The Hermitage 1: the building

September 8, 2011 • 5:45 am

I took so many pictures in the Hermitage of St. Petersburg that I’ll divide them among two posts: the buildings and the paintings.  First the building itself, which was a palace of the Russian tsars until Nicholas II was deposed in 1917, with Catherine the Great installing the original art collection in 1764.

The museum itself comprises several connected buildings, and I’d recommend buying tickets online in advance; they’re cheaper, you avoid the long lines of tourists, and you get the right to photograph thrown in for free.

Considering both the paintings, which range from the medieval through post-Impressionists, and the setting, which is incomparable, I consider the Hermitage the finest art museum I’ve been to. It also has the largest art collection of any museum in the world: almost 3 million objects.

The building (click this and all photos to enlarge):

The sign at the entrance kiosk.  I found it cool because of all the various kinds of heroes, veterans, and “gentlemen” who got free or reduced entry:

The Jordan Staircase is the main entry to the Winter Palace. Designed by architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, it is flanked by Italian sculptures acquired by Peter the Great, and was used by dignitaries visiting the tsar.  Every January 6, the imperial family would walk down these stairs to celebrate Christ’s baptism at the adjoining Neva River (the tsar would drink a cup of water from the river presented by the Metropolitan of the city):

One of the imperial rooms off the throne room, showing the building’s opulence:

Since the building was a palace, it’s very elaborate, although much of it was restored after the German siege during World War II.  Here is a parquet floor in one part of the building:

The throne room, with the double-headed eagle of the Romanov dynasty:

Throughout the building the settings are opulent, and the paintings are often illuminated by natural light since they’re hung in outside corridors. Here’s a display of ceramics:

and a lavish display of paintings:

Leonardo is one of my favorite painters, and the Hermitage has two of his dozen or so paintings.  They’re displayed in this room, which is always full of tourists:

The paintings are behind glass, and surrounded by tourists, so it’s hard to get a good look.  Here are photos of the two Leonardos. The first is the Madonna Litta (1490; note that there is some doubt about whether these really are by Leonardo, but most art scholars think they are):

This is the “Benois Madonna” (1478), once considered lost but found in 1909 to be part of a private collection:

Finally, a huge and beautiful malachite vase (malachite is my favorite mineral):

14 thoughts on “The Hermitage 1: the building

  1. This is where the movie “Russian Ark” was filmed, notable for the fact that entire 1 hour 35 minute movie is a single continuous shot.

  2. Damn. That whole place is beautiful, even without the artwork.

    Now we have to have a favorite mineral? I am so behind…

  3. Wishing to know more about about malachite I did a search & found something on the Timna valley which is in Southern Israel. It’s the world’s oldest known copper production centre [8,000 years] & it’s still active today to a degree. Fascinating ~ a place where you can find signs of the rise & fall of empires. [Good pictures in the link]

    1. Wasn’t this used as for a counter-argument against that advanced by some archaeologists which proposed that the kingdom of David or Solomon did not encompass any large towns and was much smaller than the Bible suggests.

  4. Impressive!
    My mother bought me a beautiful malachite necklace when she visited Skt. Petersburg six years ago. Such a deep green colour, so beautiful.

    1. When I visited in 1999 (the waning last days of Yeltsin), my Russian hosts were of the opinion that the ticket-takers were a little mob-family unto themselves. My hosts said they merely pocketed all or most of the proceeds, leaving next-to-nothing for the museum upkeep. One of my hosts was a museum curator (not there), so am guessing his story was spot-on.

      From the looks of the place (and the city in general), it would seem to me that anti-corruption measures are having a good effect.

      regarding the ticket price, that 400 RUB is 13.56 USD today. (the exchange rate was much, much better back then) They figure foreign tourists can pay that easily, and they are right. The discounted Russian national price was less than 100 rubles in 1998, if I remember correctly. Seemed like it was 1/10th the cost of what a tourist would pay.

      1. When I lived in Russia, the museum ticket takers could tell from my accent that I was foreign and usually tried to charge me the tourist price. I made a point (if I had time) of showing them my residency card and arguing for the Russian prices, because I was paying Russian income tax already. Usually I was got the local rate, but it was more for principle than money.

  5. I am sure I would appreciate it more at 46 than I did at 18. It was impressive then, though. One thing I never thought about before: Do they still add to the collection, or is it essentially static?

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