Back in Saint Petersburg – visiting the Russian Museum Folk Art department – found the burial of the cat once more

The Russian Museum (Государственный Русский музей) is located in the neoclassical Mikhailovsky Palace. It opened in March 1898. The 400’000 exhibits are primarily based on the collections of Alexander III, the Russian artifacts of the Hermitage and the nationalization of private collections after the revolution of 1917. The museum gives an overview of Russian paintings and sculptures from the 11th to the 19th century and of Russian Folk Art. In addition the Benois Wing displays works of the early Russian avant-garde and its leading artists (i.e. late 19th and 20th century up to present).

I have been in the Russian Museum before, once in 2002 with Ernst and then alone in 2013. Now, when visiting Sankt Petersburg with Ursula in June 2017, we went twice and we bought the book “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer”, Palace Editions, Sankt Petersburg 2014. It gives an excellent overview of the museum and the history of Russian art.

Let us first go to the Folk Art department where we found a surprise – the mice burying the cat.


Burial of the cat in Russia – the same theme as in Tarragona

This small sculpture shows, how the mice buried the cat.

F.D. Yeroshkin: How the mice buried the cat, late 19th/early 20th century

This seems to be an important topic in Russia, as this second representation of the mice burying the cat shows.

Lubok: How the mice buried the cat, early 20th century copy (Lubok: popular print from literature, religious stories and popular tales)

The related Russian tale is: The cat was sleeping. The mice thought that the cat was dead and put it onto a sledge attaching its paws (just in case). They celebrated the death of the cat joyfully pulling the sledge to bury the cat. After some time the cat woke up, freed itself and ate the mice.

We found the same theme in the cloister of the Cathedral in Tarragona (Spain), except that there they say it  is rats (and not mice) that are trying to bury the cat.

The procession of the rats (my blog about our excursion to Tarragona).

A blog  on “Tarragona Experience” explains it well: The cat only pretends to be dead, then “wakes up” and eats the rats. This alludes to temptation: “Never think that you are in full control of a situation, it might change rapidly.” Thank you, Ivan Rodon, for clarifying this. Same theme, same story and – I assume – same morale in catholic Spain and in orthodox Russia.


Now I understand, what a “полотенце с петухом” or “a towel with the cock” looks like

This towel with the cock amidst the hens opened my eyes.

Part of a towel, 1880

The towel opened my eyes, because it reminded me of “the towel with the cock” or “полотенце с петухом”. This is a very touching story that Bulgakow wrote about the time, when he was a young country doctor. By amputating one leg of a beautiful young lady, he saved her life (she had fallen into the brake). As a thank you she gave him a white towel with a red cock embroidered onto it. I had read Bulgakow’s short story many years ago, but only now I understand that the red cock must have looked like this cock standing amidst the hens.


Good eyes needed to see all the details of these small lackerware boxes

The lackerware boxes are tiny and you need good eyes to see the miniature paintings. There are many of them. This is a lady sewing…

and this is a box for cigars showing a troika in the Russian winter.


Russians in the villages are also masters in woodwork

These instruments are called прялка in Russian and the English equivalent is distaff . The spinner sat on the board and took the unspun material from the top of the vertical piece. The decoration shows  much care and skill…

… as does this wonderfully carved gable.

There are many more exhibits from the daily life in Russian villages in the Folk Art department. I was here in 2002, in 2013, in 2017, and I would love to visit it again – there is always something new to discover.


A Swiss in Petersburg – sooo many museums

Petersburg has museums for everything, and most of them are well curated

The gems of all museums are the Ermitage and the Russian Museum. These are the first attractions for tourists. And there are many more museums – more hidden gems – like the zoological museum, the vodka museum, the museum of communication, the museum of political history, the railway museum, the museum of ethnology, and each poet from Puschkin over Dostojewsky to Achmatova has his/her museum – just to mention a few of them. Time did not suffice to visit them all. I did the Ermitage and the four exhibitions of the Russian museum, the zoological museum  and I also checked out the museums for vodka, communication and political history.

Today I plan to visit the Russian museum that is spread over four places. On Thursdays, the museum only opens at 1 PM, but for that it is open until 9PM. I plan on a long museum day starting with the central building.

The central Russian museum – in the Michailovsky palace

Enjoying the original Russian “standard ice cream” (it comes in a softish waffle), I wait in the Michailovsky garden on one of the artists’ banks (a special open exhibiton) until the Russian museum opens.


