RUSSIA: The Hermitage and The Hunter's Punishment

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December 12th 2019
Published: December 12th 2019
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The Hunter's PunishmentThe Hunter's PunishmentThe Hunter's Punishment

by Paulus Potter (detail)
I didn't come to Russia to go surfing.

As Westly one of our Aussie mariners penned it, "Time slips past like the Svir under our river boat. However, I am still remembering the early mornings, the mist and upcoming sun as we quietly made our way up stream back in September and of course an enthusiastic photographer not wanting to miss a moment !"

The Neva, Svir and Volga Rivers leading us 29 Aussies smoothly along...through sunrises, forests, frescoes, adornment everywhere.

I didn't expect to go surfing...especially not in the Hermitage in St Petersburg...filled with three million works including thousands of paintings collected by Catherine the Great.

I went in search of the Hunters Punishment by Paulus Potter and was caught in a tsunami...a tide swell of humanity that had me lost, battered and confused.

I didn't come to Russia to go surfing...but go crowd surfing I did.


The bus shivers in the early morn as we set off...Putin's needle skyscraper across the water...vertebrae and rib bones of the bridge as we cross the Neva... into a carpark...cube buildings with catacomb corridors and six inch thick steel doors.

The secure
Leonardo da Vinci 1452 - 1519Leonardo da Vinci 1452 - 1519Leonardo da Vinci 1452 - 1519

"The Litta Madonna" - Florentine school
vaults of the Hermitage where the balance of the three million works of art of the Hermitage Museum are housed...the Fort Knox of the Art World...and this dancer is getting excited.

Shiny corridors...heavy steel cameras everywhere.


Sorry...can't share what is within...'cept maybe that I saw Peter the Great's shoes and an evening gown made for Michelle Obama...oh my...many, many surprises inside!


Massive Palace Square...centipede buildings circling...bronze horses on the roof frozen in a gallop as if ready to rain down...a pumpkin coach with some in medieval dress..."avoid them" I hear whispering...the Winter Palace of Catherine the Great...the Hermitage...facade stretching so long I'm spinning around.

I've travelled half the World to be here...and it looks like the other half of the World is here also.

Gotta hurry...gotta beat them inside...a massive wave is coming...and I ain't getting washed aside.


I can feel the presence of powerful women looking down.

There's Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter who was ordered to a nunnery but refused, deposed Ivan VI and took the throne herself

In 1752 not content with just ordering the construction
Leonardo da Vinci 1452 - 1519Leonardo da Vinci 1452 - 1519Leonardo da Vinci 1452 - 1519

"The Benois Madonna" - Florentine
of a Summer Palace on Tsarkoye Selo, Empress Elizabeth orders architect Rastelli to build her a Winter Palace which was nearly finished when she dies.

Six months later her successor Peter III is murdered and his wife Catherine II takes over..

Having more wealth than the average Russian oligarch, Catherine started collecting some paintings to brighten the walls of her Winter Palace...her "Hermitage"...paintings so numerous she had to be called "the Great.".

But the purchase of paintings did not start there.

Even before the Hermitage, European paintings in particular by the Dutch, graced the walls of imperial Russian residences, many of which entered the Hermitage over time.

On his trip to the Netherlands in 1716 & 1717 Peter the Great acquired Dutch paintings for himself and in 1745 in Bohemia for Elizabeth. These included Rembrandt's "David Parting from Jonathan".

Yet it was Catherine the Great's envoys, agents or marchands who bought not just individual paintings but whole collections for the Hermitage.

It was her idea to create "a vast palace pinacotheca".

Pinacotheca is the name for the building containing pictures which formed the left wing of the Propylaea on the Acropolis at
Francesco del Cairo 1607-1665Francesco del Cairo 1607-1665Francesco del Cairo 1607-1665

"Portrait of a Poet"
Athens, Greece.

Not one to add "the Humble" to her name, Catherine was also known as "the Northern Semiramis", after the queen who restored ancient Babylon.

In 1764 she purchased 337 paintings by European artists from the merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowski...100 of which were Dutch and 45 Flemish.

