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A Celebration of Iranian Culture at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in June 2004

As one of the world’s most celebrated museums the Hermitage houses more than three and a half million works of art. The Persian and Central Asian works of art in the Hermitage collections are truly unique. These collections cover both the Islamic as well as the pre-Islamic periods. The holdings include one of the most important collections in the world of silver objects from the Sasanian period, the only known Persian carpet that can be dated to the Achaemenid period and the unique collection of Scythian gold.

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Youth Holding a Bottle, Iran, 16th century. Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum
and the Iran Heritage Foundation

Under the direction of Dr Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Museum, a number programmes and events of Persian interest will be presented at the Hermitage in June 2004. It is hoped that these events and programmes will enhance the overall awareness of the Persian collections at the Hermitage.

The two main events are a conference and an exhibition.

The Conference
The conference, which is jointly organised by the Museum and the UK-based Iran Heritage Foundation is entitled The Study of Persian Culture in the West—Sixteenth to Early Twentieth Century and will take place on 24-27 June 2004. It will investigate the evolution of western interest in Persian history and culture.

Starting in the 16th century, an interest emerged in Italy and the Iberian Peninsula to accumulate knowledge about Persian history and culture. This interest spread to England, Holland (the Netherlands) and other European countries in the 17th century and eventually led to the establishment of chairs at universities, the formation of collections of printed books and manuscripts in libraries and also the accumulation of both public and private art collections. Important personalities and scholars emerged, who shaped Europe’s thinking on this subject. The 19th century saw the beginning of a very significant number of archaeological excavations which not only enhanced knowledge about ancient Persia but also enriched many European museums and collections with extraordinary Persian works of art.

The late 18th and early 19th century witnessed also a much expanded interest in Persian literature. Many important literary works were translated and these translations were the inspiration for important works by literary European fi gures like Goethe in Germany. The purpose of this conference is to investigate this history of the study of Persian culture from the 16th century to the early parts of the 20th century. The papers presented will discuss scholars, academics and cultural institutions; archaeological missions, art and artefacts; dealers, curators, art-historians and collectors; analysis of the political, cultural and economic conditions that served as the background against which the interest in the country and Persian culture took shape and found a direction; the objectives and motivations behind this interest in the Persian world.

The conference is convened by Dr A Adamova of the Hermitage (the author of this article) and Farhad F Hakimzadeh of the Iran Heritage Foundation. Approximately 40 speakers from Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, The Netherlands, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States of America will be presenting papers.

The conference will be convened in the Hermitage Theatre which was constructed by Catherine the Great. This is the same venue that hosted the Third International Congress on Iranian Art and Archaeology in 1935. The 1935 conference was accompanied by the largest temporary exhibition of Persian art ever organised, which included more than 20,000 objects.

We hope to be able to publish the proceedings of the June 2004 conference by December 2005.

The Exhibition
An exhibition entitled Iran in the Hermitage: Formation of the Collections has been organised in conjunction with the conference and will be inaugurated on the fi rst day of the conference and stay on view till the autumn of 2004. Drawing exclusively from the Museum’s own collections, it sheds light on how the collections were formed and how the cultures of the Iranian world were studied at the Museum. It also looks at the Iranian infl uences on closely connected cultures such as that of the Scythians and Sarmatians.

A section on Iran and the Caucasus traces the Sasanian model as evident in Byzantine and Sogdian works of art. One of the focal points is the 19th century when Russian-Iranian contacts were at a peak whether through war, diplomatic mission or other means. One of the highlights of this section undoubtedly is the panoramic scroll of The Extraordinary Embassy to Tehran with views of Persia that chronicles the 1895 embassy under General A N Kuropatkin as it traversed Persia from Enzeli to Tehran. The embassy was sent from St Petersburg to Persia in connection with the enthronement of Nicolas II in order to ensure the continuation of mutual good relations between Russia and Persia.

Other Russian works of art depict the drawings and lithographs of the Persian monarch and envoys who visited St Petersburg throughout the 19th century. The exhibition spans a period from the third millennium BC to the late 19th century, and is accompanied by a very elaborate catalogue.

The Oriental, Numismatics, Archaeology of Eastern Europe and Siberia, Antiquities, West European, and History of Russian Cultures departments of the Museum all worked together under the curatorial direction of Dr A Adamova and Dr A Nikitin in the creation of this exhibition. A special feature throughout is that the selected objects consist almost exclusively of items that have not been on view to the public for many decades, with many being unpublished. The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue provide us with a unique opportunity to view the majority of these objects for the first time. The exhibition will be shown in the galleries adjacent to the Winter Garden.

Dr Adel T Adamova is Senior Research Associate and Curator of the Iranian Collections, Oriental Department, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.

Images featured in this article | View print edition article

  1. Youth Holding a Bottle, Iran, 16th century. Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum
    and the Iran Heritage Foundation.
  2. Relief fragment from Persepolis, Iran, fifth century BC. Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and the Iran Heritage Foundation.
  3. The north façade of the Winter Palace, which is part of the Hermitage Man in a Large Turban, Iran, 17th century. Courtesy of the Hermitage.
  4. Man in a Large Turban, Iran, 17th century. Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and the Iran Heritage Foundation.

Author: Editor

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