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The exhibition “Imperial Capitals: Saint Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections” is open to the public

Published 11 October 2018

On 5 October 2018, the exhibition “Imperial Capitals: Saint Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections” began running in the Twelve-Column Hall of the New Hermitage.

The exhibition takes the form of an original joint project between the State Hermitage and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Each museum has contributed 14 paintings that form pairs on the basis of similar subjects, proximity in time or being by the same artist.

“I am delighted to be presenting to you this exhibition that is remarkable not only because it has twice been visited by two heads of state, but also because it has been created by two remarkable museums. Two very similar museums, similar in style and spirit. The actual idea of a dialogue of imperial capitals is very interesting, because there is no city in the world that resembles St Petersburg more than Vienna. One city is a window to Europe, the other a window to the East,” Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky said when opening the exhibition. “A dialogue is traditional between our museums. We produce many exhibitions together, but this is the first time for such a large one.”

“The language of art is a common European language that all the peoples of Europe understand. We are very proud to have been able to compile these fourteen pairs that are so attractive for viewing and comparison. We have elevated our collaboration from a purely organizational aspect to the level of the study of history and art, and a corresponding presentation of the collections of both museums,” Sabine Haag, the General Director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, observed. “It is very important and significant that thanks to the economic and entrepreneurial activities of such concerns as Gazprom and OMV collaboration has grown in the sphere of art, in the sphere of museum work, and this exhibition became possible.”

The exhibition opens with monumental formal portraits of the two empresses who played such an important role in the history of the two museums. Catherine II, who founded the Hermitage as an art collection, and Maria Theresa, who moved the Hapsburg imperial collection to the Belvedere Palace in Vienna and did much for its systematization.

The display presents some works by the same artists from the two collections: Jacopo Tintoretto, Bernardo Strozzi, Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Halls, Jan Steen and Nicolas Poussin. The remaining pictures also have points of contact, but they are not so obvious. There are interesting pairs that are based on contrasts and oppositions. Fundamentally different approaches to landscape painting are presented by the works of Thomas Gainsborough and Jacob Philipp Hackert. Sandro Botticelli in Saint Jerome is emphatically laconic and simple in terms of composition, while Albrecht Altdorfer tells about the martyrdom of Saint Catherine with a multitude of details. We note that Albrecht Altdorfer and Hans Holbein the Younger are two great 16th-century masters whose works can be found in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, but not in the Hermitage.

The exhibition curator on behalf of the State Hermitage is Maria Garlova, senior researcher in the Department of Western European Fine Art; on behalf of the Kunsthistorisches Museum the curator is Dr Stefan Weppelmann, the Director of the Picture Gallery.
The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly illustrated catalogue (State Hermitage Publishing House, 2018) with forewords by Mikhail Piotrovsky and Sabine Haag. The introduction is by Sergei Androsov, head of the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art.

The exhibition “Imperial Capitals: St. Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections” has been organized by the State Hermitage jointly with the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and with the support of the Russian company Gazprom and the Austrian oil and gas concern OMV.