The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

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Architecture S. Siberia/Pazyryk Noin Ula (Xiongnu) E./Central Europe
(including early nomads)
Sasanian E. Iran/Central Asia Middle East Mongol Empire Miscellaneous

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, is one of the largest and best known in the world. It contains items of particular interest for the cultural history of the Silk Road, given the extensive archaeological work which scholars in Russia and the Soviet Union carried out in areas such as Southern Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia. The website, in Russian or English, rewards careful examination, even if the navigation to the best selections of material is not always immediately obvious. Clearly some careful thinking is going into the development of sophisticated educational presentations - an example is the "course" on the history of the palace and imperial events connected with it. Given the vastness of the museum's collections though, one comes away wishing for more of the Eurasian, Silk-Road related art to be displayed than currently can be found on the site. So far there is no indication of the kind of commitment undertaken by some museums to put the entirety of their collections up on-line.

The website has rich possibilities for learning about the history of the museum and its architecture. "Pages of the Hermitage History" is a good introduction, which can then be fleshed out with the stunning and extensive virtual excursion, "The Winter Palace Through the Ages." The latter has 360 panoramas of the Palace Square for three different periods and an array of pages on the history of the building in various periods, illustrated with details from old engravings and paintings. This is one of the best sections of the whole website and well worth exploring. The pages for "A Walk through the Imperial Hermitage" explore in detail the "New Hermitage" wing of the museum. One can do a "virtual tour" through a great many of the rooms, where the camera pans the room and at least a couple of objects in that room can be viewed by clicking on a thumbnail. An image map of each floor of the museum provides access, allowing one to select from numbered, descriptive names of the individual rooms. Such "virtual tours" are in fact of little value though, since they do not allow one to dwell, close-up on any significant portion of what is in the given gallery.

The selection of objects in the Hermitage provided here on separate pages is somewhat arbitrary, but the focus is on early nomad material and metalwork, especially Byzantine, Sasanian, Iranian and Central Asian. Since one purpose of these pages to make available a large portion of the images in the classic portfolio of the Hermitage collection of Eastern metalwork by Ia. I. Smirnov, I have included as well most of his photographs of objects found in Russia but now in collections outside of Russia. These may be found on a separate page by clicking here. Color photos are Daniel C. Waugh, most of them having been taken in 2005. The quality varies, since the lighting is often dim, and there is reflection from glass of the display cases. The quantity and superb quality of most of Smirnov's black-and-white images and the somewhat less good ones in Camilla Trever's publication on the excavations at Noin Ula more than compensate for these deficiencies. In a few cases (notably gold objects), my images are of rather mediocre reproductions, not the original objects, where the latter are in the treasure rooms where photography is not permitted. The museum's own pages contain excellent reproductions of some of these originals. Where possible, I provide links to those images.

Last modified April 2006.