The collection of French arts and crafts
At some point of exploring the Hermitage it might be a nice idea to shift your attention from the wide variety of paintings and sculptures to a small room of French art of the XV-XVII centuries where the ceramics of Saint-Porchaire and Bernard Palissy are presented. Worldwide there are about 70 pieces of Saint-Porchaire works and in the Hermitage you can see as many as four of them. Saint-Porchaire Technique (which is named so after the presumed place of origin) can be briefly described as follows: common clay was placed in the molds and then ornaments were squeezed by metal matrix forms. After that the notches were filled with clay of contrasting color, then the product was covered with transparent glaze and fired in a kiln. After firing a decorative painting was added. As you will see, the result of this intricate and time-consuming process was extremely delicate and fragile.
In the opposite showcase you’ll discover s another kind of pottery ‒ the ceramics of Bernard Palissy, the most famous master potter of the XVI century. The gaze will be immediately attracted by the colorful and unusual so-called “rural clay” dishes, depicting the inhabitants of the water element. The technique of these dishes is still a mystery, but historians suppose that they are made using casts of the prints. It seems that the stuffed sea reptiles were daubed with grease, then the clay was put on top and the whole thing was burned. After that the effigy was removed from the burned clay leaving the imprint. Some scientists state that during the procedure the reptiles were immobile rather than dead. The resulting imprints were turned into casts, which were attached to the dishes, all painted with colored glaze, then covered with a transparent one and burned. Bernard Palissy’s pottery was so popular that he gained countless followers and imitators.
Diego Velazquez ‒ “Breakfast”
The Hermitage possesses a valuable collection of Spanish paintings. The fact that until the Napoleonic times Spain was a very religious closed state and local paintings were not sold outside the country makes this collection even more valuable. XVI-XVII centuries are considered to be the “Golden age” of Spanish painting, and Diego Velazquez ‒ the court painter of Philip VI – was one of its greatest masters. His “Breakfast” is performed in a typical manner for the “bodegon” genre ‒ there is a couple in a restaurant or kitchen environment, but the focus is on the still life which includes food, dining utensils and simple dishes.
“Breakfast” by Diego Velasquez
“Breakfast” by Velasquez is surprising in its visual deception and optical effect ‒ at first glance it seems that the painting depicts four people, but upon closer examination it appears that there are three of them. Three characters, three different age groups, and table set for one person meal with a special meaning: garnet is a symbol of the resurrection of Christ, the bread symbolizes his flesh, and the shellfish again refers to resurrection. Without any doubt master of the Royal portraits Diego Velasquez was great at endowing simple things and subjects with special meaning.