So began her penchant for collecting that she herself described as "gluttony".

She delighted in out-bidding that well known connoisseur of the arts, Frederick II of Prussia, who after the Seven Years War (1756 -1763) was suffering financial difficulties.

In 15 years she purchased the whole of six of Europe's most famous collections.

In 1772 she caused outrage in Paris when she purchased 415 paintings from the collection of the late Baron de Thiers, thus avoiding a public auction.

If an enemy of the Empress was bidding, she was known to fork out fantastical prices to outbid.

But passion can lead to tragedy.

In 1771 the ship Vrouw Maria sank in the Gulf of Finland on route to St Petersburg carrying a precious cargo of Dutch art of the collection of Gerrit Braamcamp including admired works "Triptych with an allegory of
Correggio 1489 - 1534Correggio 1489 - 1534Correggio 1489 - 1534

"Portrait of a Woman" - Parmesan school
instruction" by Gerard Dou and "Bulls by a Path" by Paulus Potter.

In 1768 her agent Prince Golitsyn acquired 4,030 Old Master drawings.

Catherine's acquisitions became so plentiful that in 1771-1787 she built the Large Hermitage to house them.

Yet her Greatness had to "show off" her purchases to be truly Great.

What better way than during her "Conversations" held at 7pm each Thursday for her inner circle, where her guests could choose their own programs...reading verses, guessing games, charades, skipping, hide & seek and the subjects in the paintings smiled in admiration upon their merriment and folly.

But all good things come to an end they say.

204 works from the English Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole...119 works from Silvain-Raphael Baudouin...from 1773 to 1785 her catalogue included 2,658 entries of which Dutch & Flemish paintings were 60 percent of the group...whole rooms attributed to Rembrandt, Nicolaes Berchern, Bartholomeus van der Helst and Philips Wouwerman.

And then in the mid 1780s Catherine said "Enough is enough" and quit collecting.

Her "Age of Enlightenment" came to an end.

Fortunately her legacy was continued by her successors but at reduced pace.
Workshop  of Andrea della Robbia 1433-1525Workshop  of Andrea della Robbia 1433-1525Workshop of Andrea della Robbia 1433-1525

"Madonna and Child" - Florentine

In 1815 Alexander I acquired three animal paintings by Paulus Potter, "The Farm", "The Wolfhound" and "The Hunter's Punishment", the latter containing 14 images of hunting with the animals ultimately seeking and obtaining retribution...causing a sensation in Russia.

And it is the latter that has drawn a 21st Century dancer to Russia...yes..t'is yours truly's quest to see the Hunter's master the art of:

"The Now of Looking that morphs into the Then of the Painting."

And thanks to Nicholas I who opened the Hermitage as a museum in 1852...and thanks to the Bolsheviks who preserved them and the Russians that saved these works from the Nazis...this dancer is ascending the Ambassadors Staircase of opulence and gilding surf the tide swell of sup and surmise with the look into the eyes of their subjects...hoping they will smile back.


Seeking audience with the Tsars

We begin our tour up the Ambassadors Staircase where foreign delegates ascend for an audience with the Tsar.

If ever there is a case for a wider camera lens it is here.

Following the 1837 fire, Vasily Stasov restored the staircase in the original Rastrelli Baroque style...flanked by balustrades of Carrara marble, statues
Francesco Melzi 1493 - 1570Francesco Melzi 1493 - 1570Francesco Melzi 1493 - 1570

"Flora" - Milanese school
in niches, mirrors reflecting gold gilding, space and light. I turn admiring the view, entering the Mt Olympus ceiling painting bordered by the nymphs that inhabit that space.

Into the Great Enfilade of State Rooms where 29 Aussies roam in the Field Marshalls' Room...then enter the Hall of Peter the Great or Small Throne Room with emblazoned ceilings and a niche with a throne of bog oak and gilded silver.

His Greatness surveys us bemused as he poses in a magnificent painting with Minerva...behind his not so humble throne.

We emerge into a 1,000 sq m hall intended for magnificent balls and receptions...the Armorial Hall with fluted Corinthian columns and groups of Russian Warriors with banners, weapons and the ever present crests of the double-headed eagle.

