First section: open-mindedness
The first part of the exhibition, in the main gallery, will present visitors with paired works of art from many different periods and cultures. Chosen for their surprising similarities, visual or otherwise, these playful and exciting pairings will reveal similarities and differences between cultures and over time that will encourage visitors to adopt a more open and attentive attitude. Art is exciting and stimulating, offering many new discoveries, even in works that have long been familiar.
Art history is not a matter of degrees of authenticity or originality; it is about the narratives and meanings that underlie art objects. One of the interesting aspects of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg is that it stands literally on the dividing line between East and West. This is evident in its collections, which display stylistic features and reciprocal influences from all directions. The history of art is not unitary. Every culture, every period, even every individual art historian writes a different art history. Sometimes there are what you might call ‘blanks’. And the collection of the Hermitage is particularly well equipped to hold up a mirror to us, enabling us to understand the history of art just that little bit better. That is what makes this exhibition so unique.
The displays will also reveal that the interpretation of a work of art is not set in stone. One man’s ‘Late Gothic’ is another man’s ‘Early Renaissance’. What one historian regards as Byzantine, another may call Eastern Roman. We do well to realise this, so that we can approach art with an open mind and perhaps try to look at it as children do, without preconceptions and with new eyes.