A cast of Mino da Fiesole's Portrait of a Young Woman at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Image: A cast of Mino da Fiesole’s Portrait of a Young Woman at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The original bust is among 59 statues from the Bode Museum damaged during World War II and rediscovered at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum | ArtNet

Now for some good news! Art historians have uncovered a whopping 59 sculptures from the Italian Renaissance, which had been missing from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow since World War II. These sculptures include works by Donatello, Giovanni Pisano, and Andrea del Verrocchio, among other famous artists. The works were discovered in a flak tower in Friedrichshain, in east Berlin.

“Most of the sculptures were damaged,” said Neville Rowley, the Bode Museum’s curator of Italian Renaissance. Some of them are even just in fragments. “They can’t currently be shown because of the state they are in. But there are plans to exhibit the sculptures at the Pushkin Museum after they’ve been restored,” he added.

It is believed that the sculptures were stashed in the tower during the war to protect them from bombs. In 1945, that tower was put through two different fires, which is what damaged the sculptures and a handful of paintings. The remnants were taken by Soviet troops and transported back to Moscow. But for many years, German art historians did not know the fate of these artworks, what had survived and what had not. Both Germany and Russia have been working since 2005 to recover the works.

The team who discovered the sculptures believe that a badly fire-damaged sculpture by Donatello, of John the Baptist, can be partially restored. “What we have found is that the sculptures that survived the fire in the flak tower were made of marble, bronze, and terracotta, but sculptures made of stucco or wood did not. Paintings, as such as the one by Caravaggio, were most likely also destroyed simply because of the material they were made of,” Rowley said.

Following WWII, Red Army “Trophy Brigades” looted almost 3 million works of art from eastern Germany as reparations for the looting and devastation enacted upon Soviet cultural sites by German troops over the course of the war. However, 1958 saw a goodwill gesture from Russia, in which they returned 1.5 million works to Germany. Many works of art were likewise returned to Russia from Germany.

The discovery of the sculptures has been called a “sensational find” by researchers who attended a symposium where the discovery was announced.