Petit Futé's opinion on CREDITING
With 3 million works spanning millennia of history, it alone justifies the journey. If you were to visit just one of them..
Even though we have been warned that it is one of the richest museums in the world, that some 3 million works of art are exhibited there, spanning more than two millennia of art history, the Hermitage will always have something to surprise us. The astonishment is heightened by the somewhat messy nature of this museum, whose masterful collections are displayed in a certain disorder conducive to discovery.
Palace or museum?The question deserves to be asked, as the museum buildings themselves form a splendid showcase for the treasures they house. And if the tourist gets lost, often confusing the Hermitage and the Winter Palace, where five palaces are actually to be distinguished, it is because the functions of imperial residence and museum were soon confused in this unique ensemble of buildings stretching along the Neva River. The first contact is fascinating: once you cross the Staff Arch connecting the hemicircular facades of the lemon-yellow buildings that housed the Foreign Affairs and the General Staff, you discover the Winter Palace at its best. Occupying the entire width of the Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad'), the centre of which is marked by the Alexander Column (47 m of pink granite commemorating the victory over Napoleon), the main facade of the Winter Palace, which for almost a century and a half was the imperial residence, dazzles the eye : pistachio green walls flanked by colonnades, pilasters, white broken pediments underlined by the bronze colour of the panelling and mouldings, and crowned with statues in the round. But, unless you can charm the guard and have the chance to enter through the sumptuous main courtyard (avoiding the crowds of ticket offices), the visit to the Winter Palace and Hermitage begins with the slightly less sumptuous façade on the Neva.
A group of palaces. More than a palace, it is a group of palaces united in a single destiny, but whose design, spread over more than a century, reflects the subtle nuances: the rectangle of the Winter Palace was built in 1754 and 1762 in the most expressive baroque style by Bartolomeo Rastrelli on the commission of Tsarina Elizabeth I, daughter of Peter the Great. The figures speak for themselves: the Winter Palace covers an area of 9 ha, or 46,000 m², divided into 1,500 rooms; the upper cornice, placed end to end, runs for 2 km. When Catherine II became Empress in 1763, the immense palace with its Versailles lifestyle, which had become the centre of Russian political life, was enough to dazzle the diplomats who flocked to its salons. The facade on the Neva River tells the story of the rich diversity and colours of this evolution that made the imperial residence an incomparable museum.
History of the Hermitage Museum. It all began in 1764 with an imperial sleight of hand. It is indeed by blowing to the King of Prussia Frederick II a collection of works of art that the Prussian monarch, a patron of the arts in his own time, is unable to pay, that Catherine the Great acquires the first pieces of the future museum. Her ambassador in Berlin, Vladimir Dolgoruki, told her that the King of Prussia was in debt to his appointed art dealer, a certain Gotzkowski. The empress, already an art lover, jumped at the opportunity: she bought her 225 paintings by Flemish painters from the art dealer without a word of hesitation, giving herself a little pleasure and at the same time playing a good trick on Frederick II, who was beaten on his patron's ground. But above all, her passion contaminated the Russian aristocracy, whose large families created their private collections, which after the October Revolution would join the Hermitage galleries.
The visit. With some 400 rooms spread over 3 levels and two different wings, you will easily get lost. As with the visit to the Louvre, with which there are many similarities, we strongly recommend that you define your priorities beforehand. To find your way around, note the room numbers at the top of each door and refer to the plan you will get at the entrance. Explanations are few and rarely translated, but we detail the most important stops below. Audio guides are also available. Finally, you have to accept to get a little lost and take the risk of stumbling upon a work by some master that you didn't know was in Russia.
Ground floor: Antiques. The ground floor is not the priority for the vast majority of visitors to the museum. It is composed of rooms dedicated to cultures from Prehistory (Palaeolithic, Neolithic), and ancient art (Greek, Roman, Egyptian), up to the early Middle Ages. However, it is worth noting that Room 30 houses a collection of Scythian objects from the 12th to the 2nd century BC, including silver vases. Room 26 displays the results of archaeological discoveries made in the Altai in 1949. Here you will find the impressive mummy of a man from the 6th century BC, a reconstructed funerary chariot, as well as what is perhaps the oldest carpet in the world (6th century BC).
If Scythian jewellery does not leave you indifferent, then don't miss a visit to the Scythian Treasury (Treasure Gallery I, room 42). The goldsmiths' pieces in this collection (rhytons, jewels, weapons), often made of gold, bear witness to the rich civilization of this people who, long before the appearance of the Russians, inhabited the steppes of the Ukraine and the northern shores of the Black Sea.
Jewelry gallery.From room 121 you can enter the Jewelry Gallery (Treasure Gallery, II). The collection includes a wide variety of jewellery (necklaces, bracelets, from the 4th BC to the 19th century), but also liturgical objects, swords or sabres inlaid with emeralds or diamonds. Many of these objects have been collected by the Tsars since Peter the Great, but also offered to them: see for example the bouquets of flowers made of pearls and precious stones, or the famous Fabergé eggs.
1st floor:ImperialRoomsand European Classical Arts
After climbing the steps of the sumptuous Great Staircase (or Jordan Staircase), a rococo debauchery of white marble, golden panelling, caryatids and trompe l'oeil, the visitor will go straight to the point, in the Italian, Flemish, French, German rooms, etc., where he will choose to abandon himself to contemplation and wandering.
