St Petersburg is one of the most intriguing and beautiful cities in Europe; with its skyline of exotic buildings and ‘onion’ shaped domes, it attracts visitors from all over the world. One of the most famous sites, and one that all tourists make sure they visit, is the Hermitage or Winter Palace.
Situated on the River Neve, this monumental collection of buildings, is recorded as having 1,800 rooms, which contain nearly 2,000 windows. Also in the Winter Palace is the largest museum in the world – known as the Hermitage Museum. When visiting the Hermitage it is best to check opening times online and get there as early as possible; large queues build up for tickets later in the day. If you arrive early at the museum you don’t normally have to queue and will hopefully be ahead of the crowds.
Within the Palace are luxurious State apartments – once the home of the Russian Royal family, who lived there from 1732 until the Russian Revolution in 1917.
The museum contains some three million works of art, and amongst these fantastic masterpieces are fifteen sculptures by the renowned Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova, including his most famous – the elegant sculpture of three graceful goddess’s, known as Three Graces.
The room which his statues occupy is long and well lit by natural light and must be one of the most beautiful rooms of any type in the world; it is simply stunning with wall paintings setting off the Canova statues. The Three Graces is the most famous of the Sculptures but some of the others are equally beautiful such as Cupid and Psyche, Dancer and a bust of Napoleon.
The Empress of Russia commissioned the Three Graces sculpture from Canova in the early 1800’s. It took three years to complete, but unfortunately, before it was finished the Empress died.
Into the story now appears the 6th Duke of Bedford from Woburn Abbey. Whilst on a Grand Tour of Europe, the Duke had seen the sculpture standing in Canova’s studio, and offered to buy it. But the Empress’s son wanted to keep the work in Russia, and rejected the Duke’s offer, and instead presented it to the Hermitage Museum. However, the 6th Duke was not a man to accept rejection, and commissioned Canova to make an identical copy for his estate back in England. Amazingly, Canova took on the challenge – the only alteration he made was changing the shape of the pillar from square to round.
But just over 150 years later, the sculpture was sold to pay Inheritance Tax, and is now jointly owned by the National Gallery of Scotland and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It resides in alternate museums for seven years at a time, and in the spring of 2013 is due back in London, where thousands of admiring visitors will be able to admire the creativity and skill of Canova.
There is also a plaster replica of the Three Graces to be seen at Clandon Park a National Trust property near Guildford in Surrey. www.clandonpark.co.uk
Daily Flights from the UK to St Petersburg are operated by British Airways from terminal 5 at Heathrow. www.ba.com
There are also regional flights from airports like Gatwick with Aeroflot on Saturdays only. Accommodation outside peak periods is quite reasonable we stayed in a hotel about 10 minutes walk from the Hermitage in the Nevsky Prospekt area of the city which we sourced on www.hotels.com. For those who have a special occasion to celebrate and want to experience an extraordinary hotel and restaurant visit the Taleaon Imperial Hotel on the main avenue of St Petersburg, Nevsky Prospekt. It is a former mansion and is an amazing building and interior. Further details on www.taleaon.ru
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