The Hermitage wears Prado
Published: March 2, 2011 (Issue # 1645)
The St. Petersburg Times
More than sixty canvases by artists including Velazquez, Goya, Titian and Bosch have been lent to the Hermitage.
An unprecedented itinerant exhibition from Madrid’s Prado Museum opened at the State Hermitage Museum last week, marking the year of Spain in Russia and of Russia in Spain.
The exhibition was opened by President Dmitry Medvedev and Spanish King Juan Carlos, who came to the city on an official visit to launch the year of his country in Russia.
“Our people love the culture and art of Spain and there is no doubt they’ll be delighted to expand their knowledge of it,” Medvedev said.
Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum, described the exhibition as “a historic event” for the Hermitage and said he was “very thankful that an exhibition of such high quality has arrived at the museum.”
“At this exhibition, every picture is a masterpiece,” Piotrovsky said at a press conference devoted to the opening of the exhibition Friday.
Miguel Sugasa, director of the Prado, said the museum was inspired to bring the exhibition to Russia after Medvedev visited the Prado in Madrid two years ago and expressed enthusiastic praise about the museum’s collection.
“At this exhibition, we have tried to present not only the quality but also the diversity of the [Prado’s] collection, including works by Western European and Spanish artists, and pieces from the Renaissance era,” Sugasa said.
The exhibition features more than sixty canvases from the 15th to 19th centuries by Western European artists with a focus on the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools. The artists featured include Hieronymus Bosch, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, El Greco, Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya, Titian and many others.
Titian’s masterpiece “Venus and Cupid with an Organist,” which pictures a musician playing at Venus’s feet while contemplating the naked goddess, who is distracted by Cupid, is one of the works that has been brought from Madrid for the exhibition.
Some specialists consider the piece to be a straightforward erotic work, while others see its character as allegories of the senses of sight and hearing as the means for achieving knowledge of beauty and harmony.
Another canvas by Alonso Sanchez Coello depicts two girls of eight and nine years old — the much loved daughters of King Philip II of Spain. The artist painted the portraits of the Infantes in keeping with standard court portrait practices, with both of them wearing similar sumptuous clothing and wearing a detached expression.
Caravaggio’s work “David with the Head of Goliath” features the Israelite shepherd boy defeating the Philistine giant Goliath. The artist’s work is marked by his traditional use of strong contrasts of shade and by a dramatic approach to the subject matter.
Many of the canvases from the Prado were bought by or created under the order of Spanish kings. Among them are also “Portrait of an Unknown Man” by Durer, “Holy Family with the Lamb” by Raphael, “Charles V Standing with His Dog” by Titian, three portraits by Velazquez, two still lives by Luis Melendez, and portraits of almost all the Spanish monarchs to whom Prado owes its fame.
Like the Russian tsars, the Spanish kings were known for their love of art. The royal passion for collecting art and recognizing prominent talents helped to compile the Prado’s collection.
King Carlos V and his son Philip II, for example, were the main patrons of Titian. Philip’s passion for Dutch art explains why most of Bosch’s works are located in Madrid. Philip IV, the most sophisticated connoisseur of all the Spanish kings, made Velazquez his court artist, and also patronized Rubens and Jusepe de Ribera.
Carlos III invited Anton Raphael Mengs to work at his court, while his son and heir Carlos IV appointed Goya “the first artist of the king.”
Ferdinand VII, depicted on Goya’s canvases as prince and later as monarch, was also a collector and patron of art. It was he who made the decision to found the Royal Art and Sculpture Museum that later became known as the Prado Museum. The museum opened on Nov. 19, 1819.
The museum got its full name of Prado de San Geronimo due to its location in the district of the same name.
After the Revolution of 1868, the royal museum was nationalized and its official name changed to the National Prado Museum. The museum’s collection embraces the works from the 11th through to the 20th century.
French poet and art critic Theophile Gautier called the Prado “a museum of artists rather than a museum of art” because the museum has collections of individual artists that are unparalleled in volume: The museum has about 40 canvases by Titian, 90 works by Rubens, 50 pictures by Velazquez and 140 canvases by Goya as well as 1,000 drawings and engravings by the court painter.
Visitors to the Hermitage can buy separate tickets to the exhibition, which will stay open for additional evening hours to allow people to visit it after work.
The Hermitage is set to host a number of other Spanish exhibitions later this year, including one devoted to Baroque art of Andalusia that is set to open in June.
The dialogue between the museums will continue at the Prado Museum, which will showcase works of art from the Hermitage from Nov. 8 this year through March 26, 2012, at an exhibition titled “Hermitage Treasures.”
Piotrovsky said the Hermitage would take some of its most valuable exponents to Madrid, including Scythian gold and works by Titian, El Greco, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pablo Picasso, as well as Kazimir Malevich’s iconic painting “Black Square.”
“Prado at the Hermitage” runs through May 29 in the Nikolayevsky Hall of the State Hermitage Museum, 34 Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya. Tel: 571 3420.