Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Hermitage at the Prado Museum: Scythian Bling v. Malevich's Black Square

The Prado Museum / Museo del Prado
1/24/12 - Paseo del Prado

Prado Museum ticket entrance
Ancient gold ornaments, dug up from burial mounds in Siberia and the Black Sea coast, form the glittering  center of an exhibit on loan to the Prado from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  The Scythians, a nomadic Eurasian people from the fifth to third centuries BCE, wore exquisite belt buckles the size of iPads.  Their posture must have been exemplary.  Another dazzler, created in the 4th century BCE and described as an "earring with pendant element in the form of a boat," might just blow your mind.

The Hermitage has loaned over 170 objects, including sculpture, royal jewels, paintings, decorative art, and clothing from the Russian imperial court.  Caravaggio, Matisse, Rembrandt, Rubens, Fabergé, Bernini, Monet, and Kandinsky all make an appearance.  If you don't look closely, you might miss the foppish shoes on Henry Danver, Earl of Danby, as painted by Van Dyck in the late 1630s: kitten heels, with a burst of ruffle at the instep. One of Kazimir Malevich's four Black Square paintings from the early 20th century hangs here as well, small and mute in the presence of so many riches.

Matisse at the Prado until 25 March 2012
I'm halfway through Robert K. Massie's new biography of Catherine the Great, the obscure German princess who came to rule Russia from 1762 to 1796.  Catherine collected many of the artworks now housed in the Hermitage.  (She also collected Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Crimea). I enjoyed seeing the full-length portrait of the aging Empress by Giovanni Battisti Lampi (1793), as well as the filigree Chinese boxes from her dressing-table set. One of them takes the form of a crab on a leaf.

Cafe Prado
After a stop in the museum cafe...

I viewed a small exhibit about the re-discovery of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting, The Wine of Saint Martin's Day.  During restoration work in 2010-11, the painting was attributed to Bruegel when his signature and the date (1566 or 1567) appeared in the lower left corner.  A brief slide-show documents the restoration and identification process.  The subject of the painting is curious.  Did the 16th-century Dutch feed wine to babies?  Bruegel takes his subjects to task. Then, as now, human foibles gave rise to spectacular works art.

The Hermitage in the Prado and Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Wine of Saint Martin's Day run until 25 March 2012.

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