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Piero della Francesca. Monarch of Painting

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Piero della Francesca, Madonna col bambino, 1432-39, tempera su tavola. The Alana Collection

On 7 December 2018, Russian Orthodox St Catherine’s Day, the monographic exhibition Piero della Francesca opens in the State Hermitage, bringing together works by one of the most celebrated 14th-century masters from art collections in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Britain.

The exhibition provides a rare opportunity for people to acquaint themselves with this artist’s oeuvre, as there are no works by Piero della Francesca in Russian museum collections. The majority of the master’s important paintings are in Italy, in places less often visited by tourists: Urbino, Arezzo and Sansepolcro. The exhibition has been organized with the support of the public joint-stock petroleum refining company Rosneft.

The “discovery” of Piero della Francesca took place only in the middle of the 19th century. Prior to that, his works were often attributed to other artists or, scattered as they were in provincial towns of Italy, failed to attract especial attention. Nowadays there is great interest in Piero della Francesca and the artist himself is seen as a key figure in the Italian Quattrocento.

Piero della Francesca (1412(?)–1492) was born in the small settlement of Borgo Santo Sepolcro (now the town of Sansepolcro). He worked in various Italian artistic centres – Florence, Ferrara, Rimini, Rome, Urbina and Perugia – but always preferred to return to his native Borgo Santo Sepolcro or Arezzo, the chief town of the province. Piero played a prominent role in the life of Borgo, being repeatedly elected to various public positions. In the building of the local administration he painted a fresco of the Resurrection that became a symbol of the town.

Piero della Francesca worked at the courts of many Italian rulers, including the papal curia. Around the year 1450 Piero was in Ferrara, where he would have been able to acquaint himself with Netherlandish painting and in particular the works of Rogier van der Weyden, who had been invited to the city by the Marquis, Lionello d’Este. He may also have met with artists from the Low Countries at the court of the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro. From the northerners Piero adopted precision in the depiction of nature and the technique of painting in oils that was new to Italy.

The pinnacle of Piero’s work as a monumental artist, and indeed of the entire Quattrocento in general, is the cycle of frescoes on the Legend of the True Cross that he painted in the basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo between 1458 and 1466. Never before had such a cycle appeared in Renaissance art, marked by such clarity and correlation of all the forms to one another, an unusual colour scheme and precise perspective. The exhibition includes a film by Italian documentary-makers devoted to the Legend of the True Cross.

Piero della Francesca was also a portraitist. The names of the master’s clients are not always known, but the most important of them was undoubtedly Federico da Montefeltro. Piero produced a superb double portrait of the Duke and his wife with allegorical scenes of the couple’s triumphs on the other side of the panel (Uffizi Gallery, Florence). Federico was not only the ruler of Urbino but also one of Italy’s most successful condottieri. Such mercenary military commanders were a typical phenomenon of the Renaissance era.

We can also get an idea of such people from the Portrait of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (Louvre, Paris). When Piero painted his likeness in the early 1450s, Sigismondo was at the height of his fame. The strict profile view of his models was suggested to Piero by medals. When they were mastering the new genre of the era, the portrait, the medallists’ art and works of Classical Antiquity became important for Renaissance artists. In the portrait in the Louvre, the ruler of Rimini is presented from just that angel of view, which made it possible to bring out the subject’s most typical characteristics: an attractive face with coarse features testifying to strength and an indomitable will. Sigismondo is wearing sumptuous clothing, but without adornments, because he is an embodiment of simplicity and restraint.

Piero employed the same compositional scheme when recording the appearance of Federico da Montefeltro’s son, Guidobaldo. His portrait is kept in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. It is hard to imagine this charming youngster with fine features and blonde hair streaked with gold where the light catches it growing up to become a tyrannical duke, a condottiere, and at the same time someone who commissioned art from Raphael.

