St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum has started a new initiative - that of loaning its millions of exhibits around the world for everyone to see.
At present, the "Baby Hermitage" as it is called, has opened in London's Somerset House with a vast range of exhibits from the amazing collection of pieces of art collected by Catherine the Great.
The Hermitage was set up by Queen Catherine in 1764 to house her enormous collection of works, which range from Chinese hair decoration to miniature jewels, from carved emeralds to gold medals.
The collection will be changed every six months - the Hermitage's collection is so rich that it is reported that the work of cataloguing all its pieces has not yet finished. There are plans for other "Baby hermitage" Museums to be set up in Amsterdam, new York and Las Vegas, giving the world's populations the chance to see Russia's cultural heritage without having to travel half-way round the planet to see it in St. Petersburg, where anyway only 5% of the exhibits can be displayed at any one time. This remarkable and altruistic initiative could be a solution for other European museums.
At present there is a cultural war between Greece and the United Kingdom over the British Museum's Parthenon panels. These carved marble panels, which date from the fifth century BCE (Before Christian Era), were "transported" to England by Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in 1806, to decorate his country house. The Lord, soon after faced with financial ruin, saw himself forced to sell the pieces to the British Museum, in return for the sum of 35,000, a fortune at the time.
The Museum received the pieces, the Lord received his money but Greece lost its marbles. Recently a diplomatic campaign has been launched by Greece, which wants its pieces back before the Olympic Games of 2004. The British Museum refuses to speak about the matter, stating that they were transported to England in 1806 under legal conditions.
Meanwhile, the Greek authorities are planning a new Acropolis Museum, a magnificent building, which will remain empty until the panels are returned. An initiative such as the Hermitage's would solve this, and other, problems.
As the world comes closer together and the global planet becomes a tangible reality, the future may well lie in Russia's initiative - treasures belong to the individual countries but can be unselfishly considered as World Patrimony, to travel the globe in mobile, temporary exhibitions.