Catherine´s hermit(age)s

October 3 2004

Yeah, ok, so you probably could have guessed that I visited The State Hermitage Museum (website powered by IBM) today.  (The blog entry title is a reference to Empress Catherine II).


Image:Catherine´s hermit(age)s

That's "her-meet-ahj" to you, by the way.  My guide was quick to correct me when I said "her-meh-tij".
With over three million items in their collection, how does anyone decide what to see and what not to see?  Easy -- hire a private guide (thanks again to John Head for the tip there).  The four hours we spent inside the museum were a blur, even after nine hours of reflection.
The Hermitage is often compared to the Louvre, and rightly so for a lot of reasons.  One is that it is truly a collection -- a smorgasbord or buffet, covering the world's great artists.  My guide regularly said things like "We have 37 Rembrandts" or "this room contains the museum's collection of Van Goghs".  The themes from room to room tend to be at a higher level -- Dutch artists, Egyptian collection -- vs. specific.  So, while I know I saw some amazing paintings today, it's hard for me to walk away with an overall impression.
The Winter Palace, New Hermitage, and Large Hermitage make for an impressive museum setting.  As is typical for the style (mostly baroque and rococco), all the rooms are high-ceilinged, ornate and gilded, and have inlay wood floors (some matching the pattern of the ceiling).  The museum features hundreds of huge vases throughout, including "The hall of the big vase" -- a room that remained incomplete until the vase could be installed within it (and yep, it's really big -- I could walk underneath it).  
It would take days just to walk through the whole museum, and longer still to truly appreciate the entire collection.  But I do consider myself fortunate even just to have had a taste of this collection during my visit today.
Just one other observation from my day in St. Petersburg (and I'll have more to write in the coming days, along with a photo album) -- there doesn't seem to be as much of what my colleagues and I were calling a "consumption tax" here as there was in Moscow.  I've been able to eat and get around much more cheaply here.  It wasn't merely the guide's assistance - though that helped - even the bar I went in tonight charged less than US$1 for a soda.

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