In Borgo Santo Sepolcro, Piero della Francesca produced a large altarpiece for the Augustinian Convent. The central panel has not survived, while the four side panels became dispersed to different collections. The Hermitage has managed to reunite three of them at the exhibition: Saint Augustine (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), The Archangel Michael (National Gallery, London) and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan). All the figures are shown on the same scale. Each of them loons up unshakeable as a rock, irrespective of who they are – bishop, warrior or monk. In his depiction of Augustine, Piero displayed his talent as a miniaturist: the saints mitre and dalmatic, decorated with embroidered Gospel stories, are reproduced with such a sense of authenticity that Piero can rival the Netherlandish artist in their ability to convey the materiality of things. Nicholas of Tolentino has such an individual look that the artist may well have had a monk pose for him who caught his attention with an exceptionally stout figure and an expressive face. The Archangel Michael is not so much a warrior, the “Prince of the Heavenly Host, standard-bearer of the most Holy Trinity”, as a bejewelled courtly knight who embodies the artist’s own conception of perfect youthful good looks.

Piero’s art is devoid of heightened emotionality and dynamism. It exemplifies the main principle of the Renaissance: the human being, full of beauty and dignity, is the centre of the universe and the surrounding world is harmonious. Piero’s indisputable masterpiece – the Madonna di Senigallia (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino) – dates from the late period in the artist’s career. The name of the picture comes from the location of the church for which it was painted. The Madonna di Senigallia can be viewed as the quintessence of Piero’s oeuvre. The main principles of his art are reflected in it particularly distinctly: the mathematical perception of shapes, carefully judged proportionality in the relationship of the figures, objects and space, a high degree of generalization and a consistent treatment of questions of lighting. The refined colour scheme is also beautiful, with the master giving preference to light, joyful hues.

In his final years, blindness prevented Piero della Francesca from working as a painter and he engaged in theoretical researches: his treatises on mathematics and geometry should be ranked alongside the contributions made in that field by Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Pacioli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Piero della Francesca was one of the first to discover the laws of perspective. His works include a unique manuscript On Perspective in Painting that is in the collection of the Fondazione Palazzo Magnani and provides a basis for an understanding of the whole of perspective and the essence of the visual illusions of the Renaissance.

It is important to note that the bulk of the expenses for the preparation of the exhibition have been covered by the general sponsor – the petroleum refining company Rosneft. Rosneft’s activities are an example of socially responsible business. The company actively supports significant events in Russia’s cultural life. It provides funding for projects that determine the cultural look of the country, influence national identity and form an understanding of high culture in society. The State Hermitage expresses its gratitude to Rosneft for its collaboration, invaluable support for the museum and the opportunity to show visitors works by one of the most celebrated artists of the 15th century.

The exhibition curator is Tatiana Kirillovna Kustodieva, Candidate of Art Studies, leading researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art.

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UNESCO open exhibition “The World in Faces” at its Paris headquarters

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On Thursday, July 8, at the headquarters of UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris, the exhibition “The World in Faces” of the famous Russian photographer Alexander Khimushin opened. The author personally presented a collection of more than 170 artistic photographic portraits of representatives of different peoples of the world, shot in authentic national dress in places of residence. The exhibition is dedicated to the upcoming International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and Their Languages. It is a celebration of multiculturalism and our incredible ethnic diversity at its best.

“In the photographs from the project “The World in Faces” I express my philosophy of life, which has been formed over the years of travel. It was through meetings with representatives of different nationalities, contact with their cultures, that I came to understand that all of them – with an incredible ethnic diversity – are people just like you and me. They are simply trying to artificially divide us by borders and ideologies,” explains Khimushin.

The exhibition is a great way to tell the world about indigenous peoples and draw attention to their problems.

The people in Khimushin’s portraits managed to preserve their originality, traditions and former way of life. But it is more and more difficult for them to do this – small peoples are rapidly approaching complete extinction, the languages ​​and traditions of their ancestors are forgotten. “The world in Faces” reminds how important it is not to let them disappear without a trace.

The idea to create a collection of photographic portraits of indigenous peoples in national dress and in their native environment was born in 2014, when Alexander had already accumulated a considerable amount of work done in the most exotic locations – from Samoa and Fiji to Swaziland. Since then, he has never stopped traveling around the world, and his project is growing and becoming a phenomenon.

“Initially, when I started working on the project, I had a dream – to exhibit at the UN. UNESCO is a UN structure that deals specifically with cultural issues and, accordingly, since I am engaged in the preservation of cultures, traditions, languages ​​that are disappearing today – it was important and honorable for me to exhibit my works at UNESCO. I don’t know what will happen next. In principle, I think that these should be large international platforms, since the project goes beyond Russia. The project is worldwide. I’m not going to complete the project. I plan to travel and collect stories, photographs, from all over the world – and I will be glad to consider proposals for global exhibitions that would show us – humanity – that we live in this world are different, each has its own culture, traditions, we must respect people who belong to other cultures. At the same time, the general humanistic component is that the whole world is one and all people are brothers,” notes Khimushin.

