There it is - served up on Dvortsovaya square like a huge mint birthday cake floating on the Neva River. The Hermitage is Russia’s Louvre and like its French compadre, it would take days, if not weeks, to see all 3 million works of art within its hallowed halls. The former Winter Palace for Tsars and Tsarinas, it's St. Petersburg’s most recognizable landmark and one of its greatest pains in the ass. For years the city was desperate to fund its restoration and protect its spoils. It eventually found support from the world’s well funded international family of galleries.
I spent the most time inside the incredible Peter Paul Reubens room. More like a chapel, the room is the size of a bowling alley and is painted in bright orange/umber.
Some of Reuben’s finest works such as Venus Disarming Mars are on display and you can feel his power and presence radiating from the canvasses the moment you step into the room.
The one that caught my eye was Christ just before being crucified - Crown of Thorns (Ecce Homo). His shoulders and chest are smeared with the grime from a soldier’s grip and on his head rests a particularly sharp crown of thorns. A crimson satin sheet surrounds his body, while his arms are bound behind him pushing his naked torso forward so it resembles the powerful and erotic poses of a wounded St. Sebastian. It’s as though he’s stepped right out of a Derek Jarman film.
But the painting’s sublime expression resides in Christ’s eyes. Despite the humiliation and pain he's already endured they still retain a human majesty of tender proportions. He’s transcended his suffering and defeated his tormentors by offering them his forgiveness. It’s a perfect synthesis of the sacred and profane and unlike other works on the same theme, Reubens' Christ is utterly human.