The Ladies of the Hermitage

Written by  Andrea Ghisellini

Irina Artemieva and Francesca Cappelletti are hoping to make Ferrara a great workshop of art, research and restoration linking Russia and Italy.

“An Academy in Italy? It is a dream which is finally being realised. A place dedicated to culture and research, where scholars and experts from our two countries can work together, deepening their respective knowledge.” In her brand new office on the piano nobile of the Castello Estense, 55-year old Irina Artemieva, vice-director of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and Russian director of Hermitage Italia, has no doubts. “Since the period of Catherine the Great, our country has witnessed the development of a school of restoration which, in conservation terms, is based on the traditions fixed in the 1916 regulations, at one of the most important international conferences of the last century. Today a reciprocal exchange of experiences, with technological and methodological comparisons and updates, seems a truly valuable opportunity. At Ferrara we will be occupied above all with research and restoration, since the objective of our agreement is essentially scientific. And the exhibitions which we will organise will be connected to this work.” Francesca Cappelletti, the Italian director of Hermitage Italia, concurs. “The Study Centre inaugurated on 20 October by the President - explains Cappelletti, 43 year old lecturer in modern art at the University of Ferrara and originally from Rome - will be just this: a major opportunity for young researchers, for restoration laboratory staff in Italy and abroad, and for their pupils and students. A scientific workshop dedicated to study, conservation and the diffusion of an enormous heritage which is still largely unknown. We will follow the routes of the thousands of works which from the eighteenth century onwards began to circulate between Italy and Russia, following the journeys of major art merchants but also of leading noble and bourgeois families who over the years built a veritable treasury: paintings, panels, pictures of all kinds which finally ended in the salons or the storerooms of the Hermitage.” More than just restoration. Since among the “Ferrarese” objectives of the project, so to speak, is a determined effort to reconstitute the relationships which following the Devolution of the Duchy to the Pope in 1598 contributed to the artistic impoverishment and the decline of the city. This is an extraordinary opportunity, then, as is that of 5 April 2008 when an exhibition dedicated to Garofalo, one of the most important Ferrarese artists of the sixteenth century, will launch Hermitage Italia’s new season of major international events. Four major paintings will arrive from the museum on the River Neva: The Deposition of Christ, The Marriage at Cana, the Via Crucis and an allegory of the Old and New Testaments, which was rolled up for over 50 years and can finally be enjoyed once more after restoration.