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Featured Museum Site

February, 1999

The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Click here to see a larger version at the Hermitage This site gives us the opportunity to travel to Russia to sample one of the greatest museums in the world (and possibly the biggest - the museum, founded by Catherine the Great, consists of over a thousand rooms and has some three million items in its collection).
Given Russia's continuing troubles, it's heartening to see such a fine web site displaying such an astonishing collection of treasures. There are approximately 300 works displayed in extremely high-quality reproduction, from paleolithic sculptures to Caucasus caftans to 20th-Century works by Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky.
The acid test for any museum site is this question: does it give the visitor some kind of understanding and appreciation of the works in its collection? In this regard the Hermitage site is as successful as any any on the Internet for these reasons: there is a very complete overview of its collections online; the designers started with excellent photographs and created extremely good web reproductions; and nothing is put on display without a complete description of the item and an explanation of its significance.
The European collection is, needless to say, magnificent - especially since the works are fresh because they have been seldom been reproduced. But perhaps the most impressive sections are the Prehistoric Art and Oriental Art galleries. The breadth of these collections is amazing, and the icing on the cake is that artifacts aren't just being put on display because they're old: every one is unmistakably a fine work of art in its own right.
Click here to see a larger version at the Hermitage A word of warning: as of this writing, there are a handful of broken links, including the links to the entire Oriental Art and the Arsenal (arms and armor) sections. I was able to guess at the correct URL's, so here are working links to those sections:
Oriental Art
The Arsenal 1
The Arsenal 2

A couple of other minor site design issues: there is some Javascript code that doesn't work properly on one or two lower-level menus. And there is a little bit of Russian left over, in the occasional page title, object description or ALT text which hasn't been translated. However, there is no more of this than in most English-language versions of foreign sites, and the designers should really be commended for making the effort. I for one am quite thankful that I don't have to walk through the whole site trying to decode Cyrillic text.