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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Art > Hermitage Masterpieces (Art Documentary)

Hermitage Masterpieces (Documentary Mini-series)


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: B+



A series of special interest documentaries built around touring museums have been dotting the home video landscape for years.  On the defunct 12” LaserDisc format, you would have frame-by-frame sections that stored the art subjects as well as the usual motion footage.  Enough VHS & Beta tapes were issued on the subject, despite their linear nature.  Though this kind of release never took off, they still surface with some regularity and Hermitage Masterpieces (1992) is the latest on DVD.


The series of episodes runs the gambit of art all over the world, stored at the legendary Russian museum that itself is a work of art.  Lasting over eight hours over three DVDs, the eighteen half-hours have been assembled and split into the following subjects:


1)     The Museum’s Majestic Architecture

2)     Highlights Of The Masterpieces

3)     Russia In The Age Of Peter The Great

4)     Decorative Arts Of Italy, France & England

5)     Art From Mesopotamia to Ancient China

6)     The Art Of Ancient Egypt

7)     The Vast Sculpture Collection

8)     The Classical World Of Greece & Rome

9)     Art Of The Middle Ages

10)  Art Of The Early Italian Renaissance

11)  Raphael, DaVinci & The High Italian Renaissance

12)  Art Of The Nederlands: 15th & 16th Centuries

13)  Rubens, van Dyck & The 17th Century Flemish Painters

14)  Rembrandt & The 17th Century Dutch Masters

15)  Velazquez, El Greco, Goya & The Spanish Masters

16)  French Classical Style Of The 17th & 18th Centuries

17)  The Road To Impressionism: 19th Century France

18)  Modernism: Matisse, Picasso & More 20th Century Painters



The early two chapters overlap the later installments, so you might want to begin on the third and backtrack afterwards.  Their collection is unbelievable and that it survived Communism, Stalin, The Revolution, The Cuban Missile Crisis and any post-Soviet purges is amazing, but the history that took place while the building debuted in 1754 and endured to the time of this posting.  The narrative voiceovers are very informative and time (they had enough) is taken to really tell us something about each work and the genre and era the work comes from.  R. Parsons narrates Susan Young’s descriptions, which are extremely scholarly and thorough.


Though the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound is not bad for its age, it does not have any Pro Logic surrounds of any kind.  What is saddest and worst thing is not that all of this was shot on old analog NTSC video, but that the “digital remastering” has added a constant haze that is too often like watching the footage through a screen door (is this edge enhancement?) and even when the picture is at its best, detail suffers as a result.  Video Black is a problem, but when the color comes through, it looks great.  Of course, had this all been shot on film, this would look much better, give or take the transfer again, but the art often overrides that consideration.  Still, someone needs to go back and do an update in HD and film as backup.  Being as literate and astute as this set will be at least as difficult.  There are no extras, but this offers a valuable opportunity to learn and experience the history of pre-20th Century art in a way that those who know will enjoy, and those who do not know should go out of their way to catch.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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