthetic periods and acquainted his contemporaries with the private collections of icons and Russian avant-garde in Moscow and Leningrad. He edited a score of albums, catalogues and books, published hundreds of articles. He was very popular among Moscow intelligentsia and foreign celebrities, but didn’t boast of this; instead he could talk for hours about art and artists.

In the volatile period of militant atheism, when priests and nuns—who were considered social parasites – were arrested, many while trying to hide and save icons, he possessed bravery, social influence and power and in 1960 managed to open the first icon exhibit in Moscow. The only such exhibit ever held in the USSR, told Yamshchikov, drew enthusiastic crowds and inhibited public interest in iconography, even from a purely esthetic viewpoint. The exhibition was held in the underground gallery in downtown Moscow where the next door neighbor was KGB office. Yamshchikiov shared his personal recollections on how he was expecting the exhibit would be closed after one of the radio broadcasters on BBC Russian service revealed some details of the exhibit's location. As one of the art expert explained, 1960 exhibit mirrored a similar one -- the first Russian exhibit of medieval icons opened in Moscow in 1913.

It must be noted that ancient Russian icons were neglected until the late 19th century, because their brilliant colors were obscured under layers of retouching and preservatives. A glittering exhibition of icons in Moscow in 1913, to celebrate the Romanov dynasty, presented unique masterpieces, many from the rich collections of Old Believer families who resisted reforms introduced into the church in the 17th century. In April of that year, also in Moscow, Mikhail Larionov exhibited icons and lubki (popular folk prints). Since then ancient forms of iconography that survived so strongly in Russia, were increasingly admired by Russian artists (Malevich, Kandinsky, Goncharova, Larionov – just to name a few) who sought to exert their independence from western European traditions.