Palace square is big, I mean really, really big*, on the monumental scale it’s close to titanic. So in the middle of winter with only a few people in the square you feel ant like walking across the centre of the square, all of which may have been the intent. The Hermitage, an imperial palace damaged by fire then rebuilt, a treasure trove of art, the sight of the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1905, yes that Sergei Eisenstein film, then later the headquarters of the Kerensky government after the Tsar’s abdication, yes this is the government building that the Red Army stormed during the glorious October revolution of 1917**.
This is a huge museum, a collection that outstrips the Louvre in scale, and exceeds it in curation. You could spend a week solid here, hell a month, and still not see everything. The Hermitage is also a palace, it was Catherine the Great’s home and she clearly wanted it to show off her Imperial majesty, so unlike most other museum this one breathes opulence at every turn, sort of like a mashup of the Louvre with Versaille, but with excellent conservation values. The Hermitage is also one of Galina’s favourite places, back in the day when her family visited St Petersburg she’d spend days exploring the exhibition, revisiting her favourites again and again.
Tip for visitors if you’re a foreigner then tickets cost more, so if you can go with a Russian friend, or better yet visit on the first thursday of every month when it’s free (expect crowds). If you like Impressionists then the Hermitage’s collection is a must see, the Matisse and Van Gogh collections alone are worth the visit. In fact everything is worth a visit and the regret is that we didn’t have time to see it all.
*Thanks to Douglas Adams 🙂
**All successful revolutions are glorious.
The baroque grandeur of the Winter Palace of the Tsars (The Hermitage) with the Guard Corps headquarters building off to the right.
The Empire style of the General Staff building with it’s double arch and surmounting roman quadriga celebrating the victory of Russia over Napoleon, not a victory against the French you understand, just against the little corporal.
Galina and the grand gates of the Hermitage topped by the double headed golden eagle of Imperial Russia, you can tell they’re imperial by the crown 🙂
A little more of that double eagle action
Apollo and Minerva (Athena) surrounded by the nine muses. If you look carefully you can see a little owl baby at the feet of Minerva, which was her companion and symbol of wisdom. Apollo is accompanied by (I think) a raven at his feet in turn. You can also pick what the muses are by looking at their accoutrements, see for example the Greek comedic mask at the feet of the second from right muse. Oh and I think that’s a Griffin between Apollo and Minerva. Roman relief of the 2nd Century from the Antiquities collection.
Slightly more realistic relief of Roman gents looking serious
Girl, well actually it’s Ganymede, feeding the eagle, well actually it’s Zeus, in disguise, again. Ganymede is about to get kidnapped by Zeus and spirited away to Olympus to be the god’s cup bearer. These days of course Zeus would be on a no-fly watch list and Ganymede would have an AVO out on him…
The twenty column hall, one of the state rooms of the Hermitage. The walls of the hall are decorated with painted panels based on subjects found on the walls of Etruscan burial chambers.
Pot… Well actually it’s a Greek vase, you can tell the age of Greek vases by looking whether it’s a black figures (pre 530BCE) or red ochre figures (after). Red figure style is more realistic in it’s portrayal of the human figure.
A look across the Neva to the Peter and Paul fortress.
Boy crouching, by Michelangelo.
The repentant Magdalene by Canova (1809), there are two of these the first is in Genoa. At the time they were considered outstanding in France, “the greatest work of modern times” according to the novelist Stendhal, myself not so much really (and frankly neither did Canova). You can find it in the Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting.
Dome from the Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting done in Greek revival style.
Bernard Pallisy rustic dish in ceramic with snake and fishes (16th century). Bernard was an amateur naturalist at time when the discovery of the America’s filled with new animals and peoples had sparked an interest in the natural world unseen before.
Yet more gilt chandeliers.
The Crimson Room (Boudoir). Part of the private rooms of Empress Maria Alexandrovna
The small throne room, in the time of the Tsars diplomats would gather here on New Years day to offer good wishes to the Tsar. The painting behind is of Peter the first with Minerva (luck lady).