Saturday, September 8, 2018

Third Port of Call: St. Petersburg, Russia (Part 8)

Our trip inside The Hermitage was delayed 45 minutes because a cruise ship docked late, therefore its passengers got off the boat late and were delayed with border control. The tour group of 400 delayed us nine. Nadya, our tour guide, emphasized this is the only time she has ever had to wait to enter The Hermitage with a timed ticket. As a result, rather than lingering by art, we were dashed through at warp speed to see the highlights. A disappointment to me because The Hermitage was one of the reasons I really wanted to go to St. Petersburg. Unlike other places we have been, I don't foresee returning here. On the other hand, it was feeling a lot like many other world-famous art museums. A lot of feeling overwhelmed looking at floors, ceilings, walls, all the while trying to not knock into out tourists and priceless works of art. 

The wait gave us a chance to take a rare family photo and to study the war damage to the outside of a nearby damage. Again I was reminded how lucky the United States has been to not have fighting on our soil in over 150 years, may it continue.

Finally we made it inside. It was such a quick pass through that now that we have been home for a few weeks and I have a chance to look at pictures I took I feel as if I am seeing these places for the first time. 

The gilded room is the Palace Church. It was designed by Catherine II in the Baroque style. It is under the dome. In the early 19th century there was a fire in The Hermitage, but the church was not damaged.

The next room room is a celebration of the victory over Napoleon. In the Gallery of 1812 there is a wall of images of those who fought in the war. The blank spaces are labeled with names of people who fought, but there are no images of them. This was before cameras and iPhones. In my opinion it is amazing how many pictures DO exist.

Alexander I, the grandson of Catherine the Great) is in this picture looking a lot like Napoleon. Hmm..

From here we went to the Throne Room. Bet you can guess why it is called that. Its official name is The St. George Room. The same images are mirrored in the parquet floor and the gold and white ceiling. A detail that would have escaped me had Nadya not pointed it out to us, and had I not noted it in my red notebook. The icon of St. George was left out of the floor because "we don't walk on our icons," explained Nadya.

There is only one throne in the room because in the 18th century Russia was ruled by a queen. In order for the queen to remarry and still stay queen, she had to marry an equal. There are not many kings out there looking for wives.

A view out the window. I often find like what I see outside museums more engaging than what is inside of them.

Three images of Mary made out of ivory.

 Loved this narrow hallway filled with Medieval art. 
More views outside the windows.

A table with mosaics. I'm thinking a better description would be inlaid, but same basic idea.

Portrait of Elizabeth the Spender (who significantly increased the size of Catherine Palace).
This peacock clock was a gift from one of Catherine II's lovers. It is okay for the queen to have lovers and stay queen, she is just not allowed to marry any of them. Next to the clock is a video explaining how it works. We didn't have time to watch it, but I did find it on YouTube, which I have also not taken the time to watch. The clock is on the mushroom, which is quite small. It is regarded as one of the highlights of The Hermitage.

Quickly we pass a few more of The Hermitage's highlights. They are obvious as that is where the large groups of people are gathered holding up cell phones and camera to take images they will never look at again, or at least never be able to identify again. Okay, I'm feeling a bit jaded at the moment as this trip is taking longer to blog about than I would like.

Benois Madonna
Madonna Litta
Two works by Leonardo da Vinci. Mind you, there are only 15 such paintings attributed to him either in whole or in vast majority in the world, so for two to exist in one museum is extraordinary. 
For an artist who most of us can identify at least two works of art (The Last Supper and Mona Lisa), it surprised me that there are only 15 paintings of his in the world.

This hinged chair was used by a wealthy person to hide his money while he and his chair traveled.
 This statue of the Crouching Boy is the only Michelangelo statue in all of Russia. It is unfinished. It is used to study Michelangelo's technique. By looking at this, art specialists can tell he began by carving the subject's muscles.

Unfortunately our guide could either take us in this room, or we could see works by Leonardo da Vinci. All sorts of rules about what official tour guides can and cannot do. Nadya had to pass a rigorous test in order to be certified to give tours in The Hermitage. Made me reflect on the times I have given tours at Rockingham with the scantiest amount of information -- just enough to be misleading. She did say if we happened to poke our head in there without her, that would be alright. I suppose it helps we were a small group.

This blue vase is huge, and amazing. Nadya pointed out you cannot find that large of a piece of blue lapis in nature, therefore this is a replica of the stone. There is also a green vase equally as large, and equally as impressive.

We passed through three rooms with skylights. As always, wondering if I should look up at the ornate ceilings, down at the ornate floors, or in-between on the ornate walls. There are over three million items in The Hermitage. Nadya said if you spent one minute looking at each piece of art it would take seven years to see everything if you did not take a break. She was big on making sure we had enough bathroom breaks. 

By now you might have realized something I hadn't appreciated until it was pointed out to me, The Hermitage is filled with Western Art, not Russian Art or works from the Orient. Works that are comfortable and familiar to me.

This sculpture of the Death of Adonis by Giuseppi Mazzuoli looks as if it is still moving. That wild boar could leap away from Adonis at any point and attack us.

Nadya referred to this next picture as The Breakfast by Diego Velasquez. A search on it calls it The Lunch. It is considered to be a self-portrait of the guy in the foreground wearing the yellow shirt. The debate is, how many people are in the picture? Some say three, some say four. The correct answer is three.The collar in the background is not a person in the shadows, but the cloak of the man on the left. I was fooled.

The Hermitage boasts at least four Rembrandt paintings. The first is an image of a woman lying down. This one was damaged by a terrorist. It took 15 years to painstakingly restore.

 The second is The Old Man in Red, thought to be Rembrandt's father. The third is The Holy Family with Angels. The fourth is The Prodigal Son. In the latter painting the key people are highlighted on the left. The father's hands are clearly different from each other in this image, as if one is his earthly father and the other is his heavenly father. When Pope Benedict visited in 2006 he was visibly moved by this painting.

 We dashed downstairs (not really running, but also not lingering) through the 4th century BC to see this vase, and the giant vase I learned nothing about other than it was huge. My notes say it is made from Jasper, but I have not idea what type of material Jasper is and if it even exists.

As we quickly passed this sarcophagus, I nearly didn't even take a picture of it because we have one at the Princeton University Art Museum. By now I think of it as something ordinary a world-class museum would have instead of something there is a finite number of in the world. I did take its picture because of the story Nadya shared with us in passing, it is believed that the sarcophagus was the inspiration for Russian dolls (matryoshkas). Another light bulb moment.

The mummy is from the 10th century BC. Looks amazingly well.

Non-sequitur, there are about 50 cats at The Hermitage. We did not see any.

Seemed like less than an hour later we were outside and waiting for Alex to take us to our lunch destination. That was a lot of art and history to absorb in an hour. 

While we were waiting we passed these statues. Rumor has it if you make a wish why rubbing one of the toes (any toe, any statue) your wish would come true. Nadya swears by it. She wished to get into a certain university with a full scholarship, and she did. I wish Nadya had given us some time to think about what wish we should make. It only works the first time you rub the toe (not as if it is likely I will return to St. Petersburg given the visa challenges). I believe I wished for a new job (a common wish and prayer these days). The next day in Helsinki I learned about the six-week temp job at Princeton University. Gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. I should have been more specific though (like Nadya was with the scholarship) and asked for a permanent job. I'm willing to travel to make similar wishes in other places in the world. 

 From here we had lunch. It included a dessert Ashley could enjoy, too, so no fancy cut apple this time.

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