Is It a Lost Statue of Niobe That Was Found in Tsarskoye Selo?
St. Petersburg Mining University specialists carried out a comprehensive no-contact geophysical survey within the territory of Freilinsky Garden, as a result of which a massive metal object was found in the ground. There is every reason to believe that this is a bronze sculpture, which the museum-park lost during the Great Patriotic War.
Exploratory digging, by which scientists aim to define what exactly they found, should be completed in a month. Postponing excavation works is not possible due to limitations imposed by weather conditions. Neither it is possible to proceed to the final stage of exploration right now. It is required to obtain first permits allowing to conduct surveying at the cultural heritage site.
According to Aleksey Ageyev, Candidate of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geochemical and Geophysical Prospecting and Exploration Techniques in the Mining University "Geophysics is, in a way, a subjective discipline. Therefore, we cannot claim with 100% certainty that what we found is the statue of Niobe. However, judging by the size of the object - two and a half meters in height and two meters in width -, there is a high probability that it is the statue".
The sculpture was added in the joint catalogue of lost items of cultural and artistic value in 1944 after Soviet troops had dislodged the Nazis out of Pushkin. It was long believed the statue had been stolen and, similarly to many other exhibits, smuggled out of the country.
The Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo pictured in 1944
Not that it was a single case. Parque blocks from the Lyons Hall were found in elevators of Berlin in 1945, and the bronze statues of Hercules and Flora were discovered at the Halle copper plant. Russian soldiers found decorative stove tiles, furniture, paintings, and porcelain from museums' collections in almost every major European city upon the surrender of Hitler's army.
In general, searching for the lost treasures, which started after the end of War, was not overly resultative. Of the thirty thousand objects that Tsarskoye Selo had lost, only about four hundred were retrieved. The rest disappeared without a trace, with the statue of Niobe being among them. However, as it turned out later, the Germans had nothing to do with its disappearance.
It is evident now that an employee who was responsible for protecting the statue is likely to have dug a deep hole in Freilinsky Garden and hid it there. Shortly afterwards, he was killed along with other witnesses who could have indicated the burial site. And now, seventy-five years later, the museum's experts managed to restore archive records indicating where Niobe had been buried.
To make sure of that, scientists conducted sophisticated research. In particular, they studied numerous inventory books, historical records of employees who took part in evacuating and sheltering cultural objects in 1941, and some other papers. A decision to continue looking for the statue was taken after examining and interpreting the data. Moreover, it was decided so in the year commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Victory. And a primary reason was to honour the heroism of people who against all the odds did everything to preserve the Russian cultural heritage in the Great Patriotic War.
Scientists pictured while carrying out exploration activities via the use of GPR transmitting data to the receiver for further interpretation
St. Petersburg Mining University's researchers were involved in field surveying because of their thorough practical experience in geophysical exploration. In their work, they used two methods of shallow contactless electrical sounding. The first one - magnetic scanning - allows to detect massive metal objects, which is the statue in this case. The second one - GPR method - helps to spot soil disturbance resulting from the pit wherein the object is located.
"At the first stage of works in Freilinsky Garden, we determined geophysical anomalies caused by metal-containing objects. There were quite a few of them within the research territory. Then, through GPR sounding, we identified each one of these anomalies. To solve the research task, we located an area of the biggest interest to us, which was large in size and intensity sector within the path stretching along the Cameron Gallery. In that area, we noticed an unambiguous wave-front disturbance coming from the deformation of naturally occurring soils. This wave effect is approximately three by three metres in size and can be traced to a depth of almost three and a half metres. It is, therefore, possible that a deep hole in which Niobe was hidden in 1941 was dug exactly here," explains Vladimir Glazunov, Professor at the Department of Geochemical and Geophysical Prospecting and Exploration Techniques in St. Petersburg Mining University.
Thereby there is a high degree of certainty that it is an object in question that is buried nearby the Cameron Gallery. But whether it is a sculpture believed to be permanently lost or not will be found out shortly.