The State Hermitage: Masterpieces from the Museum's Collection
Book Review by Nicola Linza
In 1716 a Paris born Italian genius named Francesco Batolomeo Rastrelli came to St. Petersburg, Russia to work with his architect and sculptor father Carl-Bartolomeo Rastrelli. In 1741 when Russia’s Elizabeth ascended the throne, Francesco became her court architect. 13 years later a Winter Palace for the tsars better known today as the Hermitage was developed by Rastrelli [1746-52] on the River Neva. The foundation of what was to grow into the now famous Hermitage collection of art was laid out in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great made the first large acquisition of Western European paintings. Today Francesco Batolomeo Rastrelli’s architectural masterpiece is renowned not only for its sublime design but for the glorious cultural treasures of art within its aristocratic walls and Booth-Clibborn Editions brings back to publication a glorious slipcased double volume set which documents its sublime holdings in glorious detail.
The State Hermitage presents a very impressive collection of works including early Picassos, Matisses, and Impressionist pieces extended by works included in the eastern wing of the General Staff building, the Menshikov Palace and recently the Hermitage constructed Repository. Staged within the walls of Rastrelli’s glorious architecture The State Hermitage documents the unique collection of cultures in the vast buildings of the Museum - the Small, the Great and the New Hermitages, the Hermitage Theatre, the General Staff building and the Menshokov's Palace.
Russia’s aristocrats held a passion for collecting works of quality and creativity during one of the last true groundbreaking periods in the arts - prior to the Russian Revolution. The events of the Russian Revolution, and subsequent Soviet takeover, changed much in Russian society, one of its strongest cultural impacts was on the art treasures held at the time. Patrician families collected the finest works of art the world had to offer at an unparalleled rate and scale. The 18th and 19th centuries proved to be a very active period of their collecting which lead to the enormous holdings. After the revolution the Soviets sold many nationally held treasures from these famous private collections to raise "fast" cash. The idea of selling off museum acquisitions in the manner that they did may have the appearance of creating a massive cultural disaster yet fortunately for the world the Hermitage collection did not fall prey to ruin. After four years in preparation the impressive publication The State Hermitage is back in print by Booth-Clibborn Editions. The refined double-volume publication presents a complete view of the institution with a foreword by Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, and an extensive introduction by Dr. Vitaly Suslov which together presents an intelligent, scholarly, and very readable text closely following the stunning photographic record.
The Booth-Clibborn Editions publication is an amazing presentation covering periods from the Orient, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, English, French as well as Dutch works of the 18th century to Modern masterworks. The State Hermitage is a fitting tribute to the treasures of one of the world's greatest institutions of art and architecture. Beautifully designed by David Hillman at Pentagram and published by Booth-Clibborn the two-volume set features lavishly-reproduced works of art including famous paintings by artists as varied as Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh and Kandinsky, and lesser-known pieces that have never been published. There are few things on earth that create a true grand splendor, The State Hermitage is a one of them in person, and now again in print.