Etruscan Vases in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg


Shown here from behind is an Etruscan vase in the form of a sphinx as portrayed in Greek art: the head of a woman on the body of a lion, with the wings of a giant bird. The item was photograped in the Hermitage Museum, but the date of this photograph is not known. The photographer lived in Saint Petersburg and could have been taken it at any point during his professional career in that city, from 1901 until 1918. The image is by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944), who used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Some of Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographs date from about 1905, but the bulk of his work is from between 1909 and 1915, when, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation, he undertook extended trips through many different parts of the empire. One of the primary goals of the photographer’s method was to convey to a wide public the aesthetic component of color in works of art. To that end he photographed the interiors of Russian churches, display objects in provincial museums that he discovered in the course of his travels, and collections in the magnificent Hermitage Museum. His choice of Etruscan vases as subjects was probably motived by their extensive use of color.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Этрусския вазы в Эрмитаже в СПетербурге

Type of Item

Physical Description

Glass negative (presented as a digital color composite)


  • Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographic work survives primarily in two forms: 1,901 black-and-white triple-frame glass plate negatives, made with color separation filters, which Prokudin-Gorskii used to make color prints and lantern slides; and 12 albums of sepia-tone prints, made from the glass negatives, which Prokudin-Gorskii compiled as a record of his travels and studies. The Library of Congress purchased the glass plate negatives and the albums from the Prokudin-Gorskii family in 1948. In 2004, the Library of Congress had digital color composites made from all the surviving glass negatives using a software algorithm to automatically align the color components. As with most historical photographs, title and subject identifications are corrected and enhanced through new research. Current information on the collection is at

Last updated: September 23, 2016