Tuesday, April 5, 2016

St Petersburg - State Hermitage Palace & Winter Museum

Date of visit: 22nd October 2015

Amirah, whose mother has years of working stay in Malaysian Embassy in St Petersburg had warned us that 1 day will not suffice to explore the museum palace. You need 2 full days to be satisfied, she said. But should you only decided to see what the Winter Palace and General Staff Building collections are about, 1 day may be sufficient. We did some wonders and in rushing mode as we spent only nearly 2 hours inside before adjourned to explore the Palace Square. By the way, Amirah is my former colleague in previous company that I worked at.

The Hermitage museum is undoubtedly St. Petersburg's most famous visitors attraction and universally acknowledged as one of the world's greatest treasuries of art and antiquities. The name “Hermitage” is to be conjured with, and reason enough on its own for many travelers to book a trip to St. Petersburg. The museum now spans several sites, but for most visitors it is the main collection in the Winter Palace that is an essential component of any St. Petersburg itinerary. Here you may find not only centuries of European fine art and a rich collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, but also the astonishingly opulent 18th and 19th century state rooms of Russia's imperial family.

Some locals souvenirs and foods that you may enjoy before a long tour inside

You may purchased an entrance ticket at the ticket machine, placed your belonging and start the tour from here

Since the summer of 2014, much of the Hermitage's renowned collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art has been transferred across Palace Square to the General Staff Building, so if your main reason for visiting the Hermitage is to see the art, then you have to consider making time for the second location, possibly with a break for refreshments between the two. I may not be able to describe everything in this entry as the museum itself is very large.

At the onset you may take notice of the following collections at respective floors:-
Ground to 1st Floor: Siberian antiquities, Central Asia, Greek and Roman antiquities, Caucasus, Ancient Egypt, Eurasian antiquities, Ancient near East and the arts of arms and armours in the near east from 15th till 19th centuries.
1st to 2nd Floor: Russian culture, Palace interiors, France-15th till 18th centuries, Spain, Germany, Britain, Flanders, Dutch Netherland’s art, Netherlandish arts, Italy, Western European Medieval, Western European arms and armour and the Great Chiurch of the winter palace.
2nd to 3rd Floor: Far East and Central Asia, Islamic Middle East and Byzantium.

I would like to go through phases of the museum's history of how the place came into existence. It started since 1754 where Empress Elizabeth Petrovna approved the design for a new winter residence in Baroque style designed by the architect Bartolommeo Francesco Rastrelli. Construction of the new palace took over eight years, covering the last years of Elizabeth's reign and the short rule of Peter III. In autumn 1763, Empress Catherine II returned to St Petersburg after her coronation in Moscow and became the royal mistress of the Winter Palace, she was the first who occupied the palace.

The founder, Empress Elizabeth wished the beauty of her sumptuous new palace to eclipse that of the leading European royal palaces. Construction required an enormous sum of money and involved vast numbers of laborers. According to palace records, over 4,000 people, including Russia's greatest building specialists, worked on the creation of this Winter Palace. Generations has describe the luxurious decoration of the state room and other rooms  which in total are over 460 rooms altogether.

Sadly that the architect was unable to complete the work as originally intended as the new monarch, Catherine II the Great, who was an admirer of the new architectural fashion, Neoclassicism has seek new designers and architects to carry out her vision. It's also interesting to take note that on 28 June 1762, supported by the Guards, which were headed by the Orlov brothers and which were devoted to her, Catherine II dethroned her husband, Emperor Peter III and seized the crown. In the following year she was crowned in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.

Beautiful tapestry work

Well educated and endowed with natural talents, the Empress has ruled Russia for 34 years, manifesting skill in both her internal and foreign policy and gaining great authority around the world. It was she who commissioned the building of the Small and Large Hermitages and the Hermitage Theatre, and it was she also who had purchased the art collections which formed the basis of today's Hermitage Museum. Salute and great respect to an amazing Empress Catherine II.

Peacock clock, 1794

In 1764 Empress Catherine II acquired the collection formed by Johann Gotzkowski for King Frederick II of Prussia through a rich Berlin merchant and founder of silk and porcelain factories in Berlin, Johann Gotzkowski who was once the King's agents. The agent was forced to look around for alternative buyers as King Frederick II refused to take the large collection of drawings after he lost enormous amount of money during the war. Catherine II was pleased to take the opportunity of hurting Frederick's self-esteem and of proving that the Russian State Treasury, despite losses which were no less than those of Prussia, could still afford to make such an expensive acquisition.

However, the 225 paintings in the collection were of uneven quality, as Gotzkowski was not a great specialist in painting. There were mainly Dutch and Flemish works including Frans Hals's "Portrait of a Young Man with a Glove" and Jan Steen's "The Idlers" are considered the best as well as a number of 17th-century Italian pieces included in the 225 paintings.

The new architect hired by Empress Catherine, Yuri Velten has erected a two-storey building next to the Winter Palace between 1765 and 1766. He combined features of the fading Baroque style and elements of the new fashion known as Neoclassicism. Between 1767 and 1769, another architect Vallin de la Mothe constructed a pavilion for Catherine to relax on her own or with her most intimate friends. This contained a state room, several drawing-rooms and a hothouse. Now the Neoclassical style was truly coming into its own, but the austere proportions of the building are still finely balanced with the Baroque architecture of the Winter Palace.

The rhythm of the colonnade of Corinthian columns in the second tier emphasizes the architectural unity of two buildings very different in style. The two southern and northern pavilions were then connected by construction of a Hanging Garden (raised above ground level, on the next floor) with galleries running along both sides. The whole architectural ensemble took its name from the northern pavilion and is to this day known as the Small Hermitage. Here Catherine II gave entertainments with games and plays, her so-called "small hermitages" and here she initially housed her first art purchases.

Pharaoh's preserved body - "from Him we come to Him we shall return", a promise!

While walking through the museum and with some little understanding of the background history and the museum's collection coming from all over the place from the given brochures, I can't help but comparing the collections on displays in Paris Musee-de-Louvre and Paris Le Chateau De Versailles that I visited a year before. I opined, Anne disagreed that this museum has a lot more grandeur collection than in France. My main reason for saying that is due to the fact that St Petersburg has not been damaged a lot due to the war. I ended the long entry with a memorable photo of me at the museum's cafe, participated well by the staff. That photo was snapped by Anne after our coffee break inside. It may gives you an idea that a visitor can actually spend a whole day inside as there's facilities (food & drinks & wifi) available, should you need a break in between the visit.

Lastly, my apology for sharing too many photos :) I hope you do enjoy, the photos at least!

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