Just before that, you will have the opportunity to pass through rooms 194, 195, 197 and 198. The succession of these rooms is a vibrant tribute to Russian decorative art. Designed by Montferrand in 1833, Peter I's room (or Small Throne Room, Room 194), which contains the imperial throne in the Empire décor of a room stretched out in red velvet, is a tribute to the founder of the city (and of the Russian Empire). Two side panels illustrate two of his victories (against the Swedes). The Hall of Arms (195) with its gilded columns covers an area of more than 1,000 m². It was used for official ceremonies. The chandeliers are decorated with the shields of the 32 governments of Russia; the carved knights in each corner of the room bear the coats of arms of the Russian provinces. The showcases house collections of silverware. The War of 1812 Gallery (Room 197) was created in 1826 to celebrate the victory of the Russian army over Napoleon. The 332 portraits of the marshals general who took part in this Russian campaign decorate the walls of the gallery.
The ceremonial enfilade.The Great Throne Room (Room 198, also called St George's Room), is the main room of the palace, the one that hosted ceremonies and official receptions. The Nicolas Room (191) is the largest room in the palace, measuring more than 1,100 m². The Concert Hall (190) is also worth a visit, where you can admire the solid silver shrine containing relics of Alexander Nevsky, and the Malachite Hall (189), with its dominant green tones underlined by the golden panelling.
In the continuation of the "Enfilade d'Apparat" presented above, the north and west facades of the first floor are devoted to Russian culture (rooms 151 to 189). Here again, the rooms are just as interesting as the treasures they contain, namely applied art objects, instruments, portraits, weapons, etc.
InRooms 151 and 153,you will see a series of portraits of the emperors of Russia. Rooms 159 to 161 and 169 to 171 are devoted to 18th century art. Through the numerous exhibits, you will get to know or reacquaint yourself with great Russian historical figures such as Lomonossov and Catherine II. In rooms 176 to 189, you will stroll through reproductions of the interiors of the 19th century Imperial family apartments.
Italian art (rooms 207 to 238). On the first floor of the Old Hermitage, the rooms of Italian paintings and sculptures contain treasures such as Fra Angelico's Madonna and Child , two Madonnas (Benois and Litta) by Leonardo da Vinci, Veronese's Deploration of Christ and Michelangelo's The Squatting Boy, Caravaggio's Lute-Player, Raphael's The Madonna Conestabile and The Holy Family, San Sebastian and Titian's Dante. In the Spanish halls (239 and 240) you will see the Apostles Peter and Paul of El Greco, the Portrait of Count Olivares de Velázquez, The Crucifixion and the Portrait of Antonia Zaratede Goya.
Flemish School of the 17th and 18th centuries (rooms 245 to 257). It is represented by numerous paintings by Rubens (including Perseus and Andromeda, and Bacchus), and Van Dyck (The Descent from the Cross). The Dutch School (17th and 18th centuries) (rooms 249 to 257) is represented by an impressive collection of 28 Rembrandts (room 254), including the famous Return of the Prodigal Son, the Sacrifice of Abraham and the Holy Family, to name but the most famous. The Dutch art collection (15th and 16th centuries; rooms 258-262) includes paintings by Campin and Van der Weyden.
French art from the 15th to 18th centuries (rooms 272-297). On the first floor of the Winter Palace you will discover the second largest collection in the world (after the Louvre) of French art from the 15th to the 18th century (rooms 272-297). Several rooms are thus devoted to the French School, with paintings by Le Nain, Poussin, Claude Gelée dit Le Lorrain (Port au soleilcouchant
), Chardin or Greuze.
2nd floor: Byzantine and Oriental Art, Chinese and Asian Art
Far East. For those who still have courage and time, rooms 351 to 367 are dedicated to the arts of the Far East. Here you can see, among other things, Buddhist sculptures, porcelain, glassware, fabrics and furniture. Of particular note are the paintings and sculptures in the Thousand Buddhas Cave (360-361, China, 6th-10th century). Rooms 364 to 366 display the arts of Mongolia and Tibet.
Byzantine and Persian art.Finally, the rooms of Byzantine art (381 and 382) and Persian art (383 to 390), in particular the collection of Sassanid silver objects (Iran, 3rd-7th century AD), should be noted.
Hall of the pavilion.In the Small Hermitage, the magnificent Pavilion Hall is to be seen. Its white and gold vaults are supported by fine marble columns, according to the plans of André Stakenschneider, who had six of the small rooms of the first Hermitage of Catherine the Great destroyed in order to create, in 1856, one of the most sumptuous rooms in the palace; the central part is decorated with a large Roman-style mosaic, in the eclectic tradition of the time.
Palace of the General Staff. On 28 June 2014 the General Staff Building opened its doors to the general public. It is here, on the2nd and3rd floors (3rd and4th floors for the Russians, which include the ground floor as thefirstfloor) that the vertiginous collection of paintings by impressionist artists is displayed.
The2nd and3rd floors house the works of Malevitch and Kandinsky (room 303), then continue with the exhibition of one of the richest collections of works by French artists from the 18th to 20th centuries, from the Impressionists to Fauvism and Cubism, from David to Picasso: you will see, among others, Renoir's La Femme à l'éventail (407), Claude Monet's Femmes au jardin (403), Cézanne'sAutoportrait et les Bords de Marne (410).
Rooms 409-410 and 452 contain works by Cézanne and Rodin; room 413 houses 8 paintings by Van Gogh (including the Souvenir du jardin à Etten (Women of Arles). Finally, don't miss rooms 411-412, where Gauguin's paintings from the Tahitian period are on display.
Rooms 437-440 (1, 2 and 3) is devoted to Matisse and his founding works of Fauvism, in particular La Danse (and its counterpart La Musique). Room 430 is devoted to the cubism of Derain and Vlaminck. Rooms 434-431 contain paintings by Picasso, including the famous Buveuse d'absinthe (431).
Information on CREDITING
Open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday 11am-7pm, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 11am-8pm. Closed on 1 and 9/05. Admission: 500 RUB
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