Old Masters from the Hermitage
Masterpieces from Botticelli to van Dyck
One of the world’s foremost collections of Old Masters is paying a visit to Vienna: fourteen masterpieces from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg will enter into a dialogue with great paintings from the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. On show are, for example, works by Botticelli, Tintoretto, Rembrandt and van Dyck. The representative selection of masterpieces from these two great collections offers a concise overview of European painting from the Renaissance to early Neoclassicism, and documents how effortlessly these paired paintings united by a common European cultural region communicate with each other.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum and the State Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna are among the world’s leading cultural institutions, and both are best known for their collections of paintings.
These two great museums share historical parallels and institutional parameters; both began life as imperial collections that were nationalised at the end of the First World War. Both are housed in unique buildings that are highlights of, respectively, Russian eighteenth and Austrian nineteenth century architecture, and both are indivisibly connected to the historical centres of their respective home cities, St. Petersburg and Vienna. And, last but not least, both are seminal centres of scholarship and culture in their home countries, both of which underwent dramatic and fundamental changes in the course of the twentieth century.
Today, the Hermitage and the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna are fixtures on the global tourist itinerary and their collections attract millions of visitors every year.
The Exhibition – a Common Heritage
Sending selected masterpieces from each collection on a journey – and a fascinating visit to the banks of the Rivers Neva and Danube – has produced a focused exhibition project juxtaposing fourteen paired paintings spanning five centuries and two thousand kilometres, as well as a “distillate” of the history of European art.
The ease and poignancy of these pairings reminds us that the two collections could be sisters. The project emphasises the common cultural heritage to which both collections are deeply committed. The project is powered by the knowledge that museums reach across and overcome temporal and spatial distances, and that in today’s Europe it can help to showcase what we share and what connects us.
For many decades, the two institutions have collaborated on scientific and cultural exchanges. They support and help each other by loaning important works for major exhibitions, such as, for example, the recent blockbuster show on Pieter Paul Rubens shown in Vienna in 2017/18.
The Paired Paintings
Two religious works by Sandro Botticelli and Albrecht Altdorfer kick off the show – a juxtaposition that illustrates the differences between the Renaissance north and south of the Alps. Other pairs of important Northern paintings are by Hans and his brother Ambrosius Holbein, and by Bartholomäus Spranger and Hans von Aachen.
Italian painting forms a focal point of both collections, and in the show it is represented by Venetian works. Compositions by Nicholas Poussin and Bernardo Strozzi introduce us to early baroque painting in Rome. Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Rubens and van Dyck speak for the “Golden Age” of Dutch and Flemish painting. And works by Thomas Gainsborough and Philipp Hackert function as examples of British and German art.
Both the Romanovs and the Habsburgs were partial to historical and mythological subject matters. Charged with political content, these scenes displayed their patron’s (political) intentions and aims. Genre scenes and landscapes, however, represent the other end of the artistic spectrum.
Portraits and the way they capture a sitter’s personality form another major focal point of the exhibition. Among the highlights are two portraits by Anthony van Dyck: that of Nicholas Lanier and the artist’s self-portrait. Both showcase his virtuosity and his ability to capture a sitter’s character in his gaze and pose. The exhibition also hopes to invite visitors to take a “journey of discovery” to the River Neva by showcasing less well-known artists – among them the above-mentioned Ambrosius Holbein, the brother of the celebrated Hans Holbein the Younger, or Domenico Capriolo, whose oeuvre is closely connected with Titian and Giorgione – but also by the, maybe initially surprising, confrontation of works by, for example, van Dyck and Watteau.
This exchange of paintings between the Picture Galleries in St Petersburg and Vienna was made possible by the support of OMV and Gazprom, who celebrate fifty years of collaboration.
The exhibition will be on show at St Petersburg from October 4, 2018 through January 13, 2019.
6 June 2018
to 2 September 2018