The loss of 221 exhibit items from the Hermitage may be a theft… or not

A big loss has been detected in the State Hermitage. During the planned inner control of exhibits the staff missed of 221 items. The matter is pieces of Russian jewellery art, mainly the enamels. The total cost of the lost pieces is about 130,000,000 roubles.

The presence control of the exhibits in various departments of Hermitage passes according to the schedule approved by the Ministry of Culture. The results of the control are given for the confirmation to the Federal Culture and Cinema Agency.

The planned control of Russian jewellery art department started in October 2005. At the beginning of the control the curator of the main part of the exhibits died at work. According to the rules of the museum, the exhibits were sealed and the assignation process of them to the new curator went over some time. After that the control revealed the loss of 221 pieces.

The report about the loss fell to the director of State Hermitage Mikhail Pyotrovsky only on July 24 and July 27. Such a slow events progress explains by that the incidents of exhibits «missing» during the planned control in the state museums isn’t a rarity. The registration in our museums is so imperfect that the «missed» exhibits can be found later in the other departments. The death of the curator who could tell when and where the lost jewellery had been seen for the last time delayed the case.

When the heads of the Hermitage got sure that the jewellery artworks were not lost somewhere in the collection of the museum but were really carried away, they addressed to the General Internal Affairs Head-Office of the Central District and announced the loss of 221 exhibit items.

There were Russian medieval works of jewellery art, mainly enamels. Among them there were perfect icon-casings, ladles, and other artworks. All the exhibits are of great artistic and historical value. As it was marked in the Hermitage, all the pieces of this style are very similar; and it is very difficult to find them in the Russian antiquarian market. Besides, the items weren’t insured.

The event attracted a lot of attention. A press-conference was organised on August 1 where Mikhail Pyotrovsky called the theft «stab in the back» because it couldn’t be realised without the help of the staff of the Hermitage. According to Pyotrovsky, this theft as well as museum thefts demonstrate the moral illness of Russian society.

«The last years there is a tendency to accuse the museums in all the sins beginning with the thefts in the museums ans finishing with incorrect accounts, – talk Pyotrosky. – We have to spend a lot of time time and forces to repulse the attacks instead of realising them in the other sphere. For example, we could make the Hermitage exhibits more accessible for the visitors and more protected from different invasions. The incident in the department of Russian jewellery art proves it.».

The State Hermitage like other large Russian museums needs the changes in all the spheres including the system of registration of exhibit items and personal relations of the staff. Museums need new electronic catalogues. On August 14 an extra conference of the the Union of Russian Museum will be held.

A special committee organised by the Russian Cultural Heritage and Mass Media Supervision Agency will check the condition of the registration of the Hermitage exhibits. The committee will begin the examination on August 2.

According to the Russian Cultural Heritage and Mass Media Supervision Agency, the committee will examine not only the circumstances of the theft, but also the present conditions of registration and preservation of exhibits.

Telling about the loss of the jewellery pieces, both Mikhail Pyotrovsky and representatives of the Russian Cultural Heritage and Mass Media Supervision Agency avoid the term «theft» though it was used in the official press-relise given by the Hermitage. We asked for the explications the head of the Cultural and Historical Values Misappropriations Department of the General St. Petersburg and Leningrad region Internal Affairs Head-office Vladislav Kirillov.

According to his words, it is too early to state the theft. The investigation has been held, but they have learnt neither the time of the theft nor the circle of the suspected. The criminal case hasn’t been held yet though the Hermitage had already handed in an application to the General Internal Affairs Head-Office of the Central District of St. Petersburg.

According to Kirillov, the heads of the State Hermitage had absolutely correct actions after the theft. They handed in an application, but at the moment we don’t know if there is an internal violation or an infraction of the law.

Photo: Press-conference in the State Hermitage

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