19th century Russian pomp on display in Amsterdam

19th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The 19th-century pomp of Russia's tsars goes on display in an exhibition at Amsterdam's revamped Hermitage museum that will be officially opened by visiting President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday.

Amsterdam -- The Hermitage, a satellite of the Saint Petersburg-based original, will display artworks, clothing and other items on loan from Russia to recreate "one of the most flamboyant royal courts of 19th century Europe," said organisers.

Its aim: "To make our collection accessible to everyone in the world," according to the director of the original Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky.

"The Hermitage (in Saint Petersburg) has opened 'Sputniks' (satellites) in different countries but the museum of Amsterdam is a big international space station," he told journalists Thursday during a sneak preview of the new building with its roomy, minimalist interior.

The museum is housed in the restored Amstelhof building that had served as an old age home in the heart of the Dutch capital city since the 17th century.

"It is a dream come true: the beautiful metamorphosis of a 17th century nursing home into a modern, 21st century museum," said the institution's director Ernst Veen.

The Dutch Hermitage, created in 2004, was initially housed in a building next door while awaiting the renovation of the Amstelhof, ten times bigger at a total 10,000 square metres.

It is to be inaugurated by Medvedev and Dutch Queen Beatrix on Friday evening, opened to the public the next day.

Until 31 January next year, the Hermitage will host a special exhibit on the tsars entitled "At the Russian Court -- palace and protocol in the 19th century" -- one of the largest ever exhibitions in the Netherlands.

Some 1,800 pieces, selected from more than 300 million objects owned by the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, will be on display.

The collection is an attempt to recreate the history of the Russian royal court of the six 19th century tsars, from Paul I to Nicholas II who was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

The hierarchical structure of royal life and its strict protocols is depicted by a procession of inanimate mannequin courtesans, dressed according to their societal rank, parading before the tsar on his golden throne.

One wing of the museum will be reserved for a recreation of the resplendent royal balls, with embroidered silk gowns turning to waltz music in special windows before the eyes of the nobles whose portraits decorate the walls.

The opulence of the Russian rulers is also clear from the many precious artworks, precious stones vases, jewellery and delicate china on display.

The Amsterdam Hermitage aims to put on two exhibits per year, but will have a permanent display on the history of the Amstelhof and relations between the Netherlands and Russia.

"Saint Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great on the model of Amsterdam where he lived in 1696, explained Veen.

Also, the families of Orange-Nassau and Romanov were bound by the marriage in 1816 of the Netherlands' Prince William of Orange, later to become King Willem II, to the daughter of Paul I, Anna Pavlovna.

The restoration of the Amstelhof started in 2007 at a cost of 40 million euros for public and private investors.

The museum's old building, the Neerlandia, has been turned into a Hermitage for Children.

AFP / Martine Pauwels / Expatica

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