Paintings of the Hermitage. 6 Masterpieces Worth Seeing

Leonardo da Vinci. Madonna Litta.

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. 5 buildings. 20 km of corridors. 350 halls. 60,000 paintings. You will need 40 days to view them all. If you stop at each picture for at least 1 minute.

The Hermitage has not been justifying its name for a long time. This word is translated from French as “a secluded place, cell.” That was until the middle of the 19th century. Then it could be visited by rare guests on special passes.

In 1852, the museum was open to all comers. There are so many masterpieces in the collection that it’s very difficult to outline a route through the museum.

Here are just 6 brilliant paintings. Different eras and styles. Everyone should see them.

1. Leonardo da Vinci. Madonna Litta. 1490-1491.

Leonardo da Vinci. Madonna Litta.
Leonardo da Vinci. Madonna Litta. 1490-1491. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

There are few works of the Renaissance in the Hermitage. But among them there are already two works by Leonardo da Vinci. This is despite the fact that in the world there are only 19 works by the master!

The museum acquired a masterpiece in the mid-19th century from the Italian aristocratic family of Litta. The picture returned to Russia. Yes, it was already there.

Giulio Litta brought it with him when he became a citizen of Russia. He married the niece of Potemkin. However, his heiress, daughter of a stepdaughter, returned the painting to her Italian relatives after the death of Giulio.

The picture is small – 41 x 32 cm (16 x 13 inches). But after a few seconds you stop noticing it. Something very majestic fits in the small space of the picture. Timeless.

Mother with great tenderness looks at the baby. He falls to her chest. With a little sad eyes he looks in our direction. After all, five minutes before that, a little drama broke out.

Virgin Mary decided to wean the baby from her breast. The cutouts for feeding were carefully sewn.

But she could not resist the requests and crying of the baby. One neckline was rushed in a hurry. So Leonardo portrayed the mercy and love of a mother for her child.

2. Raphael. Madonna of Conestabile. 1502.

Raphael. Madonna of Conestabile.
Raphael. Madonna of Conestabile. 1502. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Another masterpiece of the Renaissance is kept in the Hermitage. The Madonna of the Conestabile by Raphael.

Alexander II bought it for his wife. The purchase was scandalous.

The Italians were outraged that their legacy was leaving the country. They scolded the owner, Count Conestabile. Persuaded not to sell. Even raised money to buy a masterpiece and leave it at home. But they never managed to collect the right amount of money. The picture went to Russia.

It is stored in its native frame, which was executed according to Raphael’s drawings.

Raphael. Madonna of Conestabile (with frame).
Raphael. Madonna of Conestabile (with frame). 1504. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Raphael created his masterpiece at a young age. He was barely twenty years old.

But this is the value of this artwork. It was created in the city of Perugia, in the teacher’s workshop. Rafael has not yet seen the artworks of Leonardo and Michelangelo, which will greatly affect him.

His art is still very original. Thin lines. Gentle colors. Harmonious landscape. We see his genius in its original form. Thanks to Madonna Conestabile.

3. Caravaggio. Lute Player. 1595-1596.

Caravaggio. Lute Player.
Caravaggio. Lute Player. 1595-1596. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

“Lute player” of Caravaggio was purchased at the beginning of the XIX century at the request of Alexander I.

For a long time, the picture hung in the Hermitage under the name “Lute Girl”. After all, the young man is depicted very sensual. Only flat chest suggests that this is not a girl.

Young Caravaggio noted that paintings with such youths were successful with some representatives of the Catholic Church. Therefore, he willingly wrote them.

But he soon abandoned such stories. He increasingly depicted tragic Bible stories. The Taking of Christ. Death of the Virgin. The Entombment of Christ.

Caravaggio was often called a naturalist for his unusual elaboration of details. Spoiled fruits. Cracks in the lute. Shabby notes.

Caravaggio first used his famous Tenebroso in The Lute Player. This is when figures and objects are pulled out by a dim beam from pitch darkness.

So the almost tangible volume is shown. And the character’s emotions take on a dramatic connotation. Such a theatrical effect will become very popular in the Baroque era.

