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.


IMG_5357The 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.

After a quick peek at the Hanging Garden through the
windows, guests entered The Pavilion Hall with its 28 exquisite crystal and
gold chandeliers and the visitor favorite, Peacock



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 SonPortrait of an Old Jew and Danaë.


Portrait of an Old Jew


Return of the Prodigal Son





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.

IMG_5402 Benois

Benois Madonna

IMG_5409 Litta

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.


IMG_5431One 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.

IMG_5449After 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




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.

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