Two of the masterpieces that are making the trip across Europe, Titian’s “Venus with the Organist and Cupid” (c.1555) from the Museo Nacional del Prado, and Henri Matisse’s “Conversation” (1908-12) from the Hermitage (images via

Two European museum powerhouses, the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, have signed an agreement to temporarily swap 236 art masterpieces in what it is an unprecedented exchange between two major art institutions. The deal will involve two exhibitions that will expose the populations of St. Petersburg and Madrid to the artistic heritage of the other city.

From February 25 to May 29, St. Petersburg will kick things off with The Prado at the Hermitage, which will feature 66 paintings from the landmark Spanish institution’s high-quality collection of Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools. Then later this year, November 8, 2011, to March 26, 2012, The Prado will present Treasures from the Hermitage, which will include 170 art works, including drawings, sculptures, decorative arts and archeological objects, ranging from the 5th C. BCE to today.

This artistic dialogue between two of the most celebrated museums of Europe will be the symbol of a big year-round event named Dual Year Spain-Russia 2011 that will include more than 300 events in a variety of fields.

History of the Prado & the Hermitage

Catherine the Great founded the Hermitage museum in 1764 and today it holds more than two and a half million works with strong collections of Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist works, in addition to outstanding collections of individual artists like Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse. After the Revolution of 1917, the Hermitage’s collection was augmented by the addition of modern works taken from private collections and Nazi Germany. Only recently have some of its treasures started to travel around the world, though some controversy about the treasures acquired during the 20th C. still remains.

The Prado Museum also has a royal pedigree as the former Spanish royal collection forms the foundation of its holdings, which includes works by countless Old Masters, including Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, and Bosch. The national institution is housed in an 18th-century Neoclassical building that opened as a museum in 1819.

What’s Traveling

Among some of the works that the Spanish museum is sending to Russia is a selection of portraits of the “founders” of The Prado like “Charles V” by Titian, “Philip IV” by Velazquez or “Ferdinand VII” by Goya. There’s also a big selection of religious paintings as this is an essential part of the museum’s collection; El Greco’s “Christ Carrying the Cross,” Murillo’s “Virgin with a Rosary,” and Titian’s “Venus and Cupid with an Organist,” along with works by Zurbarán, Rubens, Watteau, and others.

For its part, the Hermitage will lend such iconic works as Titian’s “Saint Sebastian” (1575), Caravaggio’s “The Lute Player” (c.1600), and Velázquez’s “Three Men at a Table (aka The Luncheon)” (1618), as well as paintings by Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse, Kandinsky, and Malevich. The Russian museum will also send two important Rembrandt works, “Portrait of a Scholar” and “Haman Accepts his Fate.” In terms of significant pieces of sculpture, Bernini’s terra cotta study for “The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” and Canova’s “Mary Magdalene in Meditation” (1809) will also make the trip to the Iberian peninsula.

Two versions of Juan Bautista Maino’s “Adoration of the Shepherds,” the one of the left is at the Hermitage (c.1613) and the one of the right is from the collection of the Prado (1611-1613) (images from &

Some of the works have been carefully chosen to increase the sense of friendship between the two countries. Two versions of Juan Bautista Maino’s “Adoration of the Shepherds” — each museum has a different version of the same scene — will be included. The Prado will sending the portrait of Peter Ivanowitz Potemkin, the Russian ambassador, painted by Carreño de Miranda, and the portrait of General José de Urrutia by Goya to St. Petersburg. The General was awarded  the Cross of Saint George by Catherine the Great for his actions at the siege of Ozaku (Crimea) in 1789.

The Prado at the Hermitage will take place at the Hermitage (2, Palace Square, St. Petersburg) from February 25 to May 29, and the Treasures from the Hermitage will take place at The Prado (Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23, Madrid) from November 8, 2011, to March 26, 2012.

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Jorge Martin

Jorge Martin Vila is an independent curator born in Spain and living in Brooklyn. He writes about art for a variety of media, and assists in the production and exhibition of artwork. He also blogs at