Music for the children of our time

The Edukators

The angry man of sculpture

Attack on artistic freedom in Russia

Pushing at the edges

The secret life of objects

Porcelain that challenged the world

Bill Brandt

Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands


The inspiration of Italian cinema


Pissarro in London

Of Villains and Villeins

Piazzas on the eve of destruction

Modernism resurgent

Wilkie - Painter of everyday life

Techno-gothic fusion


Gagarin Way


Vietnam behind the lines

Romney - mirroring the gentry

Caspar David Friedrich - the essential Romantic

The awesome effects of the sublime

Earth & fire

Paul Klee: The nature of creation

John Pilger's Great Eyewitness Photographers

Sarah Medway: In the Realm of the Senses

A glimpse of the Hermitage

Vermeer at the National Gallery

Paul Signac: Travels in France

The other story of British abstract art

Breaking the silence

Century City

Digitising the Hermitage

Ghosts of christmas past

The disasters of war

Picturing the people's game

Picasso as political icon

An art world Schindler

British modernism reclaimed

Brush Power

The modern bronze age

The first museum of modern art

Six women who shook the world

Frances Aviva Blane

Caro's challenge

Ellsworth Kelly at the Tate

Magnum resists the lure of the dollar

Rebel behind the American movement

E-mail to hear about site changes, placing 'update' in body of message



Digitising the Hermitage

By Corinna Lotz

It's never been an easy or cheap exercise to visit Russia, and even less so today in the lawless Putin era. But glimpses of the country's best-known and best-loved treasures can be had in London from now until September 2001 at the newly-installed Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House.

Hacks writing for newspapers like the "Guardian" miss the point when they gawp only at the opulence of the display of wealth accumulated by Russia's most famous Empress. All they see is Catherine's purchasing power.

She was undoubtedly a compulsive collector of beautiful and extraordinary objects, like many monarchs before and after her time. But the selection of art works and painting currently at Somerset House provides an insight into the amazing twists and turns of world history.

Aged 33, Catherine seized the Russian throne in 1762 after a coup against her husband, who was assassinated a few days later by a group of her friends.

By this time Catherine, has ploughed her way through the French classics, studied history and - unusually for a Russian aristocrat - had learned the language of her subjects - Russian. She wanted to apply the ideas of the French Enlightenment to governing the Russian empire.

She was influenced by Montesquieu and the Italian jurist Beccaria. When Diderot's famous Encyclopedie was banned in France, she offered to continue to publish it. She helped him financially by buying his library but kindly left him in possession of it until he died.

She corresponded with Voltaire and bought his books after he died in 1778. They were shipped to St Petersburg. The 7,000 volumes were then installed in the Winter Palace in a special library.

The inaugural exhibition presents a glittering mix of jewels, paintings and portrait miniatures. The intricate marquetry floors are made by Russian craftsmen. Even the immaculate ruched curtains capture the profligate luxury of the State Hermitage Museum in the unforgettable Winter Palace on the Neva river. Exquisite marble busts of the French thinkers who inspired the Reine Philosophe, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, sit regally on one sideboard in the Hermitage Rooms in London.

On an array of monitors the viewer can explore the thousands of paintings, drawings and pieces of decorative art accumulated by Catherine and see how they look in situ.

Views of the "mother of all art galleries" are provided by a high-tech plasma screen which shows what is happening in St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum connected in real time to London.

Digitising the Hermitage has provided IBM with a chance to develop a database showing the vast variety of art works in the collection. A number of new image-creation techniques are being tried out. In a hand-crafted new "library" space at Somerset House visitors get the chance to test out IBM's claim to have helped position the Hermitage as "one of the most technologically proficient museums in the world".

Open until September 23, 2001. Admission is 6 for adults, 4 concessions. Open Monday to Saturday 10am-6pm. Sundays and Bank Holidays 12 noon to 6pm. Tickets from Ticketmaster 020 7413 3398 (24 hours) or 1 booking fee.