Sunday, January 10, 2016

Recommended Reading: The Madonnas of Leningrad

I have a long list of books to read.  I doubt that I will ever read them all.  Each week I read the book review in the Sunday paper and check the best-seller lists.  I add anything interesting to my list.  My library is also a great resource for suggestions which is how I heard about 'The Madonnas of Leningrad' by Debra Dean.

In short, the book is about a young woman who was a docent at the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad during the 900-day siege that began in 1941.  Now elderly and living in the United States, she has Alzheimer's and the story goes from present day to the past and her memories of the paintings in the museum.

I was fascinated.  The descriptions of the halls and paintings were so real it was as though I was walking through the museum all over again.  But I did learn something that had not been told to us when we were in the museum on our trip.  It seems our guide forgot to mention that many of the paintings were sold off by Stalin in 1930-31 to finance the Soviet government.  An elderly docent at the museum tells our young woman about the paintings and describes them in great detail to her, telling her to build a 'memory palace'.

Since I knew that Faberge eggs had been sold, I guess I should have realized they might have sold paintings too.  With further research I learned that Andrew Mellon bought several paintings to establish the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  I am sure I have seen these paintings and never realized how they came to be there.

I went through my photos from the Hermitage and Winter Palace.  I do have some photos of paintings though it is difficult with lighting and so many people around to get a good shot.  Here are a few for your enjoyment.

Leonardo da Vinci 'Benois Madonna'

Raphael's 'The Holy Family'

Rembrandt's 'The Holy Family with Angels'

Gallery with malachite urns

9 comments:

  1. You still got great pictures Denise. I am never likely to go there now but I would love to have done so. Pity Stalin sold stuff but then now other countries have them unless any went into private collections.

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    1. I've been lucky enough to see two of the Faberge Egg collections that were sold to Americans.

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  2. I love descriptions that are so vivid you can see every detail. Those photos are great! So sad so many paintings were sold.

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    1. There is a passage in the book where the young woman cannot understand how Stalin could sell paintings that he said belonged 'to the people.' And that he kept it hidden from them. He is still revered by many in Russia.

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  3. A perfect post for A to Z! Alana ramblinwitham.blogspot.com

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  4. What a gorgeous museum, with a fascinating (albeit sad) history. I'd love to see it.

    Did you enjoy the book? Would you recommend it?

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    1. I did enjoy the book. Prior to reading it I had only read non-fiction accounts of the war. This put the human suffering up close. And having actually been there made it even more tragic.

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  5. These paintings fill me with so much reverence for the beauty it gives to all of us. I love art and have been in tears when I have seen such great works. The lady, who now has Alzheimer's is a brave woman. I watched a documentary on this museum and how they saved many of the paintings during the siege. Stalin, to me, is just as evil as Hitler. He is responsible for the 7 million Hungarians to die in 1 year alone (1932/33). How sad that he sold so much work and some we will never get to see.

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