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7 masterpieces of the Hermitage that are worth seeing in 2020

Scientists have long proved that art has a beneficial effect on human health, reducing the level of anxiety and stress in the body. This is especially true of fine art and contemplation of the beautiful. Therefore, in order for 2020 to be filled with a favorable state of body and spirit, it is worth visiting the Hermitage and seeing the most famous exhibitions of the Museum.

“The apostles Peter and Paul” by El Greco
El Greco is one of the most striking and original artists. A Greek by birth, he studied painting in Italy in the Studio of the great Titian. From his idol, he learned the oil technique, and was also inspired by the artistic techniques of Italian mannerism. El Greco stood out among his colleagues by the originality of his dramatically expressive style. In his portraits, he paid great attention to psychological characteristics. In this picture from the Hermitage, the artist represents two different types of people. On the left is the Apostle Peter, who denied the existence of Christ three times. His face conveys sadness and uncertainty, while his gestures are tinged with penitence and pleading. The Apostle Paul, who, as we know, was originally a zealous persecutor of Christians, in the picture shows a spiritual fervor in asserting the truth. The hand gestures that form the compositional center of the work Express the dialogue that unites the two apostles.

White-haired Peter, wrapped in a gold-colored robe, cocked his head to the side. In his left hand he holds his symbol-the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Pavel presses his left hand firmly against the open volume on the table, while his right hand rises in a gesture of explanation when looking directly at the viewer. St. Peter and St. Paul appear in the works of El Greco many times, and they are depicted with striking consistency. Peter the artist always shows with white hair and beard, and he often wears a yellow robe over a blue tunic. Paul is always slightly balding, with dark hair and beard, and wears a red robe over blue or green clothing.
Titian’s Penitent Mary Magdalene
“Mary Magdalene penitent” is a portrait of Saint Mary Magdalene by Titian, Dating from about 1531, with the signature ‘TITIANUS’ on the vessel on the left. The story is about a woman with a dissolute past who, according to the gospel (Luke 7: 36-50), came to the house of Simon the Pharisee to ask Jesus for forgiveness. This is a figure filled with femininity, depicted by Titian using thick, concentrated strokes and warm tones. The palette highlights the incredible eyes, soaked in crystal tears. The copper-colored blond hair that covers the figure is beautifully written. The theme of the penitent Mary Magdalene raising her eyes to the sky became very popular in sixteenth-century Italy among aristocrats, religious figures, and the rich middle class. The lack of clothing symbolizes the Magdalene’s renunciation of jewelry, gold, and worldly pursuits for the sake of faith in Christ. In addition, the Golden hair and overall figure of Magdalene meet the standards of beauty of the Renaissance.
“Madonna Litta” by Leonardo da Vinci
The painting got its name from a Milanese noble family, in whose collection it was located for most of the XIX century. In 1865, Russian Tsar Alexander II purchased the painting for the Hermitage, where it is still displayed. This work depicts the Madonna breastfeeding the Infant Christ. Note the absence of halos in this picture. A number of Leonardo’s paintings show this same trait. The figures are arranged in a dark interior with two arched openings showing a view of the mountain landscape. An interesting detail: in the center of the picture, in the left hand of Christ, is a goldfinch, which is a symbol of the passion of Christ.

The feeling of joy of motherhood in the painting “Madonna Litta” is especially admirably depicted due to the richness of the image of Mary itself – here it found its Mature expression of Leonardo’s female beauty. The gentle, beautiful face of the Madonna gives a special spirituality to half-closed eyes and a light smile. The composition of the painting impresses with its striking clarity and perfection. The Madonna and Child was a common motif in Christian art in the middle ages and continued to exist during the Renaissance.
“Lute Player” By Caravaggio
The painting was commissioned by cardinal Francesco del Monte, who patronized the artist. Caravaggio depicted a young man who is interested in music: his eyes are full of inspiration, his fingers cling to the strings. The figure of a young man in a white shirt stands out clearly against the dark background. Sharp side lighting and falling shadows give objects almost tangible volume and weight. The objects placed on the picture show the artist’s great love for the surrounding world, his desire to faithfully reproduce nature, to convey the material quality of each detail. On the notebook lying in front of the hero with the lute, written the opening notes of the popular in the XVI century Madrigal “You know that I love you”.

Love as the theme of this work is also indicated by other objects. For example, a cracked lute was a metaphor for love that fails. At the beginning of his work, Caravaggio often gave young people feminine features, which, however, was characteristic of Italian art of the late XVI century. Interestingly, the musician from the Hermitage painting was often mistaken for a girl, and the composition was called “lute Player”.
“The lady in blue” by Thomas Gainsborough
One of the best works of the artist – “the Lady in blue” – was created by Gainsborough in the Prime of his creative powers. The figure of a young woman in an open dress made of transparent white fabric stands out gently against a dark background. Her powdery hair is arranged in a quirky style. Large curls fall over sloping shoulders. The freshness of a young face is accentuated by parted lips and almond-shaped dark eyes. With a slight movement of her right hand, she holds up a blue silk scarf. Grayish, bluish, pinkish and white tones here and there are enhanced by bright strokes, and help to convey the elegance and beauty of the model.

The boldness of Gainsborough’s pictorial techniques impressed his contemporaries. Thus, Reynolds noted “strange spots and features” in Gainsborough’s paintings, “which seem to be the result of chance rather than deliberate intent.” This non-academic tradition is one of Gainsborough’s highest achievements. “The lady in blue” entered the Hermitage in 1916 from the collection of A. 3. Khitrovo by will.
“The return of the prodigal son” by Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn
This masterpiece of biblical art once again confirms Rembrandt’s status as one of the best artists of all time and the greatest of all old masters in depicting scenes of the Bible. The painting “Return of the prodigal son”, completed by the artist in the last years of his life, depicts a scene from the parable of the gospel of Luke 15: 11-32. According to the outstanding art critic Kenneth Clarke, the canvas is among the greatest paintings of all time. In the story, the father, like the Patriarch, puts his hands on the shoulders of a shaven penitent and dressed in worn-out clothes of the son. His eyes are almost closed. The act of forgiveness becomes the blessing of an almost sacramental sacrament.

This is a picture with the utmost spirituality, free from all anecdotal aspects, in which all movements and actions have come to a standstill. The scene is plunged into a darkness like a tunnel, from which the faces of the father and his eldest son Shine pale. Their red robes give this darkness a glow. Rembrandt repeatedly painted on the themes of the prodigal son, but in this monumental oil version he came to his most exciting and – thanks to the contrast of the older and younger (prodigal) son – psychologically the most complex formulation.
“Dance” By Henri Matisse
“Dance” is one of the most famous works of Henri Matisse – an ode to life, joy, physical rejection and a symbol of modern art. The work was commissioned by the influential Russian collector Sergei Shchukin in 1909 to decorate his mansion. Characterized by its simplicity and energy, this artistic bacchanalia left an indelible mark on the art of the XX century. The dance was written at the height of the Fauvist aesthetic and embodies the emancipation of traditional Western artistic traditions. The aesthetic choice of Henri Matisse for this painting caused a real scandal in the art salons of 1910. The bold nudity and rough hues gave the picture an unusual character for that time, which in the eyes of some viewers seemed barbaric.

Matisse used only three colors to represent this dance: blue, green, and red. In accordance with the traditional color associations of Fauvism, these three shades create an intense contrast. However, Matisse’s goal was not to shock the audience. On the contrary, he sought to unite people with each other and with nature. As the artist said: “what I dream of is a balanced, clean and calm art that can avoid trouble or disappointment.”

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