Monday, August 8, 2016

Hermitage and the Yusupov Palace

Tuesday, June 8 (continued)

Most of those from the boat went back after the guided tour of the Hermitage, but some of us elected to stay in the museum for independent browsing. One of the things I wanted to see was a special exhibit on Korean art. Brenda Kim, another single female traveler in the group, also wanted to see the Korean exhibit, so we both went there first.

Korean print on exhibit at the Hermitage

It was an interesting experience, seeing Korean artifacts again after nearly a decade. I did visit the Korean section of the British Museum while I was there earlier during this odyssey, but that held mostly furniture and pottery. The exhibit in the Hermitage was an eclectic collection of jewelry, clay statuettes, screen painting, stone Buddhas, and pottery. One vase—white with blue figures like Ming Pottery—had a magpie on it. The Russian word for that is copok (sorok), which, in Russian also means forty, but that may also be the Korean word for magpie.[1] I have been trying to remember the word for several years now. I think it is the national bird of Korea. All in all, I was glad to have visited the exhibit. It brought back memories of Korea, including both positive and negative feelings I had in the country. There was also a rubbing of the symbol of the Emilie bell—a girl surrounded by a flowing scarf—on exhibit in a glass case. I had seen the original in Korea, ten years previously. A photo of the bell is in the book, Korea, Are You at Peace.

The second day in St. Petersburg, I went with part of the group on an optional tour of the Yusupov Palace. We stopped at a synagogue on the way that had been operational for about a century. Someone in the group said that it was structured like a Sephardic—rather than Ashkenazy—synagogue. The wonder is that it survived the Stalinist era. But perhaps Stalin did not have as much antipathy toward Jews (Marx was a Jew) as he did toward Christians.

Gilded room in the Yusupov Palace

The Yusupov Palace was intriguing in many ways. First, it was opulent, in the fin-du-siecle opulence of the wealthy of many nations, including the U.S.—artifacts from around the world; hand-wrought furnishings; highly decorative wall finishing; light fixtures for the gas lamps that had become the vogue; and family portraits by notable artists.

Basement room, Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was murdered

Of historic interest was the fact that it was in that home that Rasputin was murdered, a murder largely engineered by the family’s eldest son, Felix, who managed to escape the dragnet set out by the tsar for the conspirators. The murder was dramatized by wax figures of the conspirators and the victim in the underground quarters of the young count, as well as by the guide’s narrative.

Zinaida, mother of Felix Yusupov, in Asiatic dress

Of additional interest was the fact that the Yusupovs had originally been Tatar Muslims who had been rewarded for service to some earlier tsar. The family had managed their money well and had become one of the wealthiest families in Russia—wealthy enough for the young Count Felix to marry a princess, Irina, niece of the ill-fated Nicholas II.

[1] My conjecture was wrong. The Korean word is kkachi.

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