Metal, like human, can «catch a cold» and can “get seriously ill”, believes the artist-restorer of the National Art Museum.
— You have an outstanding name...
— That’s true. Once I met the former president of Azerbaijan and downright introduced myself: “Heydar Aliyev! Pleased to meet you”. “Heydar?! Aliyev?!”, he asked again in surprise, and then he gave a laugh and shook my hand.
— In Belarus it also sounds unusual...
— Especially when I am invited to some international forum. Imagine my badge: “Aliyev, Heydar – Beyuk-Aga ogly. Belarus”.
Heydar came to Belarus with a vast experience in metal working. In Baku he had worked at a jeweller’s workshop and then at a military plant. In Belarus his first big work was the icon “The Holy Family” (XVI century. — Auth.) from Assumption of Mary Franciscan Catholic Church in Pinsk. Heydar restored the metal icon setting under which he discovered an authentic wooden frame.
— What else do restorers find when they take off a “layer of history”?
— Perhaps, the history itself. We have to gain an insight into the author’s soul, breathe like he does, sneeze like him. This is the essence of our work after which no one should say that the thing has acquired a new look. The main principle of a restorer is to preserve everything that is possible to preserve. As for the findings, one of my colleagues was brought a XII century earring with a mummified earlobe!
Brushes and pencils, handsaws and rasp-files, magnifying glasses, small, medium and book-size, machine tools and a table exactly like in the laboratories of scientists, with microscopes and bottles, and also baths with boiling chemical reagents — this is the restorer’s working shop. It’s a place from where one can travel both to the mysterious Middle Ages and the elegant Baroque. Even the artists themselves are sometimes surprised that they have to take off so many “time layers” from the article to breathe life into it.
— What determines the value of a piece of decoration – time, authorship or the number of jewels?
— Every article that comes through my hands amazes and delights at the same time by the fact alone that it has witnessed the events that we shall never see, — the craftsman keeps cleaning a large bronze vase with a small thin brush.
First he will remove dust this way, then, like a doctor, he will diagnose the “sore parts” and apply pledgets with solutions that will stop the process of erosion. After that the article will be warmed up and conserved by imbuing it with a mixture based on bees-wax. Then it will be possible to say that the “patient“ is on the mend.
— These vases were made in Japan in the previous century - can you believe it - at a military plant! But the level of masterhood is so high that they do not differ from the ancient works. And this is a chandelier from the Vankovichys’ house-museum. See what fanciful sockets on a wood footing there were in the XIX century. Nowadays no fire-fighter would allow anything of the kind. I am lucky to have worked a couple of times with the originals of Faberge, with a “nautilus goblet” (a goblet based on a nautilus shell framed with precious metal. It was made by the Holland craftsmen of the XVI century. — Auth.). Every craftsman dreams of touching such rarities. The ornament articles of the XII–XIII centuries have a special aura: pendants with с amulets, kolts (aroma lockets, a prototype of perfume).
Sometimes restorers get interesting Renaissance knickknacks — rings with containers for poison in them or some amulets, for instance, hair of the beloved woman. Precious metals and stones were used also to make boxes for holy relics that, just fancy, were sold at that time. Caskets for perfume and even the famous tubules for catching fleas were decorated very daintily.
In the previous centuries there was hardly any impersonal jewellery; most of the items have nameplates on them. The works of the XIX century are bounteously decorated with diamonds, sapphires and rubies, all this bunch of gems having been inlaid in one piece of jewellery. On the belts and bracelets one can see unusual patterns — magic knots. Some of them I already know. This one is “the knot of luck” (he draws a piece of ornament), and this intertangling is called “the tree of life”. It is believed that any article with such a pattern enhances its owner’s life force.
The master Aliyev is known in Belarus, first of all, as a church plate restorer. He is also the author of the commemorative medals depicting Carlo Borromeo Catholic Church and Butrimovich’s castle and the panagias (the Holy Mother’s icon that an eparch wears on his chest. — Auth.), one of which was presented to Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexis II. Aliyev decorated the famous duplicates of the Cross of Euphrosyne of Polotsk and restored the duplicates of almost all the arms from the collection of Mir Castle.
— Didn’t you know that expositions of most museums exhibit duplicates? — the artist asked in surprise. — Rarities require special care and housing conditions. For example, the originals of tomes shouldn’t be kept in the light at all, because thus they deteriorate. The ancient “ironwork” is also very vulnerable and needs care, but it is worth it. The price of bric-a-brac increases every year. And duplicates, if they are good ones, are quite enough for mere familiarizing oneself with the thing.
— Can you tell a well-done duplicate from the original?
— I can, but I try not to upset the “judges of beauty”. It is one thing when I act as an expert to evaluate the thing that claims museum value. Another thing is when someone just wants to soothe one’s ambition. Once I restored a XVII century ring and I liked the jeweller’s artistic solutions so much that I asked the owner’s permission to make a duplicate of cheaper materials. I was feasting my eyes on the finished article when a friend of mine came. He saw it and persuaded me to present the ring to his daughter for her birthday. In a couple of years I was approached by a different person: “Can you make a copy of this beautiful ancient thing?” — and he showed me ... my ring. I did what he asked. He was very grateful, and then with an air of an expert he said: “You are an outstanding craftsman, but the original is still better!” There was another case, when a duplicate saved the whole situation. An antique china figurine was carried from Italy to Azerbaijan as a present to war veterans. That was a present of a very high level with a hand-made presentation inscription on a silver plate. While en route, the plate was lost, but its passport with a photo remained, and within a day I made a copy of the plate.
— How can one domiciliary restore the shine of one’s jewellery?
— It is better to dissolve a couple of drops of a liquid cleanser and 1 mL of ammonia in a cup of hot water. Then take an old toothbrush and rub the piece of jewellery with it, after which wash it with clean water and give it a careful wipe.
The craftsman also said that before buying a piece of jewellery, be it a brooch or a bronze statuette, one should enquire not only about the author of the thing, but also about its owners. Metals can absorb the person’s energetics, including the negative ones.