The Hermitage, Prettiest Museum in the World

Trip Start Jun 30, 2006
Trip End Jun 30, 2007

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Flag of Russian Federation  ,
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

After the dramas and disappointments of Moscow it was somewhat refreshing when the Hermitage in St. Petersburg turned out to exceed our expectations - at least in the area of architecture. It didn't seem that this would be the case at first, what with being faced by a 200m long line in the glaring sun (thankfully Charis bought her wonderful Japanese sun umbrella) with Russians trying to, and succeeding in, pushing into the line; This was one of the things that astounded me...even though many an individual would get into a roaring fight with another over something like being short-changed 10 cents, not a single one would say a word, angry as they seemed, as their countrymen sidled up and stood in front of them, prolonging their already-long quest.

This pushing into lines eventually got so ridiculous that at train stations I had to stand with my left hand reaching out onto the counter, physically blocking anyone from coming closer, glared as hard as humanly possible, muttered swearwords, and still had to talk at the top of my lungs so that no-one would try to get their ticket from a metre back. Oh and congratulations to the 2 that even then did succeed in getting served the gentlemen with the 1st-class ticket, I consider it the height of intelligence that you cannot figure out what your wagon and seat designations are, and have to ask a ticket-sales lady, even though you are fluent in Russian and the appropriate information is clearly indicated in (only) Russian on the ticket in your hand.

So I consider this warning enough: if you are descended from a world of neat and orderly queuing, the likes of Switzerland and England, go to Russia at your own risk.

Hmm, I apologize for my digression into bitching, but clearly these emotions must at some point be let out - and I certainly wasn't going to let them out in Russia, it was hard enough getting tickets when I was as polite and pleasant as humanly possible - no need to yell and attract the attention of the police to ourselves, and our incorrectly-registered passports and visas.

Anyway, back at the Hermitage, things quickly turned for the better when we found out that our ISIC cards did in fact get us into every museum in St. Petersburg for free.

Inside the Hermitage was quite simply the most incredible building I've ever had the pleasure of viewing. Now, I'm not really THAT much for architecture, and while I thought the likes of previous palaces and museums I've been inside were quite pleasing from an interior decoration perspective, the Hermitage was simply miles ahead of them. It was perhaps the fact that so much of it was neo-classical - I had an absolute fit over the doors, of all things, which were fitted out in the ochre and black neoclassical style, made to resemble Greek Black-Figure vase painting.

I also finally came to appreciate the strong but limited colour range that was of course used in Classical and other Greek periods to adorn statues, temples and other buildings. I had always, despite my strongest efforts to the contrary, felt that using white with bright blue and red, did give a slightly childish and simple 2d effect. Impressed as I had been with Vergina, it hadn't really convinced me otherwise. But now I have been turned, and all it took was looking at the Twenty Column hall, and to a lesser extent the Bosphorus room. The Twenty Column Hall (to me) is the pinnacle of human architectural achievement - a wonderful hall with tall, light grey pillars, scattered wall-paintings and a simple colour scheme: whites, greys, oranges, blues. All of its elements are simple but together they produce such a varied and refreshingly light effect. The coffered ceiling, how I could rave about it! But enough, for there are many pictures, even if they don't convey anywhere near the magnificence of seeing it yourself. When I am a millionaire, in sh'Allah, I shall have someone reproduce this hall for me, down to every perfect mosaic floor-tile and every lovely maroon and orange palmette.

The Bosphorus Room too had beautiful painting on it's vaulted ceilings - in this case a light red-orange with pale blue and some yellow. God forbid I ever purchase a house to renovate, I'll be up painting the ceilings like this, for years.

After all this architectural impressiveness, the Ancient Greek collection itself was sufficient, if not outstanding. Given that the first 'real' (I'll be damned if I'll call anything in Brisbane or Canberra a museum or art gallery...death to Pollock, and to blank canvases called art!) museum I went to was the Louvre, everything has to stand in comparison to that, and the collection certainly didn't exceed the quantity and quality of that. But there were some very nice artefacts, and some were displayed to bring out their qualities most excellently. The red interior of the Dionysus Room, and the cooler light from outside, intersecting, brought out the statues of the god quite aptly.

There were piles of other very impressive rooms and artifacts, which you can see in the gallery. The one thing pointedly, and unfortunately, absent in the gallery is photos of the Scythian and other gold artifacts. They were in a special exhibition room where cameras were not allowed and you had to pay some ridiculous price. But I did, and I'm very glad. The Scythian and Classical Greek gold pieces were the best by far; In particular the very famous Scythian comb with warriors fighting, whose features and limbs were so tiny and perfectly formed, and which possessed such minute detail that the patterns on their clothing were impressed with countless miniscule dots. Even more beautiful was a Greek necklace, made up of hundreds of tiny plates decorated with granulation, linked together and with adorable horned heads hanging in between. I must learn about ancient jewelry-making at some point, because I must confess that at this point I consider this, and other, necklaces, etc, absolutely incredible and mystifying, on the level of magic. Even with the magnifying glasses mounted over it one had to look very closely to see the extent of the detail, and not one microscopic imperfection! The modern plain and simplistic, chunky rubbish that is for sale in shops these days pales in comparison.

Unfortunately though, I don't think you would be able to appreciate this type of jewelry without seeing the 'real thing'. Afterwards I looked to try and find a book with it in, and it just looked a bit droll and plain really, the print resolution of the book doing it no favours at all. Even if you were able to procure a very high-resolution digital photo it would be pointless - monitor resolution is too pathetic by far to display the detail at scale, and you can't appreciate the fragile tiny beauty of the original if you blow it up out of all proportion). So get your asses to the Hermitage, and while you're there I'd appreciate it ever so much if you brought me back a certain comb and necklace...
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