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 "Virtual Treasures" exhibitions overlap with but also contain more images than in some of the separate web pages listed below. Note especially the exhibitions for the Treasure Gallery, with images of Scythian and other nomadic art, Greek and Byzantine work.
- There are many, alas too short, pages under "Collection Highlights." Of particular note are:
- "Prehistoric Art." Has links to several separate pages, many of which display the spectacular gold objects found in various early nomadic burials in Eurasia from early times down to the 13th century.
- "Antiquity: Jewellery and Glyptics." Includes a couple of the most spectacular gold pieces from the Bosporan Kingdom on the N. Black Sea coast.
- "Oriental Art." Has links to separate pages for topics such as Byzantium, Sasanian Iran, Islamic Art, India, Mongolia and Tibet, China, Central Asia, The Golden Horde.
- "The Treasure Gallery." Includes links to pages with objects from the early nomadic art in the famous Gold Collections.
- Additional objects in some of the same categories may be found in the "Exhibitions Archive," where note the following:
- "Animal and Man: Ancient Art of Eurasia."
- "Arzhan. The Source in the Valley of Kings. Archaeological Discoveries in Tuva."
- "The Golden Deer of Eurasia."
- "Golden Warrior: Treasures of Saka Barrows."
- "The Treasures of the Golden Horde." See also, in the "Virtual Excursions" section a similarly titled "The Treasure of the Golden Horde, with a different, quite generous, set of images.
- "Chinese Export Art."
- Perhaps the best way to pull together a sizeable number of objects is to use the "Digital Collections" feature, where one can search under type (e.g., sculpture) and then can browse by a country or region list that pops up in a separate window. Of course it turns out that the list is sparse, unless one maximizes the possibilities by choosing all objects under the one type. Of particular value is the invitation to "View Similar Artwork," which often provides several choices as to how that similarity is defined. Thus one can eventually get a pretty good selection (a couple dozen) of the Buddhist thangkas from Khara-Khoto, or see a generous selection of "Scythian Gold" objects. An outstanding feature of the site is that you can select a part of an image viewed through "Digital Collections" and zoom in to enlarge it.
- An alternative is to use the simple "Search" box and insert key words. This works fine if you know the spelling. Thus, "Khara-Khoto" works, "Kara Khoto" does not, and curiously even the correct one does not bring up all the items actually in the digital collection for that particular collection.
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.