Russia’s imperial heritage is revealed in two very exciting exhibitions coming to the galleries at Somerset House this Autumn, both with a link to Russia. The first is ‘The Triumph of Eros: Art and Seduction in 18th Century France’, which will be staged at the Hermitage Rooms from November 24, 2006, to April 8, 2007, exploring themes of love and eroticism in 18th century French art from the rich collections of The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The impetus for this exhibition, and at its core, is a recently discovered collection of rare French erotic engravings collected in the 19th century probably in secret by Tsar Nikolai I. The fascinating collection has never been seen outside St Petersburg, and so London will be a privileged venue for its first international display.
Among the erotic engravings on display are examples of rare, privately collected, so-called ‘1st state’ prints showing figures before the inclusion of their drapery, which were added later for the official published print editions. Due to their risqué subject matter, they have never been publicly displayed in the Hermitage, let alone outside of it, and will be exhibited for the very first time in London. This exhibition throws fresh light on how French 18th century artists expressed the complex nature of erotic desire in its varied manifestations. By bringing together artworks of different media and status, from works for private consumption to major public statements, the exhibition offers a wide visual spectrum of approaches to the erotic in French art and culture. In doing so it seeks to demonstrate that Eros’ ‘triumph’ is not simply the power of love to conquer all, but rather his ever-present and often disruptive influence on human affairs in the age of rationalism and enlightenment.
The second exhibition is ‘Britannia & Muscovy: English Silver at the Court of the Tsars’, to be held at the Gilbert Collection, from October 21, 2006, to January 28, 2007, a stunning exhibition of magnificent and rare Elizabethan and Stuart silver and Russian gold and silver of the same period from the Kremlin’s Armoury Museum in Moscow. The Armoury Museum houses the most important surviving group of English 16th and 17th century silver in the world. This exhibition is part of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Armoury Museum by the decree of Emperor Alexander I in 1806, offering a rare opportunity to see again in Britain an extraordinary part of our English heritage – preserved in the Kremlin since its arrival in Russia over 300 years ago. Some of the spectacles in this show include Silver pieces and richly adorned weapons, English firearms were prized throughout Europe in the late 16th and 17th centuries. The Armoury Museum contains an important collection of early 17th century English firearms by outstanding gunsmiths. The exhibition also includes a number of guns by Russian gunsmiths who followed English models. Many of the pieces are of a size, grandeur and quality of craftsmanship beyond rival anywhere. The exhibitions provide a wonderful and rare opportunity to see again in Britain this exceptional collection of English heritage – alongside stunning contemporary Russian gold and silver.
(Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 20/06)