Trea­sures from the Her­mitage

Ex­hi­bi­tion at Athens mu­seum show­cases items from the col­lec­tions of Rus­sia’s tzars

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SAKIS IOANNIDIS

“Ob­jects are noth­ing on their own. Ev­ery­one talks of mas­ter­pieces be­cause that is what mu­se­ums call them. Would they stop be­ing mas­ter­pieces if we stopped call­ing them that? It is our job to give the ex­hibits a story, to put them into a his­tor­i­cal con­text, to ex­plain how they were made and why,” says Mikhail Piotro­vsky, direc­tor of Saint Peters­burg’s famed Her­mitage Mu­seum, on the oc­ca­sion of the ex­hi­bi­tion “The State Her­mitage Mu­seum: Gate­way to History,” which just opened at Athens’s Byzan­tine and Chris­tian Mu­seum.

“This ex­hi­bi­tion, for ex­am­ple, tells the story of the clas­si­cal Scythi­ans, a no­madic group that stretched from China to the Balkans, and their re­la­tion­ship with the Greeks and the Greek art that evolved in the colonies of the Black Sea [present-day Crimea]. The Greeks were in our coun­try many, many years ago and this is a part of our tra­di­tions,” adds Piotro­vsky.

The show at the Byzan­tine Mu­seum is sep­a­rated into sec­tions, start­ing with ex­hibits that tell the story of the Her­mitage, in­clud­ing pieces from the Rus­sian mu­seum’s ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and Siberian col­lec­tions, Scythian mas­ter­pieces and Gre­coS­cythian ob­jects, gold jew­elry, di­plo- matic gifts and lux­ury items once owned by the Ro­manovs.

“The ex­hi­bi­tion is like an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of Rus­sian art which show­cases how these col­lec­tions were brought to­gether and in­di­cate what life was like for the em­peror-col­lec­tors, through per­sonal ob­jects and great works of art,” ex­plains Byzan­tine Mu­seum direc­tor Eka­terini Del­la­porta.

Among the most strik­ing dis­plays are a gold cig­a­rette case adorned with pre­cious stones and a portrait of the Empress El­iz­a­beth of Rus­sia, as well as an enamel pocket watch crafted by Swiss jew­elry maker Louis-David Du­val, who be­came the court jeweler of Grand Duke Paul. In­di­cat­ing the tzars’ piety is a “mo­bile church” Alexan­der I took along on his mil­i­tary cam­paigns and an 18th cen­tury icon.

As part of the on­go­ing cul­tural ex­changes mark­ing the Year of Greece in Rus­sia and Rus­sia in Greece, the Byzan­tine Mu­seum loaned a part of its col­lec­tion to the Her­mitage for the show “Byzan­tium Through the Cen­turies,” which ended re­cently, and now has the plea­sure of host­ing this ex­hi­bi­tion, which is con­sid­ered one of the top events mark­ing Greek-Rus­sian friend­ship in 2016.

The sec­ond part of “The State Her­mitage Mu­seum: Gate­way to History” con­sists of a small yet rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of pieces from the Her­mitage’s col­lec­tion of paint­ings and sculp­tures by Euro­pean artists from the 16th to the 20th cen­tury. Among these are the splen­did “Moon­rise: Two Men on the Shore” by Cas­par David Friedrich, “Saints Peter and Paul,” one of El Greco’s early Span­ish pe­riod works, Bar­tolome Murillo’s “Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion” and Car­avag­gio’s “Bac­chus.” Flem­ish Baroque greats in­clud­ing Peter Paul Rubens, Ja­cob Jor­daens and An­thony van Dyck are there, while the stand­outs from the 18th cen­tury in­clude land­scapes from his­toric cities and “The Con­ti­nence of Sci­pio of Africa” by Joshua Reynolds, who was a favorite with Cather­ine the Great.

The Euro­pean art panorama is com­pleted with sculp­tures by Rodin and his stu­dent An­toine Bour­delle, and paint­ings by French ex­pres­sion­ist Chaim Sou­tine and Ger­many’s Hein­rich Vo­geler, who ended up in a Siberian gu­lag af­ter mov­ing to Rus­sia to join the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion.

‘ The ex­hi­bi­tion is like an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of Rus­sian art which show­cases how these col­lec­tions were brought to­gether and in­di­cate what life was like for the em­peror-col­lec­tors, through per­sonal ob­jects and great works of art,’ says Byzan­tine Mu­seum direc­tor Eka­terini Del­la­porta.

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