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"Cats are a part of our life, they amuse people, and make a nice atmosphere for us."
August 9, 2012 7:04 AM   Subscribe

The Hermitage Museum sits on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, it houses millions of works of art by the great masters, and since the 18th century, it has been protected by cats.
Dozens of cats roam the grounds of the Hermitage, living in the museum's gardens and labyrinthian basement, cared for by a designated staff. They've lived here for centuries, first brought in by the imperial family to rid the Winter Palace of rats, and for the last 10 years cared for by the office of the director of the Hermitage.

"We joke that if [our director] permits us to have 50 cats, so we [technically] have 50 cats. But really we have around 60 cats," says Maria Khaltunin, the director's assistant and head of the cat program.

Tsarina Elizabeth, daughter of Tsar Peter the First, first demanded cats in 1774 to keep the palace's rats and mice in check. Legend has it she sent a special transport to the city of Kazan to bring back these cats, supposedly especially good hunters.

The love of -- and need for -- cats got passed down from one generation of the imperial family to the next. During the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg's former name) during World War II, all the cats died. They were brought back to the museum soon after the blockade ended to cull the vermin population that had exploded over three cat-free years.
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posted by quin (30 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Metafilter: "Protected By Cats"
posted by Jaymzifer at 7:15 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I ever get to go to Russia, I sure hope they have Allegra D. (And they don't assume I'm making Meth when I try to buy some)
posted by DigDoug at 7:15 AM on August 9, 2012


During the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg's former name) during World War II, all the cats died.

Is that a euphemism for "were eaten"?
posted by Egg Shen at 7:18 AM on August 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm a little disappointed they weren't wearing colorful uniforms à la Swiss Guards, but I suppose they save them for special occasions.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:20 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


My mother was an artist and we lived in St. Petersburg (well, it was Leningrad then,) so I was taken the the Hermitage a whole lot before we moved to America. Unfortunately, I can't say I remember ever seeing any cats there, but then again, I was six at my oldest in Russia, and the only thing I can clearly remember is this Malevich painting spooking me harder than any ghost story or horror movie. Although, apparently, that wasn't at the Hermitage. Maybe it moved? I don't know.

Also, everyone fond of the Hermitage should go ahead and watch Russian Ark (which is also apparently full of all sorts of allusions to Russian political minutia that my mother was confounded that people outside of Russia enjoyed it, and convinced no one outside of her generation actually understood it. I suspect I get my arts-snobbery from her side. THANKS A LOT MOM.)
posted by griphus at 7:28 AM on August 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


In Russia, cats herd you.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:31 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Russian Ark is awesome - I've watched it twice and it's really definitely a big-screen film. I assumed that there were allusions that I could not get, but the feel and sweep of the film is amazing. I am not a skilled film person, so my opinions are not informed ones, but it reminded me a bit of parts of Fanny and Alexander in tone. Sort of a big and more than personal sadness combined with elegance and sweep.

However, I would love to have a job taking care of cats at the Hermitage. You would not have to pay me very much money, and I could perhaps sleep in a large closet somewhere.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I WANT CATS IN MY MUSEUM




please oh please can we have cats?
posted by louche mustachio at 7:44 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I WANT CATS IN MY MUSEUM

While I think most spaces are automatically improved by cats, one filled with priceless and delicate vertical fabric might be an exception.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:50 AM on August 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I visited the Hermitage years ago - back when the city was Leningrad.
I actually remember playing with cats outside the building waiting for our tour bus.

Beautiful world class museum - and I remember the cats.
posted by Flood at 7:51 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


...They were brought back to the museum soon after the blockade ended to cull the vermin population that had exploded over three cat-free years.


I thought the terrible siege had also hugely curbed the vermin population? Not just because rodents were also food to the starving - but because, soon enough, there were no perishable food scraps discarded anywhere in the city? (Though maybe vermin populations recover faster.)

(I've recently finished the 2008 novel City of Thieves by (screenwriter) David Benioff. It's about the siege of Leningrad, a brilliantly researched page turner. If you like learning history through gripping novels - this one will do the trick.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:52 AM on August 9, 2012



While I think most spaces are automatically improved by cats, one filled with priceless and delicate vertical fabric might be an exception.

*Sigh* Yes, you are right. I know.



I will have to console myself with this.




which is not at my museum, but it will have to do.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:56 AM on August 9, 2012


...but because, soon enough, there were no perishable food scraps discarded anywhere in the city?

