An outpost of St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum opened in Amsterdam in 2009 with a star-studded, 30-hour ceremony. Set in a former 19th-century hospital complete with 17th-century courtyard, the building has two vast exhibition spaces, a concert hall and a restaurant. The museum mounts two exhibitions a year, borrowing items from the three-million-strong collection of its prestigious Russian parent. The Hermitage’s riches owe much to the collecting obsession of Peter the Great (1672-1725), who came to Amsterdam to learn shipbuilding and the art of building on waterlogged ground – the latter knowledge he applied to his pet project, St Petersburg. Peter befriended local doctor Frederik Ruysch, perhaps the greatest ever anatomist and preserver of body parts and mutants in jars. Ruysch enjoyed constructing ghoulish collages with gall and kidney stones piled up into landscapes; dried veins woven into lush shrubberies and testicles crafted into pottery. The scenes were animated with dancing foetus skeletons. After kissing the head of a preserved baby, Peter paid Ruysch 30,000 florins for the lot (much of it is still on display in St Petersburg’s Kunstkammer collection). Some of Peter’s prized souvenirs – including Rembrandts – came for a visit in 2013 during an exhibition dedicated to the great man. Other exhibitions included ‘Gauguin, Bonnard, Denis’, ‘Greek Gold’ and ‘Nicolas and Alexandra’.
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