In 2018, Khimushin went to the Russian Arctic – Taimyr. The result was a series of portraits of the region’s indigenous inhabitants – Dolgans, Nganasans, Enets, Nenets, Evenks.

“Taimyr is unique in that it is a distant, cold place. For me, this was not something new, since I grew up in Yakutia (the Far East of Russia is the cold pole on the planet), but it is the peoples living there – the Nenets, Dolgans, Nganasans, they have a unique culture, their way of life and reindeer husbandry have been preserved. It was interesting to visit, thanks to Norilsk Nickel (The world’s largest high-grade nickel and palladium producer), to get to these places. I would like to return to Taimyr, shoot more there, if there is such an opportunity,” the artist noted.

The Norilsk Nickel company, which takes an active part in the fate of the small peoples of the Arctic, supported the Khimushin project.

“Our company supports the work of Alexander Khimushin, because thanks to his work, the whole world can see amazing, beautiful people living in remote corners of our planet. Including representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North of Russia, who managed to preserve a unique, original culture and traditions. The preservation of nature, traditions and culture of indigenous peoples, support and new opportunities for the development of ancestral activities – these are the themes that bring countries, international and commercial organizations, artists and creators together, “said Tatyana Smirnova Head of Public Relations MMC Norilsk Nickel.

Khimushin became the first Russian photographer to have an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York. Works from The World in Faces project were exhibited at the University of Lille in France, and for six months were broadcast on the screen of the world’s largest digital art center in Bordeaux.

The exhibition at the headquarters of UNESCO will run until the end of August 2021.

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Russia, Egypt Launch the Year of Humanitarian Cooperation

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Russia and Egypt have opened the next chapter in their bilateral relations as the Assistant Foreign Minister for Cultural Relations, Ambassador Mahmoud Talaat, described the launch of the Russia-Egypt Year of Humanitarian Cooperation as a “bright spot” in the history of joint relations.

Addressing the launch ceremony on behalf of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Talaat said the event comes within the framework of strategic relations between the two countries that reflected in a humanitarian exchange document, which was signed by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi.

Both officials reviewed Cairo-Moscow distinguished relations that have been growing in all fields, mainly at the political, economic, scientific, cultural and social levels. They pointed out to the close historic ties binding both counties and their peoples.

Russia’s Deputy Minister of Culture Olga Yarilova who led the Russian delegation in the meeting emphasized the strength of relations between Cairo and Moscow. She added that the agenda of the Cairo-Moscow year of human exchange will include several cultural, tourism, sports, youth and educational events and activities among the two countries’ cities and regions.

Culture Minister Enas Abdel Dayem and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Culture Olga Yarilova jointly launched the kick-off event at the Cairo Opera House, in the presence of Chairman of the Cairo Opera Magdy Saber, alongside a number of ministers, ambassadors and leaders of the Ministry of Culture.

Beryozka (Berezka) Dance Ensemble, one of the internationally renowned and oldest Russian dance troupes, presented a number of artistic shows on Russian folklore. The Ensemble is a troupe of female dancers founded by Russian choreographer and dancer Nadezhda Nadezhdina in 1948 in the Soviet Union which specializes in performing in long gowns and moving across the stage as though on wheels or floating.

It is worth mentioning that Russia has been chosen as the guest of honor for the Ismailia International Festival for Documentary and Short Films, set for June 16-22.

The Egyptian culture and foreign ministries and Russian bodies concerned have prepared an agenda, including 23 cultural and artistic events throughout the whole year, with the participation of the culture ministry’s sectors and authorities. The cultural programmes will run till May 2022, and as part of the preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit planned for next year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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“Kharibulbul” festival represents a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multicultural Azerbaijan

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As a country of multiculturalism, Azerbaijan promotes the cross-cultural dialogue inside the country, but also at the regional level. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan regards the existence of a people as the result of the civil and political self-determination of the peoples in Azerbaijan. For the time being, Azerbaijan is populated by representatives of over 30 national minorities such as Talysh, Kurd, Lezghi, Tat, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Inghiloy, Tatar, Avar, Ahyska Turk, Jewish, German, Greek and others. All of them enjoy the cultural societies. Representatives of three main religious confessions – Islamic, Christian and Judaic communities participate jointly at various public ceremonies and cultural events. Support and preservation of the cultural diversity are reflected in the State policy of Azerbaijan.

