On 7 December 2019, the exhibition The Calvatone Victory: The Fate of a Masterpiece, organized by the State Hermitage and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, begins its run in the Roman Courtyard. The exhibition is devoted to the end of the restoration of the statue of the Calvatone Victory, an outstanding work of world culture.
Among the plastic art from the Ancient World in museum and private collections, works of this sort, made from gilded bronze, are a unique phenomenon.
All the items included in the display – more than 60 in number – represent various interpretations of the image of a female deity standing on a sphere and illustrate its history from Antiquity to the middle of the 19th century, when the Roman statue of the Calvatone Victory was discovered.
The statue was found broken into three pieces in 1836, in the village of Calvatone in the Northern Italian region of Lombardy. Soon after its discovery, the fragments were reassembled and a female figure standing on a sphere appeared to the onlookers. On the basis of an inscription on the sphere that tells about the victory gained by the co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus over barbarian tribes, the sculpture was dated to the 2nd century AD and interpreted as the goddess Victoria or Victory. From the place where it was found, the statue became known as the Calvatone Victory.
In the early 1840s, the statue was sold to Germany and it soon came to occupy a place of honour among the masterpieces of the antiquities collection of the Prussian Royal Museum (now the Antikensammlung of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). German restorers recreated what they believed to be the missing elements of the piece, casting a left arm with a palm branch, a left leg and wings.
When “making good” those details, the specialists failed to take account of such an attribute as the animal skin that was not characteristic of the deity of victory. Studies of the image’s iconography in the Hermitage prompted the idea that in ancient times the statue may have depicted a different personage, possibly Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Among the numerous types used for her depiction, versions were found that were fairly similar, such as Diana Lucifera (“the Bringer of Light”). Symbolizing the changing time of the day, she was as a rule depicted in long clothing and, most significantly, standing on a sphere.
In the character of Victoria, the statue was displayed in the building of the Altes Museum from the mid-19th century until the Second World War. After the fall of Berlin, the Calvatone Victory was removed to the USSR as compensation for Soviet cultural losses and from 1946 it was kept in the Hermitage. In the early 2000s, records were discovered documenting its origin and displacement, after which it became possible to investigate the piece, a task that was carried out together with German colleagues.
From 2016 to 2019, a comprehensive study of the statue and its restoration were carried out in the State Hermitage’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metals. The difference in the composition of the metal between the original parts of the sculpture and the elements added in Germany was determined. On the inner side of one wing the figures “1844” were discovered, making it possible to date the restoration work carried out in Germany. A study of the internal framework of the statue revealed a lack of traces of ancient fastening for the wings or any strengthening of the metal on the inside of Victoria’s back. This was convincing support for the argument that originally the statue was without wings.
The restoration of the statue in the State Hermitage was carried out on the principle of the least possible interference with the historical image of the winged goddess of Victory that is well known in Europe on account of a number of copies of the Calvatone Victory that are displayed in Italy, Germany and Russia.
The authors of the concept and exhibition curators are Anna Nikolayevna Aponasenko, Deputy Head of the State Hermitage’s Department for Processing Research Documents; Anna Vladimirovna Vilenskaya, researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art; Igor Karlovich Malkiel, Head of the State Hermitage’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metals; and Martin Maischberger, Deputy Director of the Antikensammlung of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
The restoration was carried out by Igor Malkiel, Head of the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metals in the State Hermitage’s Department of Scientific Restoration and Conservation (headed by Tatiana Baranova). The technical researches were carried out in the museum’s Department for Scientific and Technical Examination of Monuments, Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metals and Laboratory for Biological Monitoring and Protection.
The State Hermitage Publishing House has produced a scholarly illustrated catalogue for the exhibition. The catalogue has a foreword by Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, and Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, entitled “Art Belongs to the Whole World”. The texts are by Anna Aponasenko, Mikhail Verevkin, Anna Vilenskaya, Igor Malkiel, Maischberger, Uwe Peltz, Yury Spiridonov and Anna Trofimova.