The Fall of Haman (Haman is commanded to honour Mordecai) Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. Oil on canvas, 128 x 116.5 cm. 1660 - 1665. San Petersburgo, State Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage has remarkably rich holdings of western European fine arts: paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures dating from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Peter I contributed the first Rembrandt and his successors, notably Catherine II and Alexander I, acquired entire collections both in Russia and abroad to fill the grandiose spaces of their palaces. Well represented are Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century painting (Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Hals) and Italian and Spanish Baroque, acquired through diplomats and artistic agents in Berlin, London, Paris and Amsterdam.

The selection of works shown here is of particularly high quality and includes masterpieces from the Hermitage, among them Titian's late Saint Sebastian, bought in Venice in 1850, and Caravaggio's Lute Player, painted for the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani and acquired in Paris in 1808. Spanish paintings include works by Velázquez, El Greco and Ribera, while among the Dutch paintings on display are two works by Rembrandt, and an impressive still life by Willem Kalf. The acquisition in Paris in 1772 of the spectacular collection of Pierre Crozat, Louis XV's finance minister, laid the foundations for the superb representation in the Hermitage of French art.

On display here are works by Champaigne, Poussin, Le Nain and Boucher, together with drawings by Claude and Watteau. The earliest works are a drawing by Dürer and a sculpture of a mythological subject by the Venetian, Antonio Lombardo, both dating from the 1510s. Among seventeenth-century sculptures is Bernini's terracotta modello of the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, a demonstration of the artist's technical bravura.

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