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Imperial Capitals: St. Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections

On 5 October 2018, the exhibition “Imperial Capitals: St. Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections” opens in the Twelve-Column Hall of the New Hermitage, presenting an original joint project of the State Hermitage and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Each museum is contributing fourteen paintings that form pairs on the basis of similar subjects, proximity in time or being by the same artist.

  • Sandro Botticelli Saint Jerome 1498–1505 Tempera on canvas ©State Hermitage
  • Albrecht Altdorfer The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine Circa 1505–06 Oil on panel ©Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • Frans Hals. Portrait of a Young Man Circa 1638–40 Oil on canvas ©Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • Frans Hals Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Glove Circa 1640 Oil on canvas ©State Hermitage
  • Hans von Aachen An Allegory of Peace, Art and Abundance Circa 1590 Oil on canvas ©Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • Bartholomeus Spranger Without Bacchus and Ceres, Venus Freezes 1602 Oil on canvas ©State Hermitage
  • Ambrosius Holbein Portrait of a Young Man 1518 Oil on panel ©State Hermitage
  • Hans Holbein the Younger Portrait of John Chambers Circa 1541–42 Oil on panel ©Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • Anthony Van Dyck Portrait of Nicholas Lanier 1628 Oil on canvas ©Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • Anthony Van Dyck Self-Portrait 1622–23 Oil on canvas ©State Hermitage
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The exhibition presents works by famous painters (Botticelli, Tintoretto, Rembrandt and Van Dyck) that give a general impression of the development of Western European painting from the time of the Renaissance to early Neo-Classicism. The display is based on the juxtaposing of pictures, making up fourteen harmonious pairs. This principle allows the viewer to better understand the characteristics of each collection and the masterpieces present in it, while also bringing out the affinity between the two museums.

Created as the personal galleries of monarchs, in the second half of the 19th century these collections became accessible to the general public and at the end of the First World War they were transferred to state ownership. Both museums are housed in unique buildings – outstanding works of Russian architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries and of Austrian architecture from the 19th century. Scholarly and cultural interchange between the museums has been taking place for decades: since the 1980s the museums exchanged several exhibitions and individual exhibits. With the arrival of the new century, the collaboration between our institutions received a fresh impulse. The result was a significant exchange of pictures as part of a three-sided project together with the Guggenheim Museum.

Visitors have the opportunity to compare works by the same artists from two collections (Jacopo Tintoretto, Bernardo Strozzi, Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Halls, Jan Steen, Nicolas Poussin). The remaining pictures featured in the exhibition also have points of contact, but they are not so obvious. For example, the Hermitage’s Portrait of a Young Man by Domenico Capriolo, reflecting the influence of Giorgione, is being shown alongside the Portrait of Francesco Maria I della Rovere attributed to that great master himself. The painters of two other portraits – Giovanni Battista Moroni and Domenico Tintoretto – were also contemporaries who created images of Renaissance intellectuals. The brothers Ambrosius and Hans Holbein, also represented in the exhibition by portraits, both came from the same school – that of their father, who was a painter as well. Ambrosius sadly died at the age of 25, while his brother, Hans Holbein the Younger, worked long and fruitfully not only in Germany, but also in England, where he produced a whole portrait gallery of his contemporaries. Bartholomeus Spranger and Hans von Aachen were active at the same time at the court of Emperor Rudolf II. That is why their paintings display a noticeable stylistic affinity.

Other pairings are based more on contrasts. Saint Jerome by the Florentine Sandro Botticelli is emphatically laconic and simple in composition. Albrecht Altdorfer, on the other hand, tells about the martyrdom of Saint Catherine with a host of particulars and describes the executioner and spectators in detail. Two landscapes, by the Englishman Thomas Gainsborough and the German Jacob Philipp Hackert, show fundamentally different approaches to that genre of painting: while in Gainsborough’s work one senses a romantic view of nature, Hackert constructs his composition in accordance with the strict laws of Classicism.

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly illustrated catalogue (State Hermitage Publishing House, 2018) with forewords by Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, and Sabine Haag, General Director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The introduction is by Sergei Androsov, Doctor of Art Studies, head of the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art.

The exhibition curator on behalf of the State Hermitage is Maria Pavlovna Garlova, senior researcher in the Department of Western European Fine Art; on behalf of the Kunsthistorisches Museum the curator is Stefan Weppelmann, the Director of the Picture Gallery.

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 oil and gas company OMV.