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The Elgin Marbles at St Peterburg’s State Hermitage

While political relations between Russia and the West have cooled in recent months, there has been on-going and growing collaboration in a number of significant fields. For instance, it has gone almost unreported that a new ISS mission commenced last month, and the crew of the mission includes a European, an American and a Russian.

Last week, the British Museum announced that it had lent a selection of the Elgin Marbles to the Hermitage to celebrate its 250th anniversary. The celebrations kicked off with a high-definition 3D mapping projection called the “Dance of History”, featuring videos illustrating the most significant historic events of St. Petersburg and the Hermitage. The festivities continued with the opening of a number of exhibitions, including an exhibition dedicated to the iconic British painter Francis Bacon and the reclining marble sculpture of the river god Ilissos, part of the Elgin marbles collection, which twenty five centuries ago decorated the facade of Greece’s Parthenon temple.

The State Hermitage in St Petersburg is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, and has been rated the best museum in Europe by tourists on TripAdvisor. Founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine the Great, the collection includes over three million works of art and world culture artefacts, and approximately three million people visit it every year. The Hermitage, together with the British Museum are the first great museums of the European Enlightenment, the latter opening just five years before the Hermitage in 1759.

However this is not an isolated example of the two countries collaborating on a cultural level. Last year, the Hermitage lent one of its art collections back to Houghton Hall in Norfolk. The paintings, once owned by Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, had been sold to Russia more than two hundred years ago to pay off the family’s debts. Other examples include the Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern this year, and the lending of works by Tate and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts to the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Hermitage.

According to Mikhail Shvydkoi, Russia’s special envoy for international cultural cooperation, cultural dialogue with London will continue into the future. Events have already been planned, including an exhibition devoted to the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution scheduled for the Royal Academy of Arts in 2017, as well as a tour of Russia by the English National Opera.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said it best when talking about the Hermitage: “The politics of both museums have been that the more chilly the politics between governments, the more important the relationship between museums.”

I believe that in today’s global economy, it is crucial that nations continue to engage in professional dialogue on every level possible, regardless of the political challenges and issues. And while St Petersburg hosts a series of captivating cultural events, Four Seasons St Petersburg offers special packages that include dining catered by St. Petersburg’s Chef of the year 2014!

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