Taking the door to the left into Hall 197. The Gallery of 1812 with 332 portraits of heroes of the 1812 Napoleonic war. Most are looking as if to afar...but some lock eyes and say "отлично сработано otlichno srabotano...Well done."

33 blank canvases...I guess they were killed or didn't make the portrait sessions...others still remembering favourite room as I'm in Portrait Heaven.

Left again into the St
Marcantonio Franceschini 1648-1729Marcantonio Franceschini 1648-1729Marcantonio Franceschini 1648-1729

"Head of a Girl" (Sybil?)
George Hall or Large Throne room...800 sq m lined with fluted columns and an innovative ceiling of copper sheets...the throne created at the behest of Empress Anna Ioannovna in 1731-32.

The tide has passed us by so some rest while we prepare to enter the West Wing and get into viewing some paintings.


It's as if entering a time warp...marble & 15th & 16th Century medieval paintings on wood...metal & wooden artefacts in cabinets...the tide carrying us into the Pavilion Hall where the waves convert to a mass of people around the Peacock Clock made by the Englishman James Cox. When it strikes the hour the peacock spreads its tail...the owl turns its head and the rooster crows. The figures are shown in a golden mushroom.

I look up...ceiling spinning...28 chandeliers throwing light like a discotheque...marble inlaid floor...arches and columns ocean of people gasping and pressing...down a short narrow passage into Italian Paintings of the 13th to 16th Centuries...getting downright giddy.

And then I see a Botticini...frantically reaching to tell others in our group...but stop. Botticini or Bottacelli...Bottacelli did the Venus pics did he not? Check it's Raffaello Botticini I
Guido Reni 1575-1642 Guido Reni 1575-1642 Guido Reni 1575-1642

'Repentance of St Peter"
know him? Del Robbia, Bartolomeo, Albertinelli...religious Renaissance masters and I have not heard of any of them.

There's a name I know...Leonardo da Vinci in Hall 216..."Madonna and Child (The Benois Madonna)" and "Madonna and Child (The Litta Madonna)" giddy becomes spinning...a metal crucifix from 1270 AD.

Displays of Venetian floating in Hall 227...Hall 229 Raphael Hall...not sure where but I saw some Titians.

And before I know it I stumble on the others around a crouching figure by Michelangelo...surely I am now in heaven.

Carried on the swell into Halls 239 & 240 Spanish Painting of the 15th & 16th Centuries...Velasquez...El Greco.

And then I'm in more familiar territory Flemish & Dutch Painting of the 17th Century...Rubens...a Hall full of Rembrandts.

I'm down the back with Simon (my mate from the back of the bus) when Denise comes calling,

"David, Alexander says come quick. He's found your painting."

Oh man...I'm running...around a partition...Alexander grinning..."The Hunter's Punishment" by Paulus this is it...thank you...left to ponder...the now of looking that morphs into the then of the painting.

I was expecting it on a large wooden panel but it is smaller and has a gold frame.

14 images of men with horses and dogs hunting with spears and muskets (of deer, rabbits, leopard, wolf, ox, lion, boar, monkeys, bear and goat) surrounding two long rectangles of animals leading the hunter to judgment by the Lion King.

The other animals observing or dancing and rejoicing around open fires while lynching the hunting dogs on nooses strung over the branches of trees.

This is so bizarre...animals imbued with human and malice with revenge and retribution on the palette.

The painting is reputedly a pointed political allegory that was relevant and meaningful at the the the animals take revenge on the hunter, warning that harsh rulers will inevitably get their just deserts.

Research by Amy Walsh & Edwin Buijsen and a hypothosis by Klara Semyonova, a curator of the Hermitage indicates a link to a complex political situation in the Netherlands in about 1650 when William II strongly resisted attempts to reduce the army after 80 years of war and the dilemma of who should lead the country following his death pending coming of age of William III.

It is suggested by those researchers that the painting demonstrates how a harsh and cunning hunter becomes the victim of those he had terrorised, maybe a call to the prince's wisdom and reason.

My mind boggles at the now of the looking and I'm morphing into the then of the painting.

