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Opening the exhibition Imperial Capitals: St Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections

October 3, 2018, St Petersburg

President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz visited the State Hermitage Museum.

The two heads of state took part in the opening of the Imperial Capitals: St Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections art exhibition by the State Hermitage and the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Visiting the museum included the ceremony of passing the baton of the Field Marshal of the Russian Empire over to the State Hermitage collection. Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky accepted the baton placed inside a glass box. The ceremony took place in the Field Marshals’ Hall. The gold baton, a symbolic decoration of field marshals and marshals, is studded with diamonds, sapphires and enamel. It was made by St Petersburg jeweller Julius Keibel for Emperor Alexander II in 1878.

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Speeches at the opening of the Imperial Capitals: St Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections exhibition

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Federal Chancellor, friends,

I am happy to greet you at the State Hermitage Museum for the opening of the exhibition Imperial Capitals: St Petersburg – Vienna. Masterpieces of Museum Collections.

Several months ago we already presented it in Vienna together with the Chancellor of Austria. It sparked the lively interest of both connoisseurs and art experts and all art lovers. Now the exhibition has arrived here, in Russia, in St Petersburg.

This outstanding and original project is an eloquent expression of the strong historical and cultural bonds between the two countries, and especially between the beautiful cities of St Petersburg and Vienna. As capitals of great empires and Europe’s architectural pearls, they represent a rich mixture of styles, cultures and traditions. The exhibition opens with the grand portraits of Empress Catherine the Great and Maria Theresia, the great women of the 18th century, who laid the foundation for the Hermitage and the Vienna Museum collections.

St Petersburg residents and visitors will have a chance to see works by prominent artists, including geniuses like Botticelli, Rembrandt and van Dyck. I strongly believe that works by masters of the Northern Renaissance who are not represented in the collection of the Hermitage Museum will be of special interest to museum goers.

Let me point out that Russian and Austrian experts have a long track record when it comes to joint projects and assisting each other in holding cultural events. It has become a good tradition for us to hold cross years devoted to specific topics. Not that long ago we held a Year of Tourism. It was a very meaningful and effective initiative. The Year of Music is underway, and 2019 will be dedicated to youth exchanges.

Let me emphasise that cultural and humanitarian ties and the rich experience we have accumulated in this field provide a solid foundation for our bilateral relations. Russia values the level of cooperation that has been achieved between our countries. It goes without saying that initiatives like this exhibition contribute to further expanding our cooperation in significant ways, enrich our bilateral dialogue, as well as facilitate people-to-people contacts, which is especially important.

I am confident that this exhibition will arouse as much interest in Russia as it did in Austria, and will strengthen friendship and mutual understanding between the peoples of our countries.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all who took part in preparing this remarkable project (our guest, His Excellency Federal Chancellor, has just seen the notice in the hall nearby), especially Russia’s Gazprom and Austria’s OMV, and congratulate them on 50 years of cooperation between Russia and Austria in the gas sector. I hope that this exhibition becomes a memorable and inspiring experience for all its visitors.

Thank you for your attention. Thank you very much.

Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Sebastian Kurz (retranslated): Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Putin,

Let me express my sincere gratitude for inviting me to St Petersburg. It is a great honour for me to be here today and to open this exhibition together with you.

Art in all its forms is a common language of our people, and the remarkable masters we can see here today has been inspiring and made a great impression on the people of Russia and Austria for centuries.

I am also very glad that the exhibition we opened together with President of Austria Van der Bellen in Vienna is also opening in St Petersburg today.

The 14 pairs of pictures that we will see at this exhibition are not only united by three hundred years but by 2,000 km. They are witnesses of our joint history.

There are also some parallels between art and politics.

On the one hand, these pairs of pictures have a dialogue with each other; they are placed on opposite sides. The same is happening in political relations.

On the other hand, art is based on openness and honesty regardless of the era. Art has always served as a mirror of the people and the authorities. This may be pleasant but also uncomfortable and critical – depending on where you are now. But this honesty, which can sometimes be provocative, helps us all pose a question about the status quo. Like in art, we need this honesty in political dialogue.

In this sense, I am very happy that despite our different views, we can always have a dialogue; we meet with openness and honesty.

I would like to thank Gazprom and OMV who work together very well as companies but, above all, helped to organise this joint exhibition in St Petersburg and Vienna.

I would also like to thank the organisers: directors who have organised this exhibition as well as the director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Thank you very much.

Director of the State Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky: Mr President, Mr Chancellor,

On behalf of my colleagues in Vienna and St Petersburg we would like to thank you for attending this magnificent exhibition for the second time (it is a bit different at the Hermitage), thus proving that you believe in what we always speak about: that art is a beautiful bridge uniting people.

I would like to thank my colleagues in Vienna, at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and at the Hermitage for their excellent work. It is not just a good exhibition, but a remarkable example of joint efforts, and this is not always that simple between those who work with art.

I would also like to thank the business community, because this is where the idea was born: with our colleagues and Russian and Austrian friends. Usually we go to business leaders and say: “It’s a fine exhibition, please help.” This time the idea did not come from us, and we acknowledge this, but it is fantastic and complies with the spirit of the dialogue as well as the artistic dialogue that our museums have.

Thank you very much. Please visit the next exhibition we are thinking about.

October 3, 2018, St Petersburg