The Hermitage Museum

Caroline Hurry
Caroline Hurry

Housing the greatest collection of European art in history, the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, which began life in the 18th century as the private art collection of the Romanovs, in particular Catherine the Great, will leave you teetering on the edge of giddy exuberance and awe, writes CAROLINE HURRY

Housed in historically significant palaces, the Hermitage Museum is a startling combination of sky-lit atriums, brushed concrete walls, superb ceiling frescoes, magnificent chandeliers, marble statues, antique furniture, clocks and other priceless treasures.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna Litta, which depicts the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. Picture: Caroline Hurry
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna Litta

The sheer size of the building, which stretches for 1.6km, leaves you slack-jawed with amazement. Step inside and it will rock your world forever.

There are more than three million pieces of art on display and according to our Tour De Force guide, Veronika Pominova, it would take you more than six years spending a minute at each exhibit, to see them all. Oh, and this would also entail a walk of 25 km! The Heritage houses key works by Da Vinci, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Titian, Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Seurat, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso, to name but a few.

Rogier van der Weyden in about 1435-40 shows the Virgin tenderly feeding her child while she poses for her portrait by St Luke. Picture: Caroline Hurry
Rogier van der Weyden in about 1435-40 shows the Virgin feeding her child while she poses for her portrait by St Luke.

Most popular is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna Litta, depicting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the baby Jesus.

And while we’re on the topic of breastfeeding – there’s nothing more natural in the world, as depicted by Rogier van der Weyden in about 1435-40 who portrays shows the Virgin tenderly feeding her child while she poses for her portrait by St Luke.

Saint Sebastian by Pietro Perugino, Perugino, the leading Umbrian artist of the late 15th century. On the arrow which projects from the saint's neck the artist painted his name in gold letters.
Saint Sebastian by Pietro Perugino, Perugino.

In showing her feeding Jesus in this original holy image, van der Weyden sees the physical reality of motherhood as a touchstone of artistic truth.

I also enjoyed the depiction of Saint Sebastian by Pietro Perugino, the leading 15th century Umbrian artist, who painted his name in gold letters sticking out from the saint’s neck.

Sebastian was a Roman soldier who was condemned by the Emperor Diocletian to be tied to a column and killed with arrows for his faith in the teachings of Christ.

Art Deco clock in The Hermitage
Art Deco clock in The Hermitage

There’s also a display of art nouveau creations. I especially coveted this gold clock, part of a dazzling collection of gifts sent to the tsars from all over the world.

The Three Graces
The Three Graces

And when it comes to Greek and Roman sculpture, Antonio Canova’s compact and balanced Three Graces perfectly captures the ideal of beauty.