Lost in the Surf and Bending the Knee

On our cruise we not only had Alexander our guide constantly counting to 29...but we had a Quite Vox voice system with headphones so Alexander could explain this and that without yelling and so we would remain in contact.

But as I found out, it does not work in sea water either figuratively or ethereally.

Near the "Hunter's Punishment" was Paulus Potter's "Wolfhound" , some small exquisite pieces by Gerard Dou, Frans Hals with his 40 shades of black, Alexander van del Tempel, Ferdinand Bol and other Dutch Masters.

I follow the stream...some heads of our group ahead...then my headphones went blank...stopping and adjusting...I now can see no one I know...walk fast...Alexander's voice is back...gotta be near...enter a parallel passage...yes I think this is the way.

Then a wave of Chinese coming at me led by a flag...numbers totally filling the corridor...dive left into a small gap...wave
Dirck Jacobsz 1497-1567Dirck Jacobsz 1497-1567Dirck Jacobsz 1497-1567

"Amstrdam Arquebusier's Guild"
surging...dive down...dumper breaking over me...gasp a breath...another wave as large and powerful hitting me...swimming forward against the current...calmer water ahead...walking faster as the crowd thins...our group gotta be just ahead...little realising that they had turned right at the moment I had dipped my head and dived to the left of the surging wave.

They may have also have gone down a level down the Council Staircase which was near the Rembrant Hall.

Eventually the surf spits me out on foreign shores...Vox silent or dead...retrace my steps as my sense of direction is usually sound and frantically found Alexander or he found me.

"Come with me" he is saying, "the others are on a lower floor"...leads me to a lift...yes they have one in this place.

And as the lift doors closes behind us...I bend the knee.

Onto one knee hands clasped as if in prayer...begging forgiveness.

He smiles benevolently, "It is OK David." He is not annoyed at all.

Then we are in another section of Dutch Masters...he points and disappears ahead..."We'll meet at the main stairs at ("x") o'clock"...and he is gone.

"Alexander our Guide" thereafter was elevated to "Alexander the Great"...a title that was adopted by the other Aussie mariners as our Russian tour progressed.

The hall was close to empty of swimmers...I am now where I am supposed to be...the eyes in the paintings locking on mine...that look of understanding and recognition...the art of now of the looking morphing me into the then of the paintings.

And as is my way I had the most marvellous time alone with the Dutch Masters...skipping stones...collecting sea smooth and laughter bright as the tide ebbs out.

Even spent some time with fellow mariner Jan in some of the Royal halls that were now empty of people.

Was at the Ambassadors Staircase 10 minutes early...joining those who always arrive 15 minutes early to catch the bus back, which is not an always for me.

I don't mind being last back on the bus...but as I am the hunter...I always ensure I am never late!.

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Additional photos below
Photos: 189, Displayed: 32


Paulus PotterPaulus Potter
Paulus Potter

Leopard Hunt
Paulus PotterPaulus Potter
Paulus Potter

Wolf Hunt
Paulus PotterPaulus Potter
Paulus Potter

Bear Hunt
Paulus PotterPaulus Potter
Paulus Potter

Rabbit Hunt
Paulus PotterPaulus Potter
Paulus Potter

Lion Hunt
Paulus PotterPaulus Potter
Paulus Potter

Wild Ox Hunt
Raffaello Botticini 1470-1520Raffaello Botticini 1470-1520
Raffaello Botticini 1470-1520

"The adoration of the Infant Christ with Saints Barbara & Martin" - Florentine
Domenico Zampieri 1581-1641Domenico Zampieri 1581-1641
Domenico Zampieri 1581-1641

"Mary Magdalene taken to Heaven"

12th December 2019

Wow!!! You have really waxed poetic with this blog...
about all the great art. The Hermitage has always been high on my bucket list, and now you have given me more inspiration.
14th December 2019

Wow!!! You have really waxed poetic with this blog...
This blog is not for a quick brush or a scan, Bob. Yet it is just a taste of the visual delights on offer at The Hermitage, and only a portion of our time there. Denise & I would like to return...but in quieter waters where we can dwell and not be whipped along with the tide. When you go Bob...make sure you allow plenty of time, as a short visit can be like missing a sunrise or the magnificence of a sunset.
13th December 2019

