by Susan Kime

Our two-week Viking River Cruise journey ended in St. Petersburg, and among many other compelling, memorable, activities, we went to The Hermitage, one of the great museums of the world.  I have been to many museums worldwide, but this one easily rivals the Louvre in Paris and the Met in New York in terms of size and quality of  objets d’art. Its collections, where only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items, that includes the largest collection of paintings in the world.

The Palace Courtyard, Hermitage with Alexander Column

The Palace Courtyard, Hermitage with Alexander Column

And a warning: you can’t, or perhaps shouldn’t, see it all in one day. The evolutionary course of many cultures as seen through their art, is housed here, and there is just so much a human brain can hold. Wandering, with some guidance, seems a good way to go. Wear comfortable shoes also, but a warning: you can’t bring water bottles into the Hermitage. So drink up beforehand, and carry mints and chewing gum to quench thirst. The good news is you can take pictures. In some Russian museums, like the State Armoury Museum and the Tretyakov in Moscow, and the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg, you can’t.

Hermitage Exterior Museum Entrance

Hermitage Exterior Museum Entrance

The Hermitage as a whole, occupies a large complex of six buildings along the Palace Embankment, overlooking the Neva River. These include the Winter Palace, the residence of Russian emperors, the Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage and Hermitage Theatre. All can be accessed and viewed.

A little history here –the origins of the Hermitage can be traced back to the private art collection of Peter the Great, who lived in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. He purchased numerous works during his travels abroad and hung them in his residence; but he died in 1725 before he could conceptualize a museum, based on his art collection. This was accomplished by his wife, Catherine, and the Hermitage was formally founded as an art museum in 1764.

Close-Up, Exterior Hermitage.

Close-Up, Exterior Hermitage.

The Hermitage buildings served as a home and workplace for nearly a thousand people, including the Imperial families. It was the home of the Romanov family from Peter III to the last Czar, Nicholas II. In addition to this, it also served as an extravagant showplace for displays of royal wealth. Events were held in these buildings including masquerade balls, elegant parties for the nobility, and grand receptions for state and government officials.

The Marble Jordan Staircase, Six Levels, Leading Up Into The Museum Hallways

The Marble Jordan Staircase, Six Levels, Leading Up Into The Museum Hallways

By the time Nicholas II (the Czar who with his family was assassinated in 1918) ascended the throne in 1894, he was heir to the greatest collection of art in Europe, and Western Russia. After the Revolution of 1917, the Hermitage became state-run and open to the public.

The Hermitage is breathtaking: collections of Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso, Matisse, Greek and Roman antiquities, ancient Russian Iconography, exhibits of Siberian and Central Asian art. And that is just the beginning. Not least among the attractions of the Hermitage is the museum architecture itself, with its interior decoration and architectural detail.

The Raphael Loggias, Walkways And Ceilings, Commissioned By Catherine The Great.

The Raphael Loggias, Walkways And Ceilings, Commissioned By Catherine The Great.

When I visited The Hermitage, I was grateful to have spent two days there; one day with the excellent Viking Cruise guided tour and one by myself, wandering the halls, breathing in and understanding much more of the dense, fierce and deeply artistic roots of Russian history, and taking a lot of pictures.

Throne Of Peter The Great, With Russian Emblem Of Two-Headed Eagle

Throne Of Peter The Great, With Russian Emblem Of Two-Headed Eagle

 

One Of The Hermitage Ceilings, Also Great Works Of Art

One Of The Hermitage Ceilings, Also Great Works Of Art

 

As With Many Icons, The Artist(s) Are Unknown, But It is Guessed This One Was Created In the 12th Century

As With Many Icons, The Artist(s) Are Unknown, But It is Guessed This One Was Created In the 12th Century

 

One Of The Many Gilded Gold Doors In The Hermitage.

One Of The Many Gilded Gold Doors In The Hermitage.

An Early Leonardo Da Vinci Of Young Madonna With Child

An Early Leonardo Da Vinci Of Young Madonna With Child

 

Up Close, Leonardo's Young Madonna With Child

Up Close, Leonardo’s Young Madonna With Child

Newly Renovated Romanov Wedding Chapel: Where The Royals Got Married.

Newly Renovated Romanov Wedding Chapel: Where The Royals Got Married.

 

The peacock Clock, Given To Catherine The Great By James Cox, London Horologist. Tells The Time On A Gold Mushroom At The Bottom Of the Tree.

The Peacock Clock, Given To Catherine The Great By James Cox, London Horologist. Tells The Time On A Gold Mushroom At The Bottom Of the Tree.

One Of The Thousands Of Working Chandeliers In The Hermitage Museum. Electric Now, But Originally Used With Real Candles.

One Of The Thousands Of Working Chandeliers In The Hermitage Museum. Electric Now, But Originally Used With Real Candles.

Up Close Image Of The Father In Rembrandt's The Return Of The Prodigal Son. You Can Almost See The Brush Strokes.

Up Close Image Of The Father In Rembrandt’s The Return Of The Prodigal Son. You Can Almost See The Brush Strokes.

 

Looking Up, More Grand Ceiling And Pillars

Looking Up, More Grand Ceiling And Pillars

The Repentent Magdalene By Antonio Canova, Early 1800's, Italy.

The Repentent Magdalene By Antonio Canova, Early 1800’s, Italy.

Gilded Window Dressings, Hermitage

Gilded Window Dressings, Hermitage

 

Small Faberge Jewelled Carriage.

Small Faberge Jeweled Carriage.

 

Exterior, Hermitage Sign At Entrance To Museum

Exterior, Hermitage Sign At Entrance To Museum

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