Lots and lots of corpses, though.
posted by griphus at 8:00 AM on August 9, 2012


The most terrifying thing about that video is the shot in the basement, where, in a place with so many cats they have to give them away, and with four or five cats in-frame, there is a calendar with a giant cat face on it. Because that means there is someone who thinks they don't have enough cats.
posted by 23 at 8:10 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


... my use of the word "hell" in relation to besieged Leningrad, and particularly the first siege in the winter of 1941-1942, is in no way metaphorical. If hell exists anywhere, then it must literally be that: eternal coldness, darkness, unrecognisable scraps of music and news emerging from loudspeakers, marching for hours on foot with the principle means of transport used under the siege, children's ice-skates. Frozen corpses strewn on the roadside. And at home, the corpses of family members which could not be buried for days on end (of course the rest of the family would try to use up their ration cards).
posted by Egg Shen at 8:11 AM on August 9, 2012


head of the cat program

How do I get a job with that title?
posted by slogger at 8:13 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Combining art history, museums, Russian and cats-oh, how I would proudly wear that lucky lady's blue coat.
posted by Isadorady at 8:22 AM on August 9, 2012


i am jealously allergic to this whole thread
posted by nataliepo at 8:25 AM on August 9, 2012


all the cats died. They were brought back to the museum soon after the blockade ended

This gives me the impression that zombie cats were summoned, and I like it.
posted by elizardbits at 8:27 AM on August 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


A hundred years ago, give or take, a buddy of mine had a Siamese that had kittens, I got pick of the litter, got this beautiful cat, very cool.

Except the damn thing woke me any time it wanted, all through the night -- I'd awaken and there'd be this cat, an inch from my nose, often as not yowling up a storm.

This was clearly not going to work.

One of my brothers lived in the country, had a small farm, lots of out-buildings. That is where this cat found her home, lived out her life.

For long years, they'd see her lines in the other cats -- she was a beautiful animal, and she was blazing fast, too, a great mouser.

She could yowl all she cared to, and she did, too. And I suspect that the animals that woke up with her an inch from their face were mostly small rodents, wake up and die.

I was up there a few months ago, asked my brother if they saw the lines form that that cat any longer; no, it'd all become a meld now, the years blending the lines of all those cats. I like to think that the mice know though, that they look particularly hard for blue eyes, or even a trace of blue eyes, that they look out for the speed in her line.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:38 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


In Russia, cats herd you.

I think you meant to say "In Russia, cats heard your can opener." This actually happens everywhere, even if you don't have cats. Cats have good ears, and they are always listening. Listening for treats.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:38 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went to the Hermitage once a week when I lived in Saint Petersburg for a year.

And I didn't see a single cat.

But I did see lots of gorgeous art and artifacts from the ages, and not everything at that!
posted by zizzle at 9:09 AM on August 9, 2012


YAY

During the clip, I kept thinking, "Is that Colm Feore narrating? It sounds like Colm Feore." And considering it's a Canadian production, it HAS to be him.
posted by Kitteh at 9:23 AM on August 9, 2012


I don't remember cats around the Hermitage when I visited Leningrad in the '80s, but I do remember a lady on the subway with a tiny kitten peeping out of her shoulder bag and this animatronic marvel on display, without a protective case.

I also visited the zoo, which was an old fashioned type of zoo with simple box cages visitors could get very close to. I did not much like see a Russian grandma encourage her grandson to goad a goat into banging his horns against the bars. I did enjoy watching the tigers fuck. That is all.
posted by Scram at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2012


One of my last pictures in the USSR is at that zoo, on the saddest camel in the world.
posted by griphus at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2012


Russian Women Guard Their Favorite Gallery Artwork
posted by homunculus at 1:55 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cats at the Hermitage: The Original Pussy Riot?
posted by Leezie at 7:07 PM on August 9, 2012


One of my last pictures in the USSR is at that zoo, on the saddest camel in the world.

ON the saddest camel in the world? As in TINY GRIPHUS RIDING A CAMEL AT THE ZOO? I demand that you post this photo immediately upon pain of me telling you in great detail about all the tasty carbs I ate today.
posted by elizardbits at 8:45 PM on August 9, 2012


Here is a man on a cow impersonating griphus on a camel.
posted by homunculus at 11:01 PM on August 9, 2012


I'll see if I can find it in the stacks upon stacks of photos.
posted by griphus at 7:16 AM on August 10, 2012


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