Wednesday, September 16, 2015

St. Petersburg - Day 5

Sunday, September 13, 2015
The most memorable experience for most people of a trip to Russia is a visit to the "crown jewel" -- The Hermitage.
Founded in 1764 as a private museum of Catherine the Great, today it houses nearly 3 million pieces of art.
The first Hermitage burned in 1837, but all the art was saved and it was rebuilt in 17 months.
The collection occupies 4 buildings: the Winter Palace, former official residence of the imperial family; the Small Hermitage, the only custom-built museum which served as Catherine's retreat from court; the Old Hermitage and the new Hermitage, which opened to the public in 1852. The name refers to "a place to be alone," because Catherine stated she enjoyed being alone with the paintings.
We no longer are able to see the Impressionist paintings because they are now housed in a new, separate building which requires another ticket. The Hermitage has the largest collection of Impressionists outside of France.
One interesting item of note - rodents apparently are a threat to the canvases, so, since the early days the museum has kept a stable of about 50 cats in the basement with 3 caretakers to address the problem.
The first thing you notice when entering is the Ambassador staircase or Jordan staircase.
Reaching the upper landing, we walked through the Fieldmarshal's Hall, then the small throne room meant to commemorate Peter the Great and his deeds,
the Emblem Hall with its vast gilded columns,
the Gallery of 1812 displaying portraits of Russian military heroes of the Napoleonic War,
and the Hall of St. George.
The floor parquet is made up of 16 varieties of wood and reflects the ceiling motif.  
Why no booties? One of the museum directors determined that the floor was made to be walked on and found that the booties actually pressed the dust into the floor.
Then we proceeded to the Small Hermitage and saw the Pavilion Hall with its slender marble columns and 28 chandeliers.
The real gem here is the Peacock Clock in a glass cage presented to Catherine II by her lover Potyomkin. 

The tour moved through covered galleries to the Old Hermitage, which is devoted to 13-18th century Italian art. Here we saw Rembrandt's "Danae" which was the painting that someone threw acid on a number of years ago.
It was painstakingly restored to its present condition, which is nearly perfect. We also saw his painting "Flora" of a pregnant woman.
Also his famous "Return of the Produgal Son".
In another gallery we saw 2 paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, "Little Madonna" and  "Madonna and Child."
Then we saw the Raphael Gallery, which was actually recreated by a German artist 
Unterberger in 1780 to replicate the frescoes in the Apostolic Palace in Rome created by the Italian artist.

We proceeded through another gallery and saw "Reception of French Ambassador in Venice" by Canaletto.
This was in one of the small Italian skylight rooms.
From here we went into the New Hermitage, a 19th century building first opened to the public in 1852, which now features the Spanish collection. We saw a painting by Goya "Portrait of Actress Antonia Zarate," which was given to the USSR by Armand Hammer when Krushchev told him, on a visit together to the Museum, that he did not have one in the collection.
Why would he do that? Hammer and several other collectors bought a number of pieces in 1927 when the Bolsheviks needed to raise money. Fortunately, most of those pieces ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery and the Getty for the public's pleasure.
We also saw works by Gerard ter Borch II, who was one of the first to paint realistic images of fabric.
Finally we walked through some of the opulent rooms of the imperial family. Here I am in the Boudoir of Empress Maria Alexandra (1861) and then her living quarters.
In the cases are a vast collection of cameos acquired by Catherine the Great.
We spent over 3 hours at the museum half of which was before the crowds, thanks to Regent. Only way to do it. We saw many more things, too numerous to mention, but this is a great sample.
I am splitting this day into 2 parts - Catherine's Palace at night is worthy of her own entry.

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