Etruscan Vases in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg


Produced under the influence of Greek art from the seventh to the fourth centuries BCE, richly colored Etruscan vases occupied one of the most magnificent halls in the New Hermitage, the Hall of Graeco-Etruscan Vases. With the completion of the New Hermitage in 1851, the collection was transferred from the Imperial Academy of the Arts to a temple-like setting at the end of the west enfilade. Seen here is the head and bust of a Maenad, one of the ecstatic female followers of Bacchus, the god of wine. The bust is clasped within a scallop shell, believed by pagan Romans to be a symbol of fertility. The photographer has illuminated the object from the side, creating a shadow effect that intensfies the Maenad’s passionate expression. A necklace adorns the figure. 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 the aesthetic component of color in works of art. His choice of the vase seen here was probably motivated by extensive use of color in Etruscan art.

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