Opulence and Decadence in Russian Stately Homes.

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Front Entrance to the Winter Palace
A must see (and impossible to miss) attraction in St Petersburg is a stretch of buildings collectively referred to as the Hermitage Museum. The Winter Palace, The Small Hermitage, The New Hermitage, The Hermitage Theatre, The Great (old) Hermitage, The General Staff Building and the Menshikov Palace.

With an incredible striking appearance and questionable colour palette the Winter Palace provides you with a formidable sight. A testament to the rich and powerful’s desire to own and control everything. Founded by Catherine the Great to house pieces of art, sculptures and incredibly indulgent furniture and decor.

The collection spans centuries containing vases from 510bc Greece, Pelike with a swallow, to (relatively) contemporary artists such as Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, etc. etc.. I am not a particular fan of painted art, it just doesn’t resonate with me, that’s not to say this massive canvases are any less daunting. I find the sculptures much more interesting, especially when many of them have been constructed from single pieces of jasper, such as the Kolyvan Vase, or the Statue of Jupiter, weighing in at over 3 tonnes of marble and bronzed plaster.

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Pelike and the Swallow, describing how spring has arrived
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The Kolyvan Vase 
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Statue of Jupiter
Museums are odd places. Relics of the past, stories of interpretation, vanity and somewhat like a time machine. I often wonder, as I’m sure many do, what relics of our present will become history and stored in future museums protected by elderly women armed with nightsticks. The most absurd thought is that this wasn’t a tourist attraction and that you are walking through someone’s not so humble abode. You walk through halls laden with gold columns, bright lazulite and malachite cases, marvelling at the splendour, not realising that this hall would be where the oligarchs have their royal shindigs and probably get sloshed leading to a night of debauchery (don’t quote me on this). As with many things, my own life included, it shows how the distribution of wealth is incredibly skewed, and that the people who built these buildings probably had very little to show for their hard work other than the spectacle itself.

As we move forward these pieces of art and historical significances have become more and more for the masses and they find their place in museums, not homes, which is a move in the right direction.

 

Take from this what you will but as we progress more and more resources are available to the majority of people meaning there are more affordable luxuries that many people have in their homes but we need to remember they are still luxuries. I am hardly a saint when it comes to material possessions as I type this from my Macbook Air listening to music on my iPhone. I would defend why I choose these indulgences over others arguing that they are ‘practical’ or a work aid, but I’m sure many others could defend their choice of $500 ties and $20,000 watches saying that they are also essential to their being.

I have many radical views on how to help decrease the disparity between peoples standards of living and they are somewhat totalitarian/utilitarian and could generally be considered a form of oppression. I have many debates with family members, friends, colleagues, about how I think we could ‘save the world’ and I think it ultimately falls down to avarice and greed which I feel is the human condition (not the Dwarf kings of Middle Earth).

 

I don’t want to be all preachy but feel it’s already too late to say that. I just hope we all can do a little more. One of the last things I told my class before the end of the year was every day you should do something for someone else. Something you would be proud to tell someone, but don’t need to.

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