New life for cultural artefacts of great historical and artistic value

About 90 percent of Belarusian valuables are spread across the world. They were taken away due to various events over the years. Valuables were removed not only to neighbouring countries, but further afield too. Finland, for example, has part of the Nesvizh libraries, Austria has paintings by Pen and Chagall while Sweden owns guns commissioned by the Radziwill family.
By Lyudmila Avdeeva

According to the State Customs Committee, for the last 12 years customs bodies have confiscated more than 82,900 objects of historical and artistic value. These include paintings, jewellery, books, ancient ceramics and furniture. Smugglers have been trying to take out all these artefacts from the country or, more recently, attempting to smuggle things into Belarus. 

All items that are confiscated on the borders undergo expert review to ascertain whether these objects have any historical and cultural significance or not. Afterwards, if the owners can be located, the objects are returned to them. If not, the objects are distributed amongst the country’s museums and galleries. The greatest quantity of such rarities can be found at the Brest Regional Local History Museum’s ‘rescued art valuables’ branch. This is the only establishment, both in Belarus and in all Post-Soviet territories, which stores such reclaimed property.

The museum, which was opened almost quarter of a century ago, has several hundred unique exhibits.

“Our museum does not receive all the reclaimed objects,” says Alexey Mityunkov, Director of the Brest Regional Local History Museum. “Some objects are returned to their rightful owners. For example, in late 1980s and early 90s the Customs department detained many religious icons which had been stolen from Russian museums. Obviously, these have been returned. Some pieces are also sent to other museums. Last year a collection of antique furniture was detained on the border. One part of the collection was sent to Nesvizh, another part to the Pruzhany estate and park ensemble.”

The hall is divided into ten sub-halls. The museum’s greatest and most ‘expensive’ collection is that of the Russian iconography of 16th-early 20th century. The icons in set in silver are especially valuable. They were created by the leading jewellery centres of Russia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl, Kaluga and other cities, in the 18th-early 20th century.

“Icons have always been popular objects for removal, especially towards the end of the Soviet period,” said Tatiana Mironovich, senior research assistant of the National History Museum, which held a joint exhibition of the National History Museum and the Brest Regional Local History Museum under the title Saved Art Values. She continued, “But things have recently changed. There are now more objects which are being smuggled into the country from Europe.”

Fans of exotic objects can enjoy the art of the East section with its displays of traditional Japanese painting on silk, ‘kakemono’ scrolls, Chinese and Japanese vases, Buddhist sculptures made from bronze, and many other objects.

Visitors may also be attracted by a unique ancient Psalter, or a Bible from the late 19th century, tiny irons for ironing small items of clothing from the times of Russian Empire, a German sauceboat or a Polish set of knifes from the early 20th century. Among the bright, precious objects is a silver Caucasian belt inlaid with dozens of coins. Not all museums of the world can boast similar exhibits.

The collection of dishware stored in the museum is also diverse. Items made from glass, china, metal can all be seen. Here one can find, for example, objects from the Imperial China Plant which served the imperial court, or crystal dishware decorated with silver, made at the Riga Glass Plant.
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