The Musée du Louvre in the heart of Paris has announced its temporary custody of 16 medieval antiquities that were secretly evacuated from Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion. The works come from the Khanenko Museum, which sustained damages from a Russian missile strike last October, prompting increased safety measures to protect its cultural objects from Russian attacks as well as looting and illegal trade. The French museum will exhibit five Byzantine-era sacred icons that were transferred over from Kyiv through November 6.
The Louvre exhibition, titled At the Origins of the Sacred Image. Icons from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts in Kyiv, includes four 6th- and 7th-century encaustic paintings on wood panel of holy icons from Saint Catherine’s monastery in Sinai, Egypt, and one 13th- or 14th-century Constantinopolitan micromosaic of Saint Nicholas surrounded by intricate gold wire framework. The displayed works illustrate the origins of the Byzantine civilization’s religious foundation and “the artistic expression of Christianity in the East,” per the exhibition text.
A representative for the Louvre confirmed with Hyperallergic that nine of the 11 other transferred works, all of which are sacred paintings on wood, are currently at the Louvre Conservation Center in the northern French city of Liévin, and the two others are in storage awaiting scientific analysis. After the exhibition comes down in November, the Louvre will conduct further research and analysis of the encaustic paintings and micromosaics to better understand the methods and materials behind each work.
“They will of course return to the Khanenko Museum at the end of the war,” the Louvre spokesperson said of the transferred objects. “There are no other transfers planned for now.”
A spokesperson for the Khanenko Museum told Hyperallergic that in addition to the project with the Louvre, the institution has collaborated with the Lithuanian National Art Museum in Vilnius on five separate exhibitions and started work with the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland. “We are immensely grateful to our colleagues and partners for the excellent curatorial joint projects and for ensuring proper conditions for the exhibition and preservation of the part of the museum’s collection that is being presented and researched,” the spokesperson said.
Over 250 Ukrainian cultural sites have been damaged since the war began in February 2022, according to UNESCO estimates; Ukraine’s government has reported over 500 incidents of damaged and destroyed objects of cultural value. During the onset of the war, a large fire destroyed the Ivankiv Local History Museum in Kyiv, claiming 25 revered works by the late Ukrainian folk painter Maria Prymachenko. Last week, the collapse of a major dam in southern Ukraine submerged the house-museum of late artist Polina Raiko in flood waters, potentially destroying her vivid frescoes and other works of art.