AN EVENING FIT FOR ROYALTY AT THE WINTER PALACE
During a recent stop in St. Petersburg, guests onboard Marina were treated to a unique experience on an excursion called Musical Evening at the Hermitage. One of the oldest and largest museums in the world, the State Hermitage Museum sees approximately 2.5 million visitors a year. That is an average of about 8,000 visitors a day! So you can imagine how decadent it must have felt to be the only visitors in the building on this exclusive shore excursion.
The spectacular Winter Palace that houses the Hermitage was made all the more grand by the absence of the usual crowds. Constructed on a monumental scale, it was intended to embody the power of Imperial Russia, which encompassed almost one-sixth of the earth’s landmass and over 125 million subjects at the time the palace was built in the early 18th century. The clock tower bells that chime on the hour and half hour greeted the group for what was to be an extraordinary evening.
The private tour began at The Main Staircase of the Winter Palace (also known as the Jordan Staircase) where the world’s dignitaries were greeted for state receptions and functions over a century ago. Restored according to the original designs after a devastating fire in 1837, the staircase is one of the only areas of the palace that has retained the original 18th-century style. The painted ceiling depicts the Gods of Olympus, and alabaster statues welcomed the evening’s visitors.
After passing through The Memorial Hall of Peter the Great, the tour made its way to The Armorial Hall, once used for official ceremonies. With huge gilded columns, bronze chandeliers and stucco coats of armor framing the cavernous room, the effect was breathtaking.
Emperor Alexander I created The War Gallery of 1812 to honor the generals who defeated Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. When these portraits were hung, every citizen in Russia knew the names of these generals, 17th-century celebrities who fought valiantly in the war.
The St. George Hall, or the Large Throne Room, is one of the
largest rooms in the Winter Palace and home to the throne of the Emperor. Regarded as the throne of Russia, the velvet throne is emblazoned with the imperial coat of
arms and the crowned double-headed eagle. The scene of many of the most
formal ceremonies of the imperial court, it was most notably the location of the meeting of the First State Duma, which marked the first time ordinary citizens were allowed into the palace in substantial numbers.
Next stop was The Rembrandt Room with 23 works by the famous Dutch master, including some of his more famous masterpieces: The Return of the Prodigal Son, Portrait of an Old Jew and Danaë.
A particularly exciting moment of the tour was The Leonardo Room where guests were able to view two highlights of the museum’s collection. Of the few oil paintings by Leonardo da Vinci in the world, two can be seen at the Hermitage: Benois Madonna and The Litta Madonna.
The group was then momentarily transported to Rome upon entering The Raphael Loggias, a meticulous reproduction of the famous 16th-entury gallery in the Vatican Palace. Under his supervision, Raphael’s pupils painted the walls and vaults according to his sketches.
One of the museum’s masterpieces and the only work by Michelangelo in the Hermitage is the sculpture Crouching Boy in The Italian Cabinet. Unfinished, it is thought to have originally been designed for a chapel in Florence.
After taking in the art of many of the great Flemish and Dutch masters, guests entered The Small Italian Skylight Hall, one of three top-lit halls, to enjoy Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries, including The Lute Player by Caravaggio and works by Tintoretto.
After the private tour of some of the highlights of this remarkable museum, everyone was able to take a seat and soak in the atmosphere of the evening with a concert performed by the State Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg in the largest of the three skylight halls, The Large Italian Skylight Hall. Surrounded by magnificent works of art by 17th- and 18th-century Italian artists, the orchestra brought the museum alive with works by Mozart, Faure and Tchaikovsky.
As if that weren’t enough for one evening, the tour ended in The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting where guests sipped champagne and witnessed Cupid bringing his love back to life with a kiss in Canova’s sculpture Cupid and Psyche.
Three Graces by Finelli bid the group a fond farewell as they left the museum. Although it was 10 p.m., it was barely dark outside. Guests were able to snap some final photos of the empty Palace Square and The Alexander Column, named after Emperor Alexander I and erected as a monument to Russia’s victory in the war with Napoleon’s France.
The private event at the Hermitage was remarkable, and everyone left with treasured memories of a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
A special thank you goes out to Vanessa Cordo of Oceania Cruises for sharing these photos and video of the Musical Evening at the Hermitage.