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State Hermitage Museum displays items from its collection at the Prado Museum in Spain

Exhibition is part of a cultural exchange program between Spain and Russia

"The Hermitage in the Prado" show includes fine art paintings and ancient Siberian artifacts

Institutions share similarities: Both originally royal collections, both at "extremes" of Europe

London CNN  — 

They are two of Europe’s premier art destinations, filled with treasures amassed over centuries.

Now the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is presenting a “mini-museum” inside the Prado Museum in Madrid, showcasing paintings by Velazquez, Titian and Caravaggio, as well as ancient gold artifacts from Siberia.

“The Hermitage in the Prado” is the second part of an exhibition exchange – initiated as part of Spain-Russia Dual Year 2011, dedicated to promoting and strengthening the economic, political, cultural and scientific ties between the two nations – that saw the Prado exhibiting precious items from its own extensive collection in the State Hermitage Museum in February 2011.

“It was really the finest show that’s ever come out of the Prado and it reflected the idea of our museum, as it were, nestling inside theirs,” said Gabriele Finaldi, Deputy Director of the Prado Museum and curator of the exhibition.

Now some 180 items from the Hermitage’s world-class collection are nestling inside the many galleries of the Prado, ranging from archaeological pieces all the way to modern masterpieces by Kazimir Malevich.

But, Finaldi said, this isn’t a typical touring exhibition.

“You’ve got to remember that the Hermitage has not been visited by many Spaniards and it’s still far away and it’s still mysterious and exotic and we wanted the public to experience something of the special character of it, which is of course a palace as well as a museum,” said Finaldi.

Special furniture and ornaments typical to the Hermitage, such as granite vases, were brought in to decorate the galleries to make it look more like the Russian museum, whose collection was begun by the Empress Catherine the Great.

In a statement to the press in November, Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage, said: “With this exhibition, we wanted to tell the story of our museum and its collection and the history of the Tsars.”

In addition to the objects collected by the voracious Catherine the Great are ornate Scythian gold objects from the collection of earlier Tsar, Peter the Great.

“Never before has there been an exhibition like this, from and about the Hermitage, abroad,” Piotrovsky continued.

Aside from both having world-class collections, Finaldi points out that they have something else in common – both have their origins as royal collections.

“One can think of Catherine the Great in Russia and Charles the Fourth here in Spain, who collected with a real passion, because they were personally interested but also because they knew it brought glory to the monarchy and to the country,” said Finaldi.

“They’re also the two extremes of Europe, the Hermitage at the very top end and the Prado at the bottom end, so they’re the two extremes of Europe coming together, showing things that are on one level very similar and on another level, very different,” he finished.