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Russian art on loan in Italy reprieved under new Hermitage deal

Russia's culture ministry climbs down from original demands.

The Hermitage in St Petersburg has dropped its demands for an immediate return of its masterpieces currently on loan to Italian art institutions in Milan and Rome, allowing them to stay in Italy for "several more weeks".

The mitigated deal between the Hermitage and the Russian culture ministry was announced on Monday evening following mediation talks by the Ermitage Italia Foundation, reports Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The move comes five days after Russia's culture ministry sought the immediate return of the Hermitage art works on loan to Italy, as the world of culture became embroiled in repercussions from the invasion of Ukraine and international sanctions on Moscow.

The news will affect two major exhibitions in Milan: Grand Tour at the Gallerie d'Italia which contains 25 pieces from the Russian museum including Canova's Winged Cupid, and a Titian show at Palazzo Reale, due to end in June, featuring Young Woman with Feather Hat by the Venetian master.

There is also Picasso's Young Woman, on loan from the Hermitage, on display for the first time in Italy by the Alda Fendi Foundation at Palazzo Rhinoceros in Rome, due to end in May.

The Hermitage works on show at Gallerie d'Italia will be allowed to remain until the exhibition's scheduled end date of 27 March, and while no date has been provided yet for the return of the works on loan to Palazzo Reale and Fondazione Fendi, there is "certainly no longer talk of immediate withdrawal", reports online art newspaper Finestre sull'Arte.

Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovskij, quoted in Italian newspaper La Stampa, stated: "The paintings by Titian and Picasso will continue to hang on the walls of museums for several weeks", while the Hermitage works in the Grand Tour exhibition, "upon agreement with the organisers, will be withdrawn immediately upon official closing."

"We are very sorry that cultural relations between our countries have collapsed in such 'darkness'" - Piotrovskij said - "We always say that the bridges of culture are blown up last. Now the time has come to protect them."

"Today's museum situation must show a way of solving serious problems in a very complicated world in order not to become an instrument of political struggle", said the Hermitage director, concluding: "We need new approaches and agreements without a return to Cold War rhetoric.”

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