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The Beautiful Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg Russia
The Hermitage is one of the most famous museums of the world, second to only the Louvre in Paris and I was very lucky to visit it during my stay in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2001. The museum, with its three million items and over a thousand rooms, is the largest gallery in Russia and is one of the most respected museums.
The Hermitage Museum is located in the center of St Petersburg on the Palace Embankment facing the St. Peter and Paul Fortress across the Neva River, and is comprised of four buildings that are arranged side by side and include the Winter Palace. The museum complex also includes an 18th century theater and it often is used for semi private performances. The Winter Palace was built by Peter the Great for his daughter Princess Elizabeth, but his daughter died before the palace could be completed and nothing really left from that original building. The sublime baroque Winter Palace as we see it today was built much later, under Catherine the Great. From that time on the Winter Palace was the residence of the Russian Tsars as well as the 1917 Provisional Government. It is through its magnificent gateway you enter the Hermitage Museum.
As you walk in, you check your coat at the door, you will pass the ticket counter, and the snow-white hallway will lead you to a magnificent staircase that will bring you to the second floor. Every foot of that staircase (called Jordan) is a piece of art, with sculptures, mirror windows, and the whole ceiling is painted like the Sistine chapel. At this point you can walk any direction and you won’t have even several days enough to see everything. I was really struck by the magnitude of its spacious halls and it’s no wonder for those halls were used for imperial receptions and czar’s entertainment. I spent there about three hours in the Hermitage and left it feeling as if I saw everything and nothing at the same time: it was hard to focus on so many things!
The Hermitage started as a collection of fine art by Catherine the Great, she purchased collections in bulk, sometimes artists were not even identified until much later. The initial foundation for the museum were Dutch and Flemish painters. To this day the art of Low Countries comprises a very solid selection in the Hermitage, including the works of Rembrandt, Rubens, van Dyke, and Brueghel. Both Rembrandt and Rubens have entire halls dedicated to their art. In 1985 Rembrandt’s ‘Danaë’ was almost ruined when a disturbed person threw acid on it, and it took years for the restoration to be complete.
As time went by, collections of art expanded as Russian czars acquired more and more treasures from all over the world; hence the museum contains vast diverse collections of Russian art, Oriental art, Greek and Roman sculpture, Egyptian art. The highlight of the Greek hall is the huge seated figure of Zeus flanked by rows of figures of handsome strong young men. In the Egyptian hall I was really impressed by the mummy that they had on display among giant ominous-looking stone sarcophagi. The mummy lays in a glass case and people are not allowed to take pictures so as not to expose the mummy to too much light. And yet people still sneak in to take pictures anyway. There is an old woman nearby who will reprimand you if you come too close to anything to touch or to take a picture. These women are in every room in the museum. Keep in mind, that taking pictures is generally allowed, unless there’s a no-photo sign; for professional photography you must obtain permission. The Hermitage also has a very vast Renaissance collection, including Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, El Greco, Titian, Velazquez. There is also a collection of Faberge eggs that were a collection of Czar Nicholas II, I was very impressed by these charming eggs that Nicholas used to have made especially as a gift for his wife. The Hermitage has a very nice collection of French impressionists and postimpressionists including Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso. Those paintings were originally collected by Moscow merchants of the early twentieth century.
I also liked the Chivalry room which displayed knights’ amour and weapons from the medieval epoch. One of the most fascinating halls is the Pavilion Hall built in eclectic Moorish style. The hall is on the second floor and it leads to a hanging garden which sadly is not taken care of properly. So that Pavilion Hall has a golden glass-covered cage that has a golden peacock that sings a song and spreads its feathers everyday at 5 o’clock, it’s a mechanical wonder that was built in the 18th century. The Hermitage also has two rooms with royal thrones, one is very small and intimate and the other is quite the opposite, in a giant bright hall.
There is a souvenir shop and also a café that you can go to during your visit. And there are various vendors that sell postcards.
I realized what a luxury people of St. Petersburg have to be able to enjoy this museum, for they come any day of the week to relax and get to observe the greatest art of the world. The halls absorb any noise so it is very quiet in every room, even if you have many tourists. The scent coming from the oil paintings and old frames gives off a soothing effect. You completely forget about the 21st century behind the windows!
I also felt proud that my future husband was working at the Hermitage at the time, and it’s interesting to note is that his mother, uncle, grandmother and great grandmother all worked there. His great grandmother in fact was the head of the engravings department. A few days before my husband quit his work in the museum, a famous painting (it was Jean-Leon Gerome’s ‘Pool in a Harem’) was stolen in the middle of the day and created such a hassle that all visitors had to wait for hours to be let out, way past the closing time.
Visiting the Hermitage Museum was one of the most exciting experiences in my life and I will never forget how I felt standing in front of these magnificent paintings and just being awed by it all and relishing every moment that I spent in the museum. I look forward to visiting the Hermitage again with great anticipation.
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Location: 32-38, Dvortsovaia Naberezhnaia (Embankment).
Open: 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, Sunday till 5 pm.
Closed: Mondays. Ticket-office closes 1 hour before closing time.