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© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

AMSTERDAM.- Saturday 16 June 2018 marked the opening day of Hermitage Amsterdam’s new exhibition, Classic Beauties. Artists, Italy and the Esthetic Ideals of the 18th Century. The show tells the story of the artists and tourists, who flocked to Italy, and more especially Rome, in the second half of the eighteenth century. From all over Europe they travelled to the Eternal City in search of inspiration and to see for themselves the newly excavated classical Greco-Roman sculptures and buildings. Their experiences prompted an austere kind of fashionable architecture, but in the visual arts, a new, unprecedentedly sensual style sent shock waves through society: a naked, superhuman beauty more daring than anything attempted by the Greeks and Romans. Neoclassicism was born.  

Craze 
The archaeological finds sparked a craze for travel among young aristocrats across the continent. Many spent months travelling to and sightseeing in Italy. Among them were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the ‘Count and Countess of the North’ (the later Russian Tsar Paul I and his wife Maria Fyodorovna). In the course of their ‘Grand Tour’ they encountered the greatest artists of the day. 

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Johann Friedrich August Tischbein, Portrait of Tsarevich Paul, n.d. Private collection.

With over sixty sculptures, paintings and drawings by 25 top names, the exhibition offers visitors their own Grand Tour of Italy. On the way, it introduces them to the artists of the period, including Pompeo Batoni, Anton Raphael Mengs, Angelica Kauffmann, Giovanni Piranesi and – most celebrated of all – Antonio Canova. The show features no fewer than eight sculptures by the latter, including his iconic Three Graces, Amor and Psyche and Hebe. 

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Antonio Canova, The Three Graces1812 © Aurelio Amendola / State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

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Antonio Canova, The Three Graces, 1812–16 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

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Antonio Canova, The Three Graces, 1812–16 (detail) © Aurelio Amendola / State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg 

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Antonio Canova, The Three Graces, 1812–16 (detail) © Aurelio Amendola / State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Antonio Canova, Hebe, 1800–5 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Antonio Canova, Hebe, 1800–5 (detail) © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Antonio Canova, Hebe, 1800–5 (detail) © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Antonio Canova, Dancer, 1805–12 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

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Antonio Canova, Dancer, 1805–12 (detail) © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

A rich selection 
To create Classic Beauties, the Hermitage Amsterdam has had exclusive access to the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The displays are further enriched with loans from other private and public collections, including the Royal Collections in The Hague and the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (The Netherlands). 

Music Tour 
Visitors enjoy a special audio guide, existing of three routes: music, mythology and highlights. Classical music DJ Von Rosenthal produced a soundtrack for this echibition, available as a music tour in the audio set. He created a romantic atmosphere with music that supplies a deeply sensual aspect to the spectacular works of Canova, Mengs and Kauffmann, among others. In the past, Von Rosenthal has provided a very well reviewed soundtrack for the exhibition Spanish Masters from the Hermitage in 2016. The audioguide is included in the entrance ticket.  

Publications 
Three special publications appear at this exhibition. The richly illustrated catalogue includes contributions from curators and authors Thera Coppens, Eric Moormann and Bernard Woelderink. Dutch and English. 

In addition, well-known Dutch author Arnon Grunberg wrote a short story entitled Angst voor het naakt (Fear the nude), which is published in a small, beautifully bound edition. Dutch only. 

A special notebook is published as well: Couture for Canova, for which six very different Dutch fashion designers have dressed Canova's sculpture of Hebe. The result is a colourful collection of designs for the goddess.

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Anton Raphael Mengs, The Judgement of Paris, c. 1757 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Anton Raphael Mengs, Parnassus, after 1761 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Anton Raphael Mengs, Perseus and Andromeda, 1778 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Pompeo Batoni, Allegory of Voluptuousness, 1747 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Angelica Kauffmann, Virgil reading the Aeneid to Octavia and Augustus, 1788 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Pierre Jacques Volaire, Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, c. 1771 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Hubert Robert, Palace Entrance with a Portico and Caryatids, 1800 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Giovanni Paolo Panini, Sybil speaking amidst Roman Ruins, with the Apollo Belvedere, 1740–50 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Jacob Philipp Hackert, Maecenas’ Villa and the Waterfalls at Tivoli, 1783 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

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Angelica Kauffmann, Self-portrait, c. 1787 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg