With over three million artefacts on display, The State Hermitage Museum is not only the largest museum in St Petersburg, it’s also one of the biggest and most prestigious in the world. The Winter Palace is famous in Russia, and while it no longer houses royal Tsars, it does host some the greatest works of art ever created, as well as an extensive assortment of historical relics. Estimates suggest that if you were to admire one exhibit every minute, it would take 11 years to cover the entire museum’s collection. As most visitors only have a few days to spend in St Petersburg, we’ve done the legwork for you and selected the 10 best things to see at the State Hermitage Museum.
Portrait of Soler
One of the most emotive paintings from Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’, Portrait of Soler is a picture of a young man sitting alone in a café, and is widely considered a comment on loneliness and isolation within the artist’s own life. Painted in 1903, using his good friend and patron, Soleras as his model, Picasso expresses melancholy through a powerful use of colour, expression and lighting – or lack thereof.
A marble masterpiece by renowned Renaissance painter and sculptor Michelangelo, Crouching Boy depicts a young man crouching in the nude. While incomplete, the artwork is powerful nonetheless, and the boy’s muscles can be seen straining as hetends to his foot, perhaps extracting a thorn.
St Luke Drawing the Virgin
A significant artwork by Belgian painter Rogier van der Weyden, St Luke Drawing the Virgin portrays an artist – perhaps a self portrait of van der Weyden himself – sketching the Virgin Mary as she cradles baby Jesus. Interestingly, the canvas was initially two separate pieces, one half owned by Tsar Nicholas I, and the other by Alexander III. If you look closely, you can still see the vertical join.
Portrait of an Old Man in Red
One of Rembrandt’s most powerful and lifelike paintings, Old Man in Red is a must-see at the State Hermitage Museum. Through clever paintwork, attention to detail and use of colour, the Dutch painter masterfully captures in his subject a wise and calm aura that can only come from many years of life.
Statues of Atlantes
The entrance to the New Hermitage museum is as striking as its interiors. A magnificent portico is held up by 10 giant granite Atlantes statues, created by sculptor Alexander Terebenev. Each of these majestic statues represents a significant figure from history.
Leonardo da Vinci Room
Thisornate room in the Old Hermitage is home to not one, but two masterpieces by great Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci. The Benois Madonna and The Litta Madonnaare both powerful depictions of the Virgin Mary, and are key highlights of theEuropean Art collection at the State Hermitage Museum.
The Treasure Gallery
Accessible by guided tour only, the museum’s Treasure Gallery is heavily guarded and full of immensely valuable jewellery and priceless artefacts. Key items to look out for include ancient Scythian and Greek gold works, pieces by St Petersburg court jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé, and historical trinkets such as the pendant of Sir Francis Drake.
Head of Athena
There are a number of sculptures of Greek Goddess Athena throughout the State Hermitage Museum, but the Head of Athena is arguably the most captivating. Dating back to the 2nd century, the marble is immaculately preserved, so her powerful and wise gaze continues to be as striking as it would have been when it was created.
A visitor highlight for guests of all ages, Knight’s Hall showcases arms and armour from the 15th through to the 17th century, complete with horses and knights. One of the largest spaces in the New Hermitage, it’s advisable to book a guided tour.
While a staircase may not sound like a star attraction, the Jordan Staircase at the Winter Palace is a striking sight to behold. The marble ceremonial staircase is covered in ornamentation, classical sculptures and embellished gold leaf. Due to its intricate beauty, it’s one of the museum’s most photographed sights.
Continue your cultural education back at Hotel Astoria, St Petersburg’s most famous historical hotel and a grade one-listed architectural landmark.
Image credits: cover image © BrianRaisbeck/iStock. Statues of Atlantes © lavendertime/iStock.