Again taken back in time with your magical words. I love to read your words. Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to Dancing Dave and his beautiful Denise.
14th December 2019

Ah...the now of the looking...and the then of a magical, (I like your word "enchanted") time together in Russia with Simon & you, Liz.(and the others that enjoyed the ride). Thank you for keeping in touch and keeping the memories alive. This blog is for those that know that now the looking can best be appreciated by morphing into the then...and being pleased they did so.
13th December 2019

...the art of now of the looking morphing me into the then of the paintings...
it was indeed dizzying - oscillating from the now to the then...& not to mention the swimming!! Fab penmanship btw.
14th December 2019

...the art of now of the looking morphing me into the then of the paintings...
Delighted that folks can hop onto my words and join the ride, my love. Also delighted that by surfing the crowd that is the Hermitage, that we can enter the now of the looking of Thursday afternoon "Conversations" of Catherine the Great and morph into the magnificent paintings, that by doing so smile upon our merriment and folly. Let's make sure we go back again.
13th December 2019

St Petersburg
Fantastic eh? Seems like you enjoyed the amazing art. David
14th December 2019

St Petersburg
Enjoyed the amazing art? Sure did David. But with so much on offer, I have been very selective as to the genres and periods I have shared. Didn't seem right that I included any pre-medieval, impressionist or modern art in this blog. Hope you spend the time to morph into the then of the works by 14th to 18th Century masters I have offered.
14th December 2019

A good reading!
Thanks Dave, a good narration of history. Photography was not allowed, how did you manage to sneak so many pics?
14th December 2019

A good reading!
Hi Tab. While we are surrounded by bushfires in Sydney you are probably surrounded in snow at your home in Canada. The secure vaults of the Hermitage were No Photos Allowed, but the Hermitage itself which is the old Winter Palace had no restrictions on photos at all. Hope you get into the paintings as well...just a taste of one of the largest art collections in the World.
15th December 2019
The St George Hall

On going to St Petersburg
Thank you for writing about the hermitage. I really want to go to St Petersburg. I think I nowadays can visit St Petersburg for up to 72 hours, or something like that, on a visa I can get at the border. I might go there on one of those. Longer trips in Russia are unfortunately much more difficult to get visas for. /Ake
15th December 2019
The St George Hall

On going to St Petersburg
I would have thought from Sweden to St Petersburg, for you would be like visiting your neighbour, Ake. However, I suggest you go through a visa agency. My investigations indicate you can visit St Petersburg visa free for 72 hours if you travel via Helsinki on a particular ferry and stay in designated listed hotels, but you have to book 4 days ahead. Otherwise, from 1 October 2019 you can apply for a 30 day e-visa as Sweden is an approved country. Yet I am unaware if you would be successful applying for a visa at the Russian border for 72 hours or otherwise. As an Australian I certainly could not apply at the border and definitely can not seek to extend a 30 day tourist visa, as I investigated that for our recent trip. We ended up being booked on a flight out of Moscow 5 minutes before our 30 day Tourist Visa expired. But that's another story!
15th December 2019

Oligarch's Gluttony
Fantastic voyage back into a time where art collecting was the bomb. I can imagine you slipping away during the tour, never to be truly herded, looking for gold....and finding it.
15th December 2019

Oligarch's Gluttony
I can visualise you smiling Dangerous One as you pen from your Florida shores, knowing me from shared adventures afar, dropping the bomb "never to be truly herded, looking for gold....and finding it". Ya got me. Guilty Your Honour!
15th December 2019

Painting those word pictures once again
Your advice to go slowly and enjoy will be heeded when we head that way. It does look simply amazing. Thanks for the history lessons. The grandeur is amazing. Thanks for taking us along.
15th December 2019

