Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Cruise Chronicles – Day 8 – The Hermitage Museum

 The Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace),
St. Petersburg (15 May 2019)

It would not be right to simply include the Hermitage Museum along with the rest of what we saw on the second day in St. Petersburg. The place is too vast and too special. I could write a series of stories on this museum alone. It has such an amazing history on top of the magnificence of the collections on display. In terms of gallery space, only the Louvre in Paris is larger but the Hermitage has the greatest number of paintings in its collection. The museum is a complex of five buildings, the Winter Palace being one.

Catherine II (“the Great”) continued what Peter the Great did before her when he founded St. Petersburg as his “Window on the West.” She embraced the Age of Enlightenment when science, art, philosophy and reason flourished in western Europe. She wanted to expose insular Russia to new ways. And she had the means to do it.

The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (15 May 2019)

The Hermitage name derives from roots implying ‘recluse’ and ‘living alone’ and was intended to convey exclusivity. It was the royal family’s Winter Palace, completed by Peter the Great’s daughter, the spendthrift, Elizabeth. She died before it was completed. It continued to be the residence for the Imperial Family until 1917 when things went really bad for the occupants.

The Jordan Staircase, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (15 May 2019)

No, the staircase is not named to celebrate the great basketball player. Back in the day, the Czar would descend these stairs to perform an annual ‘Blessing of the Waters’ on the banks of the Neva River. Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan was recalled and the ever-self-important royalty adopted the name.

Peter the Great Hall, The Hermitage Museum (15 May 2019)

In 1833, Czar Nicholas I had a memorial throne room
built for Peter the Great. With more area than my bowling
alley, it is still referred to as ‘The Small Throne Room.’

Now, the Winter Palace residence has become the gallery. I have been fortunate to have been through many of the world’s foremost art museums. I could do a series on them. (And I thought when I started blogging, I would run out of topics to address…). The Met, Rijksmuseum, Louvre, Prado, Uffizi are all wonderful spaces. Many of them have grand galleries with soaring ceilings but they can’t match the Hermitage for over-the-top opulence. This was a royal palace first…done up as only the Russians can do it. Every floor, wall and ceiling is detailed and decorated. 

Ornate Décor of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (15 May 2019)

All the artistry is not just inside frames and on pedestals.
The design and craftsmanship go up the walls and across the ceiling.

War Gallery of 1812, The Hermitage Museum (15 May 2019)

The War Gallery of 1812 holds portraits of the
332 generals who fought to defeat Napoleon.

So determined and able to afford to build her collections, Catherine had emissaries in the western European capitals look for sales and situations that could result in sales. In this way, she bought estate collections and struck deals with individuals who were in financial straits. Some purchases included hundreds of paintings…a dozen Rembrandt’s here, ten Rubens’ there...she cashed in on art like no one had before or since. Through her life, Catherine acquired thousands of paintings, books, drawings and coins and then built additional palaces to house them all.

The ‘Raphael Gallery’, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (15 May (2019)

The Raphael Loggia or Gallery is a replica of the
Renaissance installation in the Vatican in Rome.

Doing St. Petersburg through a full-service tour package was so worth it. For our two-hour highlight visit, we (along with many other tour groups) were allowed in an hour ahead of the official museum opening. Our guide hustled us through the Winter Palace in a way that maximized the number of galleries visited and art works observed. When we left later that morning, the line of regular visitors waiting to get in stretched forever. 

Royal Chapel, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (15 May 2019)

I have seen a few classic churches and chapels. Spanish and Italian Catholic Cathedrals and Baroque extravagances. I do not remember seeing as much gold anywhere else. The Russians don’t do gold accents or framing. They just make everything gold.

The two hours in the Hermitage was the highlight of the entire vacation for me. Against my long-held position that I would never set foot in a police state like Russia or China, there I was. The lure of the history, culture and art here was too much…not to mention how ridiculous it would have looked if I stayed on the ship while everyone else went ashore. No regrets.


At 5:09 PM, Blogger zmk said...

Ted, I very much enjoyed your Cruise Chronicles! Thank you!
You are a great storyteller and I love your photographs. During my years in medical school in St. Petersburg, I studied and worked as a tour guide at Hermitage. For all these years I felt I lived a double life. I was a student of hard sciences by day, turning into a pure intuitive awareness of the sublime by night. The Hermitage bridged these two very different worlds of mine. What a great relief that was! 😊 Thank you for bringing back the memories. Zhanna

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Ted Ringger said...

Zhanna - Thank you for visiting and sharing your memories. What a marvelous opportunity you had to balance the grind of med school with all the aesthetic wonders in the museum. Better that you were a museum guide than one of the many monitors and guards they had. Our guide told us to be mindful of all the "Nyet-nyet ladies" there. Hope we can share St. Petersburg memories soon.


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