Atlantis Alumni

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Baltic's Queen Bee

Photos: 1) The Gold Room at the Hermitage; 2) Malachite pillars in St. Isaac's Cathedral; 3) Titian's St. Sebastian; 4) The Church Of The Spilled Blood; 5) The Stock Exchange building; 6) Rostal Column; 7) The Winter Palace (Hermitage); 8) St. Isaac's Cathedral

One must confess that the Queen Bee of the Baltic is the amazing Imperial city of St. Petersburg. Peter the Great’s spacious and monumental city, in its oldest quarters, boasts lavish Baroque and Neo-classical facades, all designed to awe the visitor.

We started our tour of the city by driving past such landmarks as the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Rostal columns before the former Stock Exchange, the Orthodox commemorative church of the Spilt Blood (built to commemorate the assassination of the noble-minded Tsar Alexander II), the Admiralty buildings and the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. We visited the magnificent masterpiece of the French architect Montferrand, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and after a Russian lunch, we toured the Hermitage, one of the greatest art museums in the world. There we were able to enjoy works by Leonardo da Vinci (two rare, early Madonnas), Fra Angelico, Raphael, the Baroque Spanish masters, and especially Rembrandt. The Dutch artist’s “Prodigal Son” is one of the most moving paintings anywhere, since its subject is forgiveness for human transgressions, a rare and unusual topic to tackle, for even a genius. Rembrandt shows a simple shame in the pose and profile of the Prodigal son, complete forgiveness on the face of his father, and envy tinged with sorrow on the faces of the Prodigal’s two brothers. Rembrandt’s use of rich earth colors—red, gold, black and a multitude of browns---never ceases to amaze me.

Though the tour through the Hermitage, with all its stunning rooms (like the red-velvet covered Small Throne Room or the overwhelming Gold Room with its gold-plated columns) was an abbreviated tour, we were happy to know that we’d be returning to this treasure trove for a second visit. Jim had the bright idea to visit the museum twice, and I can’t thank him enough for that suggestion.

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