For the first time in its history, the State Hermitage Museum is hosting an exhibition that doesn’t have a single original item. Words of Stones, on display at the museum’s General Staff building, is devoted to a digitalized version of the ancient Muslim settlement of Qala–Quraysh in southern Dagestan. It consists entirely of copies of ancient artefacts.

The historical monuments of the famous fortress settlement have been digitalized by the Peri Foundation, which is now completing its next work — digitalizing the extraordinary frescoes painted by Dionysius in Ferapontovo, a UNESCO heritage site.

Forging a New International Covenant

The idea of a new document was inspired by the 1867 Convention for promoting universally Reproduction of Works of Art for the Benefit of Museums of All Countries, which was signed by Great Britain and Ireland, Prussia, Hesse, Saxony, France, Belgium, Russia, Sweden and Norway, Italy, Austria and Denmark. For the first time in history, the one-page Convention encouraged and regulated the sharing of copies of cultural objects and set a legal foundation for reproducing historical objects of art without damaging the originals.

The world has indeed changed since 1867. Today, 150 years later, there are new threats to culture, and far more players have emerged in the field of preservation and protection of the world’s historical legacy and artefacts. In addition to museums there are universities and research centers, charitable or cultural foundations and even governments. These changes have brought a clear need to revisit the relationship between the copy and the original.