At the entrance I buy a ticket for all four museums. My first target are the Russian icons. I say hello to Boris and Gleb (yes, Ernst, I remember that you always recognized the two martyreds that are related to the origins of the orthodox religion in the Kiewer Rus – The Russians prefered Christianity to the religion that forbids alcohol). I also look for Andrey Rublow’s Peter and Paul and for the good mother that successfully defended Novgorod against Susdal. Here are my favorites  – it is great that taking fotos is allowed in this museum.




Then I  find some luxurios palace rooms and paintings of zars, nobles and battles as well as scenes from the Greek and Roman mythology… and my next target are the Peredwischniki that documented the social problems on mobile exhibitions in the the 19th century. Great, Ilja Repin’s Wolga trawlers area here  (they often travel).


This museum is a maze – I hardly find the exit. I go back home for my Russian lesson at 4 PM, and after the lesson, I walk back to the Newsky Prospekt to continue my marathon through all the palaces of the Russian museum.

The Stroganov Palace

The Stroganow Palace is located where the Newsky Prospekt crosses the Moika channel. I know that pink building. But, where is the entrance to the Russian museum? In the courtyard I ask. Again this very Russian experience – the official lady at the entrance to another museum does not know! I find someone who directs me to the Moika. But then I still  oscillate back and forth, until I decide that it must be this absolutely unostentatious wooden door at the corner. Yes, right! My ticket is valid and I enter a vast and luxurious palace. The first hall is “separated” by a mirror. The mirror doubles the lustres and the columns – in reality there are only half-lustres and half-columns.


A lady jumps at me – fotos forbidden in here. Well, the lustres are in my camera and remain there, but Stroganovs remaining rooms are no longer in my camera. This is a great palace, as is his boeuf Stroganov. I have shared this dish at many Christmas Eves with Ernst.

The Marble Palace

The next palace on my ticket for the four Russian  museums is the Marble Palace. It is in Millionaja Street, and I start to walk. And I walk and I walk – more than I expected – about half an hour. Eventually I enter a courtyard. No, what is this? Such an ugly monument? Quite a strong  man on quite a strong horse? Alexander III? Who died early and then Nicolas II , the last Zar, took over from his father?


In my Lonely Planet I read that Nikolaus wanted to send his father to Sibiria, as he did not like this monument. Rumors then emerged that he wanted to ban his father to Sibiria… and hence the monument remained in Piteri. The sculpturer said that the he is not interested in politics and just modeled one animal on another animal.  Larissa and Tamara told me this rhyme for this monument:

Стоит коммод / на коммоде – бегемот / на ъегемоте – оъормот /  на обормоте – шапка.

There is a commode / on the commode there is a hippo / on the hippo there is a fool/ on the fool there is a cap.

Elena made it all clear to me that she thinks Alexander was a good Zar – he did not fight big wars, but tried to bring order to the country and to develop it – his time was too short, she says, and bringing peace is not valued as being “great”. Well, I think he would have deserved a more handsome monument.

From one window in the palace  I hear music. There is a concert going on in the Lapislazulli room. A young man enthusiastically sings poems, accompanied by a fortepiano and a cello. This group has no name – they might just be students from the music acadamy that also Anna graduated from.


I walk through the luxury of this palace that also hosts exhibitions – the Ludwig museum of Cologne has displays. There is a temporary exhibition of Mihail Chemiakin, called “sidewalks of Paris“. The artist took photos of things thrown away in the streets of Paris and transformed the photos into drawings by adding colored lines with a pen that can be erased again (if I understand this right). There is also a hands-on room, where visitors can do their own drawings and erase them again, if they wish.  This is an interesting concept: Take, what you find in the street and add your phantasy to it.  I think that one of my favorite writers, Pascal Janovjak (son of a good friend of mine), would like this, as he is working at a literary project based on interviews with people in the streets of Rome.


Michailovsy castle

This is the fourth palace that belongs to the Russian museum. From the marble palace I have to walk past the Mars field and follow the first block of the Sadowaja street to find it. Yes, my ticket is valid, And, yet another palace that does not allow to take pictures. There is an exhibition of the Romanows that 400 centuries ago took over after the turmoils with the Polish and the false Dimitrij… until 1917 (almost a hundred years ago). I am always impressed by the portraits of Peter the Great… he was a leader with a vision and at the same time he was so cruel – he killed his son.


It is now 9 PM and the museums close. I walk back to my home and take a rest – my head is exploding from all the new impressions and my feet are tired-tired.