Painting those word pictures once again
Thank you MJ for joining the ride and getting into the limited brushstrokes I offer. Denise spent more time absorbing the grandeur of the numerous halls while I spent my time capturing the paintings between wave tips. There was only a pocket sized reference book on offer and many if not most of the paintings are not on the internet. Makes me a happy chappie that I captured what I did. When you visit there, I say 'when' not 'if', please increase our collection of pics of the extraordinary artworks on offer.
16th December 2019

Are you sure you were in Russia?
Sounds to me like you were in Dutch-land, about 300 years ago. Enjoyed the blog. Hermitage is very high on my wish list, well St. Petersberg as a whole is. And I will take it slow. 'Cause that's my style... No surfing for me! A lazy raft down a slow moving river, taking my sweet time seeing and sensing everything.
16th December 2019

Are you sure you were in Russia?
I perceive you get it Ralf. I can see you having a lazy raft down a slow moving river, taking your sweet time seeing and sensing everything. I can relate to that. Do you like me, also quite like getting lost.?
16th December 2019

The Hermitage
I never did finish my blog through Russia. Got lost in the wilds of Mongolia. I have been contemplating completing the trip in words but there's no way I can write better than this blog. It wonderfully sums up the overwhelming experience of the Hermitage. When Sylvia and I were there in 2008, the "No Photographs" signs were there but it wasn't policed. It was most frustrating as we couldn't view the displays for all the camera flashlights. Have you noticed how so few people actually look at what is in front of them? They are too busy looking through the lens of a camera/phone to actually experience the moment :(. Did you get to the Summer Palace, or this that for another day?
16th December 2019

The Hermitage
The Summer Palace is my last blog as Tsarkoye Selo with my Russian History summary, John. Check it out. As to the Hermitage, times have changed since 2008. Not only are folks smiling, but flashbulbs are either banned or no more. There are no restrictions on photography other than at the secure vaults which are at a different location. Also the nationality of visitors has been expanded significantly. You make a good point that many are too busy photographing to look at what is in front of them. As most like us were in tour groups there is pressure to keep moving as there is much to see. To dwell can risk being left behind. My balance was to take as many pics of paintings as I could so I could enjoy later as otherwise they would be forever hazy or forgotten. But there were times I had the chance to enjoy the now of the looking and do my best with limited time to morph into the then of the paintings. But many just pass by and their looking is nothing more than fleeting glances at best. Those that are interested dwell a while 'cos that is what they do. Hope you enjoyed my pics of the paintings as well. I feel fortunate that thanks to Travelblog, I have preserved my memories so I can revisit as often as I please.
19th December 2019

I had to pinch myself to realise it wasn’t a dream
Hello David & Denise, Oh I must agree - The Hermitage was certainly a highlight of the trip. I had to pinch myself to realise it wasn’t a dream. Many thanks for the wonderful shots as a reminder of the beauty of such talent & breathtaking works of art. We were just so lucky to be there & I will never forget the experience. Have a great Christmas & enjoy the holiday season. Many thanks again for your blog & all the fabulous photos. Love Mary & Peter
20th December 2019

I had to pinch myself to realise it wasn’t a dream
Thank you Mary for keeping in touch. That you spend the time to comment on my blog is appreciated as the blog is my take of a unique Russian adventure not just for Denise and I, but for all of us. A big "Hi and Christmas cheer" to Peter & you from both of us.
12th January 2020
The Hunter's Punishment

The Hunter's Punishment
I'm very drawn to this painting, both for the literal meaning and the implied lesson :)
13th January 2020
The Hunter's Punishment

The Hunter's Punishment
I am pleased you have also been drawn to this painting, Ren. The hunter in the painting bears a likeness to John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679) whose image is clearer in the Rabbit Hunt picture. It was John Maurice that was proposed to lead the Dutch Republic during the minority of William III, but I understand it did not eventuate.
29th January 2020

Journey through the Hermitage
Love it! You made a trip to the museum feel like gliding through a magical realm. And the phrase, "the now of the looking and the then of the painting" is such a great sentiment and one that will stick with me the next time I am in front a painting.
30th January 2020

Journey through the Hermitage
You got it Tommy...'cept 'twas more like surfing than gliding! But the memories endure and Russia's beauty including incredible artworks were everywhere to see. More serendipity to share...more to come.

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