The ongoing clashes near Nagorno-Karabakh started after Armenia attacked Azerbaijani civilians and military on September 27. Azerbaijan won its historic Victory in 44 days, liberated its lands, dealt crushing blows to the enemy, and defeated Armenia. As a result of this defeat, Armenia was forced to sign capitulation and surrender. Thus, Armenia’s 30-year policy of aggression has come to an end. During this time, the glorious Azerbaijani Army has liberated many settlements from the enemy. Thousands of citizens have volunteered for military service across the country to fight Armenia’s increased military aggression. The volunteers come from various ethnic, religious, social backgrounds and are united around the cause to restore the country’s territorial integrity as well as justice.

Despite all this, Azerbaijanis are not the enemy of the Armenian people. Azerbaijan is a multinational state. Thousands of Armenians live in Azerbaijan, primarily in Baku. Armenia, which has created a society intolerant towards other nations and religions, has tried to completely erase the ancient Albanian, Orthodox, Muslim religious and cultural heritage that historically existed in the occupied territories of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Azerbaijan. It has either completely destroyed cultural and spiritual heritage of the Azerbaijani people or falsified their history and origins by Armenianizing and Gregorianizing it. In the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, mosques, temples and cemeteries, historical monuments, museums, libraries have been destroyed and looted, Caucasian Albanian Christian temples and Russian Orthodox churches have been Gregorianized, mosques have been turned into barns and subjected to unprecedented insults such as keeping animals forbidden in Islam in them. The Armenian regime, which has been pursuing aggressive policies for years, has ignored the norms of international law and international humanitarian law, has committed environmental crimes in the occupied territories through fires, the use of phosphorus bombs, poisonous substances and mines. Today, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh region, also they can normally live only within the Azerbaijani state. The Azerbaijani people are tolerant.

It is also well known by the world public that the Republic of Azerbaijan, diverse in terms of ethnic and religious background, fought to liberate its historic territories from occupation that had nothing to do with Christianity. Secondly, Muslims, Christians, and Jews – representatives of all nations and religions living in our country – fought alongside Azerbaijanis in the armed forces of Azerbaijan. These people were united around the “ Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” slogan by Mr. Ilham Aliyev, Commander – in – Chief of the victorious army, and not false religious appeals. Among them are those who displayed unequalled heroism falling martyrs, wounded, and awarded with supreme orders and medals of the Republic of Azerbaijan. 

 As with the beginning of the conflict, there are lots of officers and soldiers – representatives of the nations and religious communities living in Azerbaijan – who serve in Azerbaijan’s national army and display outstanding valor in liberating our country from occupation. Azerbaijani nation doesn’t discriminate between its heroic sons and martyrs on ethnic and religious background.

Mr. President Ilham Aliyev, who played a major role in this historic victory of Azerbaijan, said the followings: “Our advantage lies in the fact that representatives of all nations living in Azerbaijan feel themselves as comfortable as in their families and motherland. The fraternity and friendly relationships between various nations is our big wealth and we have to protect it. Our policy will also be pursued in the future. Representative of all the nations living in Azerbaijan displayed outstanding courage and heroism in the Second Karabakh war, falling martyrs, fighting for the cause of Motherland, and embracing death under the Azerbaijani flag. This is the society we have in our country and it is our big wealth».

For your information, “Kharibulbul” music  festival, bearing the name of symbolic flower growing in Shusha, was first organized in Shusha’s fabulous Jidyr glade in May 1989.  30 years later on May, the 12th “Kharibulbul” music  festival in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital Shusha was organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and will be held every year hereafter.

Musical creativity of different nations living in Azerbaijan on Jidyr glade within the festival was introduced devoted to “ Multiculturalism in Azerbaijani music” as a program comprising folk and classic musics.

Representatives of various nations living in our country demonstrated stage performance. All nations living in Azerbaijan have contributed to our joint victory. The Patriotic War once again proved that all nations live in fraternity, friendhips, and solidarity in Azerbaijan and there is national unity and solidarity in the country.We are sure that Shusha will host numerous music festivals and international conferences.

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