Art & Design
Posted by Christine Tsimbis
11. Aug, 2015
If you are a lover of beauty and sophisticated art, you need to check out the National Gallery of Victoria’s exhibit of the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great. I saw it recently and was awed by the brilliant collective works she had acquired from different artists throughout the centuries. The exhibit was extremely informative in describing Catherine’s role in raising standards of artistic talent in Russia; she was extremely fascinated in both Classical and Chinese culture, and she had collected both Old Master paintings and modern art during her reign from 1762-1796.
Over 400 works of Catherine’s collection, which include paintings, drawings, sculptures, silver and exquisite gems, have been showcased to the public for the first time here in Australia. One of the most prominent oil canvases in the exhibit is Alexander Roslin’s portrayal of Catherine herself. Roslin was a Swedish artist who had been invited to St. Petersburg by Catherine; she posed for him and he then created an extremely striking portrait of her within the context of her self-constructed material world.
A bit of background information for those of you who don’t know much about Catherine’s important role in our history: after the Seven-Years War (1756-1763), Rome had begun to invest in archaeological excavations in the late 1760s, leading to discoveries of Roman architecture and sculptures, which then fuelled Catherine’s infatuation with antiquity. She then hired all sorts of different artists to depict these classical beauties, and as a result, she inspired the epitome of eighteenth-century neoclassicism: the construction of the Hermitage, which is a magnificent complex of buildings that exist along the banks of the Neva River in St Petersburg.
Throughout the exhibit, we are exposed to an array of paintings from countless artists, such as Bernardo Belloto, Jacob Philipp Hackert, Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Giambattista Pittoni and plenty of others. There are Italian, French, Chinese, German, Spanish and other works of art that enthusiastically showcase their influence on Catherine’s cultural tastes and perspectives.
I personally believe that what a person chooses to surround themselves with can really portray their personality and character, and it is evident that Catherine the Great was an extremely open-minded and brilliant woman with an eclectic taste in art and architecture. She has successfully inspired us today to appreciate great works of art and delve into their surface and hidden meanings. Each artist had a story to tell, and it is amazing just how culturally rich their perspectives are about the world they lived in. I certainly felt that my experience of viewing Catherine’s collection has been an enlightening one, and I’m sure that most of you (whether you’re artsy or not) will feel the same way once you view it.
Hermitage: The Legacy Of Catherine The Great
National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Friday July 31 – Sunday November 8
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