Following our introductory tour of the Winter Palace, we continued on into the section of the palace that is the beginning of the Hermitage Museum. Our tour this evening focused on the European Masterpieces section of the permanent collection galleries, with the most time spent in the Rembrandt van Rijn room.
“From the 1760s onwards the Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian Tsars. Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace is perhaps St. Petersburg’s most impressive attraction. Many visitors also know it as the main building of the Hermitage Museum… Today the Winter Palace, together with four more buildings arranged side by side along the river embankment, houses the extensive collections of the Hermitage. The Hermitage Museum is the largest art gallery in Russia and is among the largest and most respected art museums in the world. The museum was founded in 1764 when Catherine the Great purchased a collection of 255 paintings from the German city of Berlin. Today, the Hermitage boasts over 2.7 million exhibits and displays a diverse range of art and artifacts from all over the world and from throughout history (from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century Europe). The Hermitage’s collections include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian, a unique collection of Rembrandts and Rubens, many French Impressionist works by Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, numerous canvasses by Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin and several sculptures by Rodin. The collection is both enormous and diverse and is an essential stop for all those interested in art and history. The experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit on display in the Hermitage, you would need 11 years before you’d seen them all.” – www.saint-petersburg.com
“The Hermitage’s collection of Western European Art is one of the finest in the world, containing masterpieces from all the major centers of artistic development in Europe from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Based on the collections bought up by Catherine the Great to fill the walls of the Small and Great Hermitages, it has been expanded over the years through further Imperial purchases, Bolshevik confiscation of private collections, and appropriation of artwork in conquered Germany.” – www.saint-petersburg.com
“Among the most famous works in the collection, which occupies the first floor of the Winter Palace and the Great Hermitage, are the major collections of paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt, two of twelve surviving works by Leonardo da Vinci – the tiny Benois Madonna of 1478 and the more impressive Madonna Litta of 1490-91 – and canvases by Titian, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, El Greco and Goya, to name but a few. Less fashionable, though equally impressive, are the large collections of French neoclassical painting, particularly works by Poussin and Lorrain. Even the collection of English art contains noteworthy canvases by Gainsborough and Reynolds. .” – www.saint-petersburg.com
“Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669) is considered one of Europe’s greatest artists as well as the most significant painter in Dutch history, renowned for his expressive use of light and shadow, his restrained color palette, and his psychological and emotional perception… [The collection includes] a charming depiction of his wife as the goddess of spring in Flora (1634) [and at] the far end of the room where we find the monumental, moving Return of the Prodigal Son (1669). Rembrandt painted this masterpiece towards the end of his career and it was still in his studio when he died. The subject matter comes from the Gospel according to Luke, in which Jesus relates the tale of a young man who demands his inheritance from his father and then absconds to a far county where he squanders the money on riotous living until, running out, he falls into the severest poverty. Desperate but repentant, he returns to his father, who rather amazingly, runs to greet him, welcoming him home with open arms, saying ‘We should be glad: for this son was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.’ It is this moment of reunion that Rembrandt has chosen to depict: the son has fallen to his knees, reflecting his shame and degradation, yet also his repentance. His back is to us, but we can still observe his dreadful condition in the dirty foot, ragged shoes, tattered clothing, and shorn head that rests against the father’s chest. The magnanimous father, emerging from the shadows, enfolds this beggarly prodigal in his warm red cloak, his hands placed comfortingly, lovingly on the boy’s back. The old man appears nearly blind, but surely Rembrandt has succeeded here in creating one of the most astonishing countenances in all of art history, a face that radiates the forgiveness, mercy, and compassion of God.” – www.saint-petersburg.com