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When did Renaissance Art become a Contact Sport?

Day 24 Hermitage and St Isaac's Cathedral

sunny 18 °C

Our plan for today was to visit the Hermitage, the winter palace and home of the Russian Tsars between 1763 and 1917.

We catch an early morning trolley bus to Nevsky Prospekt, where we get the feeling the locals are staring at us. We do look very smug with ourselves having figured out the public transport as well as looking like tourists! The Palace is now a museum of art work and all the rooms have been renovated back to their original glory. Very little of the furnishings from the 18th Century remains courtesy of age as well as a significant fire in 1837. Catherine II ordered construction and enhancement of the five buildings that make up the architectural ensemble of the State Hermitage Museum. She was quite the collector and seemed to have a penchant for collecting valuables - diamonds and artworks. She seemed to collect a lot of very generous gifts from a guy named Orlov - the Orlov Diamond about the size of a golf ball, the Orlov Dinner Service consisting of over 3000 silver and gold plated pieces and a magnificent horsedrawn carriage we saw in the Kremlin. Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov (1734–1783) was the favourite of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia who presumably fathered her son. He led the coup which overthrew Catherine's husband Peter III, and installed Catherine as Empress. It is understood, for some years, he was virtually co-ruler with her but his repeated infidelities and the enmity of Catherine's other advisers led to his fall from power.

Like the Kremlin, tickets and queueing is required. The weather is kinder today and brilliant blue sky illuminates the magnificent building.

Once inside we checked our bags and cameras in the cloak room allowing us to experience the wonders of this place. We enter first to the Main Staircase and our mouths drop open and jaws hit the floor. It is MAGNIFICENT! Gold, marble, granite and art painted on the ceiling which is so perfect it looks dimensional.


We are then attacked! Hoards of mostly Chinese, Korean and Indian tourists armed with selfie sticks surge into the serene and majestic spaces turning the artworks and architecture into a sport, seeing how many photos they can take - mainly selfies with duckface poses or taking photos without even looking or registering which Renaissance Master they are actually photographing. Jen nearly loses an eye when a tour leader directs her flag at a rare 15th century da Vinci, 16th century Caravaggio or 17th century Rubens while leading her flock of lemmings around the venue. They are loud, dressed in garish Russian Cossack and Soviet souvenir hats, yell at each other and generally swarm the place. Tom nearly drowned as a mob flooded the door as they eagerly moved on to the next room.

Despite humanity en mass, the architecture and opulence is mind-blowing.

The, fairly self evidently named "Gold Room"
The "Malachite Room", named because of the huge malachite pillars featured in its design. In the 1830s to 1840s, when the room was designed, Russia had discovered a large resource of malachite in its mines and was able to extract solid pieces for the columns. Despite the fire and ravages of time, this room is supposed to be as true to its original design.
St_Petersburg__7_.jpgSt_Petersburg__6_.jpgSt_Petersburg__5_.jpg St_Petersburg__3_.jpg
The St George Hall (Great Throne Room) dating to 1795. Whilst the floor as been replaced, the timber inlay is true to its original design, being the Russian Heraldic design, which is also mirrored in the detail on the ceiling.
Boudoir of Alexandra Feodrovna, Empress during 1850s. This was her private drawing room, just off her bedroom, private bathroom. There is a door in the back right corner that leads to the Nursery.
The "Golden Drawing Room"
Peter the Great Hall, this is the smaller, less formal, throne room. The gilded silver throne was made in England and the painting behind the throne features Peter I with the goddess Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom, whispering in his ear. The silver thread embroidered red velvet has been restored or replaced. There is an interesting section showing the process they went through to replicate and repair the furnishings in recent times. As they did, they discovered pins and old needles left behind by artists from centuries ago.
Medieval German Armour
We spent about 3 hours meandering through 15th to 18th century art by all the Masters. About three quarters of the way through we are just about overdosed on Renaissance art work. The architecture for each room is what amazed Jen and I and the explanations as to what each room was used for or symbolised was amazing. The size, the painted walls, the ceilings were spectacular. The photos speak for themselves. The enthusiasm of our fellow tourists began to wane - the look on the poor Indian Dad's face, moments after he'd sat down on the bench seat next to us, as a wave of respite settled over him, when, moments later, his tour leader excitedly announced that there was "another two magnificent pieces" in the next room that they "absolutely must see!"

The Hermitage is massive and, as they don't allow water bottles or food, its difficult to see it all in one visit. Once out of the Renaissance Art rooms (which are by far the majority), we wandered the décor areas depicting formal and informal chambers of the Tsars which was fascinating (and by now, most of the competitors had burned out and gone onto their next adventure, so it was much quieter by now).


It was now late in the afternoon and a short walk to the St Isaac's Cathedral. Peter the Great was a "great" fan of Isaac Newton and arranged meetings with Mr Newton in London as a young Tsar. It is understood by this time, Newton had locked himself in the Tower of London and was in the process of losing his mind. Peter was fascinated and much of his decision making as leader was influenced by the intellectual. He established the Neptune Club about the same time as the mysterious Order of the Masonic Lodge. There were many parallels with this two secretive organisations.

Not surprisingly Peter the Great dedicated his main Cathedral to his respected intellectual mentor, nominating St Isaac for the main Russian Cathedral.

The Cathedral is now a museum as well as a place of worship. Fourth largest in the World, behind St Peter's in Rome, St Paul's in London and Santa maria dei Fiori in Florence. Its exterior is supported by has 112 solid red granite columns, each carved out of a single piece, 17 m tall surrounding the cathedral, each weighing 114 tons.
Inside the Cathedral are huge ceilings, massive art works and mosaics, domes and gold gilding everywhere you looked. As it was late, the cathedral closed the entrance and we could sit and enjoy the space as it gradually emptied. With nobody around, a quiet calmness came over the whole area and we had the Cathedral almost to ourselves.

Our Russian visit draws to an end. We finished packing with some shots of vodka. We were very impressed and surprised with what we had seen. We highly recommend a trip to Russia: amazing sites, people warm and friendly, easy to travel around and a cultural smorgasbord. Helsinki here we come!

Posted by tszeitli 23:12 Archived in Russia Tagged hermitage culture public_transport cathedral russia renaissance_art selfie_sticks

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Amazing! Keep that enthusiasm flowing! The Hermitage is a sensational experience!

by Alan Davie

This is truly breath taking. I was under the impression that Russia is very cultured, but somehow not quite so brightly.... How did you manage to take those pictures with plenty of space when there were mobs of tourist groups?

by Angela Zheng

This is truly breath taking. I was under the impression that Russia is very cultured, but somehow not quite so brightly.... How did you manage to take those pictures with plenty of space when there were mobs of tourist groups?

by Angela Zheng

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