Back in Saint Petersburg – visiting the Hermitage (Эрмитаж) again and again

The Hermitage (Эрмитаж) consists of the Hermitage buildings “as such” and the Winter Palace. The Hermitage buildings as such are called the Small, the Big (Old) and the New Hermitage. This is where the Tsars started to display their art and ancient as well as medieval treasures. Now the Winter Palace also holds part of the Hermitage collections and in addition presents the halls that the Tsars lived in.

This is the Winter Palace seeen from Palace Square.

The Winter Palace has been designed by the main baroque architect of Peter the Great, Rastrelli. The facades show clearly his handwriting. The palace has been completed and then partially been reconstructed by the following Tsars. After a fire in 1837, Stasov and Briullov restored and reconstructed the Palace. Inside it is mainly of neoclassical style.

This is the view from the Neva. The Marble Palace starts the line of palaces and the Winter Palace is at the far end.

You can spend days to see the collection of paintings and sculptures (Italian, Netherlandian/Flemish, Spanish, German, Austrian, French and English), the ancient and medieval collections and treasures from Egypt and Asia (including Russian Asia) and the Palace Halls. As a matter of fact, six years only suffice to see everything when spending only one minute in front of each exhibit (Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015, p. 10).

We visited the Hermitage several times, because after three to four hours we were no longer able to digest more. First, we went at day time. Our landlady acted as a very knowledgeable tour guide – this was a great introduction. However, the Hermitage was very crowded, as tour groups from the cruises rush through the halls with the most renowned paintings. They approach the “must see” painting, turn round, take a selfie and rush to the next milestone painting… doing as many milestones possible. We once were shouted at by a cruise tour guide, because we spent some (though little) time looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s “Madonna with Child” after having waited in the queue.

We then returned in the evening, around 5pm; twice a week, the Hermitage is open until 9 pm. Much less tourists then and far better access to the paintings and treasures. To be recommended. We avoided the queues by buying our tickets in the General Staff Building (instead of standing in line in the Winter Palace across the Palace Square).

In all we have spent some ten hours in the Hermitage. We have not taken any photos inside. Instead we bought two guidebooks, Wladimir Dobrolskij: “Museumsführer Eremitage, Geschichte, Sammlungen, Interieurs, Pläne”, Alfa Colour, Sankt Petersburg 2015 und M.B. Piotrovsky: “The state Hermitage, museum guide”, Slavia Saint Petersburg 2015. In addition our Dumont Kunstführer was a very reliable guidebook, as always. Let me recapitulate some impressions. I have scanned in some photos from the Museumsführer Eremitage.

Our first milestone was the Italian collection, above all Leonardo da Vinci (“Madonna with flower” and “Madonna with child”), Raphael (“Holy family”), Michelangelo (“Crouching boy”), Caravaggio (“Lute player”), Strozzi (“Healing of the blind Tobit”) and in addition the paintings of Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Tizian as well as Tiepolo. We had met all these artists in Florence, we are fans of them and they are familiar to us.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Leonardo da Vinci: Madonna with flower

Our next target were the Netherlandian paintings, above all the Rembrandt hall. Particularly the painting of Danae is famous; she has suffered from an attack with acid and has been restored. Also from Rembrandt, I very much like the joyful painting of his wife (“Flora”) and his touching “Return of the prodigal sun”. We spent much time to discover details of the life in a Dutch town in winter in the “The adoration of the Magi” by Pieter Breughel the Younger. Then there are Rubens, his pupil van Dyck (beautiful his two sisters Whatton with their dog) and the portraits of Franz Hals.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Rembrandt: Return of the prodigal sun

My favorite Spanish paintings are “The boy with a dog” by Murillo, “The apostles Peter and Paul” by El Greco (deeply entrenched in a conversation) and “Madonna and child” by Morales (the Madonna has a sad expression in her face, when kindly looking at her son).

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Murillo: The boy with a dog.

The highlight of the German and Austrian collection is Lucas Cranach the Elder, with “Madonna and child under an apple tree” and with the “Portrait of a woman”.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Cranach: Madonna and child under the apple tree.

From the French collection of older paintings and sculptures I recall Houdon’s statue of Voltaire. Houdon made the statue, when Voltaire was an 84 years old man, wrinkled and toothless, but with the expression of intelligence, serenity and wise life experience.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015. Houdon: Voltaire

The collection of the French impressionists have been moved to the General Staff building (before they had been displayed on the second floor of the winter palace under the roof). The Monets, Rousseaus, Gaugins, Renoirs etc now have the space they deserve. I feel Ernst inside me, when looking at the  dancers by Matisse that he loved so much.

Source: my own photo, taken in 2013. Matisse: Dancers.

In the beautifully renovated General Staff Building, Ursula turns right and disappears in a special exhibition of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes. Well, I follow and I find mostly shoes with high heals, harmonically designed – very, very elegant. Some shoes are eccentric like the boots that end attached at the belt. Blahnik is a great discovery for me.

It was wonderful to stroll through the almost empty and luxuriously decorated enfilade of halls shortly before the Hermitage closed at 9pm. We almost  had the feeling, the Tsar would turn up in one of the doors.  I am particularly impressed by the Malachite Hall crafted in Russian mosaic “inlay” technique: The malachite is cut into small slabs used to cover large surfaces (such as columns) and create the impression of solid malachite.

In the archaeological department we focus on Russian Asia with the treasures found in Scythian tombs. We are particularly impressed by the more than 2000 year old Pazyryk carpet found in the grave of a Scythian nobleman and preserved by the ice of the Altai mountains. The red carpet is 183x200cm of size, has been elaborated with a high knot density and the bordures with horsemen, animals and ornaments are just beautiful.

Source: Museumsführer Eremitage, Alfa Colour 2015: Pazyryk carpet

Sure, when visiting Sankt Petersburg again, we will return to the Hermitage and include the Treasury in our visit. Perhaps we will aim for October/November, when there are less tourists. And in the meantime, we look at the Hermitage portal .


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