Russia demands the return of works exhibited in Italy: what happens?

Russia is demanding the return of works loaned for exhibitions in Italy. Such requests have arrived in Milan, Rome, and Udine. The museums are not objecting, and no comments are coming from Moscow.

It is recent news that a number of letters sent from Russia have reached four Italian museums, namely the Palazzo Reale and Gallerie d’Italia in Piazza Scala in Milan, the Alda Fendi Foundation-Experiments in Rome, and the Casa Cavazzini Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Udine, to demand the return of works that are part of state museum collections loaned for exhibitions held in the museums listed above.

The exhibition Titian and the Image of Woman, which has just opened and will close on June 5, is being held at the Palazzo Reale and features a painting from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, namely Titian’s Portrait of a Young Woman with Feathered Hat. The Fendi Foundation has been asked for only one work back, but it is also the only work in the exhibition: it is Pablo Picasso’s Young Woman, a work that recently arrived in Italy (for the first time) for a one-painting-show that opened last Feb. 15 and was scheduled to feature the Spanish artist’s masterpiece until May 27.

More nutritious, however, are the contingents at the Gallerie d’Italia and Casa Cavazzini. Milan’s museums are currently hosting a major exhibition on the Grand Tour, where 20 works on loan from Russian museums are on display. The exhibition was organized precisely in collaboration with the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, which loaned nine works: Antonio Canova’s celebrated Winged Cupid, Michelangelo Barberi’s splendid table with Roman Days, Portrait of Prince Nikolai Borisovič Jusupov with a Dog by Giovanni Battista Lampi and Jakob Philipp Hackert, Portrait of Count Nikolai Dimitrevič Gur’ev by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Giulio Carlini’s The Tolstoy Family in Venice, Louise-Élisabeth Vigée Le-Brun’sSelf-Portrait, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s At the Gates of the Monastery, and Carlo Albacini’s Flora andIsis. From the Pavlovsk Palace, however, eight other works arrived: some objects by Luigi Valadier (a lidded vase, two pairs of vases, a Girl with a Bird’s Nest and from his workshop (a Boy with a Bird and a pair of pedestals), and two portraits by Abraham-Louis-Rodolphe Ducros, namely The Grand Dukes Paul Petrovič and Marija Fyodorovna at the Roman Forum and The Grand Dukes Paul Petrovich and Marija Fyodorovna visiting Neptune’s Cave. The State Carskoe Selo Museum lent The Colosseum as seen from the Palatine Hill by Carlo Labruzzi, and finally Museo-Tenuta Statale di Gatčina brought Christopher Hewetson’s Portrait of Grand Duchess Marija Fëdorovna to Milan. Finally, at Casa Cavazzini, the exhibition The Form of the Infinite is on until March 27, with about seventy works by great masters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries arriving from museums all over Europe: among them are twelve paintings on loan from the Tret’jakov Gallery in Moscow.

It was Corriere della Sera that revealed that the Milanese museums had been reached by a letter from Michail Piotrovsky, director of theHermitage in St. Petersburg, demanding the return of the works: “according to the decision of the Russian Ministry of Culture all outstanding loans must be returned from abroad to Russia,” the missive reportedly reads. Therefore, this would not be an initiative of the individual museum, also because requests have also been received from entities that have works belonging to other museums (this is the case of Casa Cavazzini). In Piotrovsky’s letter, museums are asked to make arrangements for packing and shipping: “Our transport agent will make all the necessary arrangements. I fully understand that this decision will create great sorrow and inconvenience for you and I hope for your understanding.”

Moscow, in short, wants its works back early: for some, the damage is limited, as the Udine and Piazza Scala exhibitions are drawing to a close and for the Palazzo Reale it is a single work. For the Fendi Foundation, however, it means truncating the project two months in advance. Rai Lombardia does not use half words to define the gesture of the Russian Ministry of Culture: it would be a “retaliation” due to the international political situation: after all, Italy has been included in the list of countries hostile to Russia as it is among the states that have imposed sanctions on Moscow. Russia’s demands will be met, however. Yesterday Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told ADN Kronos, in reference to the Milan exhibitions, that “the ministry has no competence in the matter, they are two exhibitions organized by the City of Milan and the Gallerie d’Italia. But it seems clear to me that when an owner asks for the return of his works these should be returned.” Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala has also made it known that Palazzo Reale will not oppose Russia’s requests. However, technical time will be needed to prepare for the sending of the works.

In Russia, however, they downplay. The Hermitage press office told TASS, the Russian state news agency, that the museum “is dealing with the return of its works that have been taken to exhibitions in other countries.” The press office said that “on the basis of agreements reached and on the basis of existing exhibition agreements, works granted for exhibitions in different countries are gradually returning to the museum. Details about the movement of the works are never commented on and are not disclosed in order to ensure their safety.” From the Russian Ministry of Culture, however, there is no news. There seems to be one notable exception to this story, however: the Vasily Kandinsky exhibition that opened last Feb. 26 in Rovigo’s Palazzo Roverella has not been reached by requests for its return at the moment, the organization told the press. The exhibition includes several works on loan from Russian museums, such as the Tret’jakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, and the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg. The exhibition runs through June 26, and features about eighty works by Kandinsky, half of them from Russia. The organization has made it known that should requests for early return arrive, Minister Franceschini’s instructions will be followed and the works will be returned, but this will mean the early closure of the exhibition.

In recent days, the Hermitage had still been a protagonist on the level of cultural diplomacy as the Hermitage Amsterdam had decided to close relations with the Russian museum. Now, therefore, a new tile falls on the collaborations between Russia and the rest of Europe. In the introduction to the catalog of the Grand Tour exhibition at the Gallerie d’Italia, Piotrovsky himself wrote that “love for Italy has always been an important element in Russian culture.” So now it is hoped that this sentiment will soon prevail again, and above all, it is hoped for a speedy conclusion to hostilities.

Pictured: the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Russia demands the return of works exhibited in Italy: what happens?
Russia demands the return of works exhibited in Italy: what happens?

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.