The Hermitage: four times in a week

In which we make repeated visits to the world's most fabulous museum and find we are not a bit jaded.
"The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting" in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

I had the good fortune to attend the International Salon of Decorative Painters, held this year in St. Petersburg, Russia. This annual gathering attracts many of the finest painters in my field, from dozens of countries and several continents, and this time was well-attended by incredibly skilled Russian artists as well.   The venue for this event, the Exhibition Center for the St.Petersburg Union of Artists,  is a short walk to one of the greatest museums in the world, the Hermitage. 
Like other major museums, the Uffizi, the Met, the Louvre, it cannot be done in one visit, it's too overwhelming. So I popped over every chance I got. The Hermitage is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The museum is famous for its prodigious art collection, the Rubens paintings and sketches, and countless masterpieces of European art, but as usual, I was staring at the ceilings, walls, huge malachite urns, marquetry floors- because this building is first and foremost one of the most gloriously decorated palaces in the world.

Exterior of the Hermitage, painted with a distinctive and inspiring malachite green, ochre, and white color scheme

Just as in the (amazing film) Russian Ark, even the most organized tour through the Winter Palace will prove bewildering. The decor alone encompasses 300 years of Russian History. The collections reach through millennia. 

I forget what this room is for. Let's ring for tea, shall we?
Rococo styled rooms give way to Neoclassical spaces and "Russian Empire" style, and everything in between. Some interiors are pure fantasy.  I loved it. Every minute of it.

Ceiling detail from the lovely blue and white room used as the "silver cabinet"
Walls covered in gold leaf need plenty of candlelight to show it all off
In every space, gilding of a particular rosy color of gold leaf is used to great effect. OK I admit, in some cases, maybe it's over-used.  Nevertheless, the sheer level of craft is awe-inspiring.

nice example of Russian Neoclassicism in this trompe l'oeil ceiling
The Empire style found a great place in Russian design.  Large quantities of malachite were mined in the Ural Mountains and the famous Ural mosaic techniques were used to create columns, table tops, giant urns. A fairly liberal use of this intense green stone made for some eye-popping Empire interiors.

Gold and Malachite go so well together
Interior of the Malachite Room of the Hermitage, as painted by Constantine Andreyevich Ukhtomsky in 1885 image via
One of my favorite rooms is the"Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting." A long hall which houses a collection of white marble figures by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) and his followers.

"The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting"  neoclassical design by  Leo von Klenze
The walls and ceilings of the gallery are decorated with grottesca (or grotesque) ornament in a vaguely Pompeiian scheme. Insets panels of encaustic paintings on brass plaques by Georg Hiltensperger are meant to illustrate ancient painting techniques.

Encaustic paintings by Georg Hiltensperger depict ancient painting techniques.

Still from the film "Russian Ark"  in which the Stranger wanders into the Raphael Loggia
The most breathtaking space of all, has to be the gallery known as the Raphael Loggia.  Designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s, the loggia was commissioned by Catherine the Great as a replica of the Vatican Loggia in Rome, originally frescoed by Raphael and his atelier in 1512.   

Raphael Loggia in the Hermitage
Grottesca detail of the Rapahel Loggia of the Hermitage
These paintings are of course clean and new looking, but by most accounts they are a faithful and direct copies of the Vatican originals, having been painted on site using tempera on canvas. The canvases were then sent to St. Petersburg for installation. Mirrors replace the Vatican windows, reflecting the northern light. And then there is that rosy color of gold trimming each panel.  The magic of this scene is difficult to describe. 
Hermitage Raphael Loggia
The jawbone of an ass- detail in the Raphael Loggia, Hermitage
Grottesca detail- from 1512 to the 1780s

The Hermitage Museum website has many lovely images, including 360 degree panoramas of entire rooms in their "virtual visit" feature.


21st century decorative artists:
Photos from Salon 2016 at Flickr

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter unless otherwise noted,  May 2016. Click on images to view larger.


  1. You have spoiled us with these photos! I am dying over the Raphael Loggia! Thank you!!!

    1. I know blog posts are supposed to be shorter but this place is EPIC

  2. I was born in the wrong era, the tea room the red one, is oh my god leaving me speechless, every room, every wall, every ceiling you have shared leaves me feeling in awe of the workmanship of the artists who created such spectacular work. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall as the work was being done!!! love all of it, thank you a million times for sharing!!

    1. Don't forget there are skilled artisans doing this work right now, restorers and those who recreate period work. It may not be as common or popular as it once was, but this is my livelihood and there are a great many of us who care about keeping these skills alive!

  3. Encore une fois merci de nous faire partager votre visite par vos photos et vos très intéressants commentaires.


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