City of Art
MOST VISITORS to St. Petersburg go to the Hermitage, and rightly so. It houses one of the world’s most large, if not largest, art collection in a former czar’s palace (the Winter Palace) where the Revolution of 1917 was staged, and where each room boasts a unique parquet floor, wall paneling, molding, and window trim. It is a grand, voluminous display that you cannot see or absorb in a short time. But it’s by no means the only source of rich art in town.
There’s also the Russian Museum, home to the work of Russia’s finest artists whose works are also displayed in a former czar’s palace.
This building is more simple and less labyrinthine than—but equally palatial to—the Hermitage. Among its thousands of pieces, what stood out for me were the exquisite portraits and massive seascapes, both of which reveal the profound character of the Russian people and country.
And just next door in, yes, another former czar’s palace, is the Russian Ethnographic Museum (Museum of Russian Nations) which displays the furniture, tools, and attire of the disparate Russian nations, accompanied by many late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century photographs of people from the various regions.
At first glance, it seems like an archaeological museum. But as you wander through it (and it’s extensive), you start to realize the rich heritage of Russia’s solidity, nobility, and pride.
Even in the primitive conditions and harshest climates of pre-modern times, Russians made and wore fine fabrics and elegant headdresses. They also crafted beautiful boats, houses, tools, and jewelry (the locks they made, which are handsomely embroidered and look sterling, are some of the most ingenious I have seen).
But above all, in the displays and in the photographs, you see an underlying dignity that perhaps many Russians today don’t suspect they have, or at least are heir to.
Quietly hanging in a cabinet in the last room of many that we visited was this marvelous stone-jewel design of a woman making a simple offering to the sun. Mounted on a neutral grey background, it stood about eight inches high. The more I looked at it, the more beautiful it became.
One of many treasures lying in wait in this extraordinary city of art.