- Title: RUSSIA: Hermitage museum exhibits 31 stolen items that were found and returned
- Date: 8th December 2006
- Summary: SECURITY SYSTEM SCREENS VARIOUS OF MAN OPERATING SECURITY SCREENS SECURITY SCREEN SHOWING TERRITORY AROUND THE HERMITAGE MAN OPERATING SECURITY SYSTEM SECURITY SCREENS
- Embargoed: 23rd December 2006 12:00
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz,History
- Reuters ID: LVACTTWQRZW57U36OZCINPZLBPZV
- Story Text: The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on Thursday (December 7) opened a three-day exhibit of 31 items stolen from the museum, but which had been found and returned over the past three months.
The 31 art works -- 19th century icons, jewellery and silver table pieces --- account for only about 12 percent of the 221 items gone missing from the Hermitage's Russian art department. The remaining art works are still missing.
In early August, the Hermitage admitted that 221 items have been stolen from its stores over the course of about six years. The thefts came to light at the end of July as the result of an audit of the collections of the Russian art department, which started in November 2005.
Alarm bells rang soon after the audit began, when the Hermitage curator in charge of the Russian art department, Larissa Zavadskaya, was found dead in circumstances that are still not clear.
Her husband, Nikolai Zavadsky, a history professor, and her son, who worked with her, were among the men who have been detained. A St Petersburg University history professor was also detained.
The stolen items include more than 100 icons from the 19th-century icons and high-quality Faberge fakes. Estimates of their value vary: the Hermitage says the total is around $5 million Dealers and collectors have so far handed in 30 of the missing objects, including the most valuable, an 1893 icon, Assembly of the Saints.
"This is not so much an exhibit, but rather it is a viewing to show what items have been returned,'' said Mikhail Piotrovsky, Hermitage director. "The antique dealers who returned these items were here yesterday, and together we are showing everything that has been returned. And we want to say 'Thank you' to them.
In a statement, the Hermitage admitted that museum staff were involved in the thefts, which probably occurred between 1999 and 2005.
In the wake of the scandal, the Culture Ministry called for the complete documentation of all museum collections in Russia. Piotrovsky hastily announced a number of new security measures, and said that only works of art from museum departments that have been fully catalogued and documented can now be loaned abroad.
"These items are evidence,'' said Piotrovsky. "They are kept at the Hermitage, not in storage, but in a separate area. We have permission from police investigators to exhibit these works for three days. Then they will be packed, sealed, and will be kept under the supervision of investigators until the criminal case is finally decided. And we will officially take repossession of them when the court case is concluded.''
Today (December 7), the Hermitage also showed off its new video surveillance system, that will cover both the territory outside around the museum, as well as the halls inside.
The museum is also speeding up its computer documentation programme so that every item, not just important pieces, will be included. Since 1999, the Hermitage has digitised only 5% of its three million items.
Piotrovsky added that improving staff pay is also a key issue; currently the top salary for curators is $3,600 a year, and most earn less.
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