4. Rembrandt The return of the prodigal son. 1669.

Rembrandt. The return of the Prodigal Son.
Rembrandt. The return of the Prodigal Son. 1669. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

The painting “The Prodigal Son” is one of the earliest acquisitions of the Hermitage. It was purchased from the French Duke by order of Catherine II in 1766.

This is the last artwork of Rembrandt. A crowd always gathers near this masterpiece, because it makes a strong impression.

A plot from the Gospel of Luke is depicted. The youngest son wandered around the world. Spent the inheritance of his father. He squandered everything, captive of his passions.

And so, in extreme need, he returned to the threshold of his father’s house. His clothes turned into rags. Slippers stuttered. His head was shaved because he was in hard labor.

The father graciously accepted his son. He bent over him and gently laid his hands on his shoulders.

The picture shows twilight. Only weak light fashion figures. The woman in the background is barely distinguishable. Perhaps this is the mother of the returning young man.

The picture tells of parental mercy and forgiveness. It is about the fact that even a descending person has a hope to find shelter. Provided that he will take away his pride and kneel.

5. Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue. 1782.

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue.
Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue. 1778-1782. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

At the beginning of the 20th century, “Lady in Blue” was transferred to the Hermitage according to the will of nobleman Alexei Khitrovo.

She is considered one of the best works of Gainsborough. Although he did not like to paint portraits. He was forced to carry them out for customers to feed his family. However, he became famous thanks to.

Thomas Gainsborough Portrait of a lady in blue. 1778-1782. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

At the beginning of the 20th century, “Lady in Blue” was transferred to the Hermitage according to the will of nobleman Alexei Khitrovo.

It is considered one of the best artworks of Gainsborough. Although he did not like to paint portraits. He was forced to carry them out for customers to feed his family. However, he became famous thanks to portraits.

In this picture we see all the best features of the Rococo Era. Light, melting strokes. The ideal of sophisticated beauty. The airiness of the image. Elegance in the facial expressions and gestures of the heroine.

Art Quiz

At the same time, there is no chewing and pretense. Woman is natural. Countess Beaufort was just such in life. Graceful and feminine.

Surprisingly, her mother was a member of the Blue Stocking community. These were some kind of feminists of the XVIII century. They valued their readability and broad outlook above women’s outfits and worries about the house.

6. Gauguin. Woman Holding a Fruin. 1893.

Paul Gauguin. Woman Holding a Fruit.
Paul Gauguin. Woman Holding a Fruit. 1893. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

In Russia there are many paintings of Gauguin. Thanks to collector Ivan Morozov, a pre-revolutionary industrialist. He bought The Woman Holding the Fruit in 1908.

After the revolution, his entire collection was nationalized. In the middle of the 20th century, it was divided between two museums: the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

Gauguin was a very extraordinary person. A quarter Peruvian, he was always drawn away from the bustling cities. Once he got to Tahiti.

There the artist wrote “Woman Holding a Fruit”. Flat image. Bright colors. Exotic details (on the road there are “waves” of sand and grass, as in Japanese paintings).

Pay attention to how thin the paint is. We see the texture of the canvas. Gauguin was extremely poor. Paint was expensive. He had to spend it very sparingly.

The audience did not accept such unusual painting. Gauguin was miserable. The artist’s paintings began to be bought only a few years before his death.

***

The Hermitage collection is grandiose. No wonder the museum ranks 13th in the world in attendance. But there are also features.

For 100 years, the collection was formed through the acquisition of private collections. The owners did not think about showing future generations all the milestones in the development of painting.

Therefore, the collection has a lot of works of baroque and rococo. Nymphs. Angels. Puffy beauties. Still lifes with an abundance of fruit and lobster, which looked so good in the dining rooms of noble people.

As a result, there are “white spots” in the collection. For example, the Hermitage has a significant collection of Dutch painters. But among them there is not a single Bosch artwork.

Alas, the Hermitage collection has also suffered serious losses. After the 1917 revolution, the Soviet government sold 48 masterpieces!

Titian’s masterpiece “Venus at the Mirror” irrevocably left Russia. “Madonna of Alba” by Raphael. “Adoration of the Magi” Botticelli. This is also part of the history of the Hermitage. The sad part.

 

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