A branch of Russia’s famous Hermitage museum opened to the public last weekend in Amsterdam. The giant Hermitage Amsterdam houses treasures from St. Petersburg including costumes, jewelry, furniture, and art from the time of the Tsars.
The museum’s opening was done with appropriate pomp and circumstance. Fireworks, a full orchestra, and a visit by the Dutch royal family entertained a vast crowd lining the Amstel canal just to the east of downtown Amsterdam.
The museum itself made a more lasting impression. The two wings are dedicated to the Tsars’ court and the exquisite balls for which it was famous. Some of the most sumptuous displays are of court costume, like this red velvet and satin dress embroidered with gold, made for the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna sometime between 1880s and 1890. Other displays included ornate jewelry, gold tableware, thrones, and even musical instruments.
Some of the most interesting items were the minor ones, like the menus for state banquets, showing images from Russian history printed in brilliant colors. The working toy guns for the Tsar’s children brought a few looks of horror from parents, and a series of early black and white silent films from Russia in the 1910s gathered a large crowd.
What the displays didn’t talk about was as interesting as what they did. There was barely a mention of the Soviet Union, and not a word of how the Romanovs lost power–by being lined up against a wall and shot by the Bolsheviks. With this grandiose display the new Russia is trying to put its unseemly past behind it and highlight its role as a European power in the grand tradition. While museums shouldn’t shy away from inconvenient history, the Hermitage Amsterdam certainly fulfills its objective. Add it to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum as the artistic highlights of one of Europe’s great art capitals.