Transhistorical Art

Today I had the privilege of visiting Treasury! at the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam. The exhibition is excellent, showcasing incredible works of art from the collections of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg that span millennia – from The Kostenki Venus (c. 23,000 BC) to Jan Fabre’s Stupidity Standing on Death (2016).

Based on a global view of art, Vincent Boele’s curatorial approach is rhizomatic and provides us with an enriching broader notion of art, beyond the well-established hierarchical view. The show can be interpreted as a counternarrative to the current political climate of divisions and nationalist agendas. In Treasury! world cultures and diverse techniques are presented in equal terms, confronting the stereotypical Eurocentric view of art firmly embedded in Western thought.


The Kostenki Venus (c.23,000 BC). Photo © the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg


In the main gallery, the works are displayed in pairs, juxtaposing interesting elements that connect them in form, approach or significance. At a glance, the pairing of works might simply suggest a binary opposition. On the contrary, this strategy frees them from the constraints of synchronic analysis, allowing the works to form their own rhizome with each other and reveal further connections that reverberate across the room. My favourite pairings are the two versions of ‘St George and the Dragon’; the nudes by “da Vinci” and Matisse; and the swans. Nonetheless, all the pairings are equally interesting and instigate further thought.


Icon The Miracle of St Georgen and the Dragon (16th century) & St George and the Dragon (c.1555–1558) by Tintoretto. Photos © the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Donna Nuda (16th century) by da Vinci (school) & Female Nude (1908) by Matisse. Photos © the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Swan (3rd century BC) Pazyryk, Altay, Russia & Stupidity Standing on Death (2016) by Jan Fabre. Photos © the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg


In the smaller rooms, you can walk through a vast collection of works representing the departments of the Hermitage. The wealth of the collection is remarkable. It is a majestic sample of what visitors can expect to see in Saint Petersburg.

In this show, the idea of the “other” never felt so antiquated. Engaging with art in its many levels connects us to the world as a whole and to each other. In today’s climate of fake news, mistrust and uncertainty, art can provide the ideal respite. The real wealth of Treasury! lies beyond the pricelessness of the works on display.


Hermitage Museum

Hermitage Amsterdam

A Broader View of Art by Vincent Boele


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