capsule review

The Hermitage Museum

Most of us don't have the time or money to travel to Russia to leisurely admire artwork. For around $45, The Hermitage Museum: Saint Petersburg CD-ROM from Montparnasse Multimedia delivers a virtual Hermitage Museum to your computer screen. Though the CD-ROM offers only a fraction of the artwork exhibited at the Hermitage -- just over 200 of the museum's estimated three million pieces -- it's a good sampling of the real thing.

Choose Your Own View

There are three different ways to explore the Hermitage Museum: by navigating through the five buildings; browsing a list of 13 collections, arranged by country of origin; or by watching any of 13 illustrated historical narratives about the palace, the czars, and the works of art.

If you're a visual learner, moving virtually through the museum may be your best bet. After you choose a room from the blueprint-style maps, you are treated to a realistic view of the museum's mirrored walls, parquet floors, and gilt-framed masterpieces. The program's powerful zoom feature (about 10x) allows you to closely examine the rooms and artwork, but performing a zoom beyond 4x on some images causes them to appear blown out.

The CD-ROM includes 13 illustrated narratives, ranging from two to seven minutes in length, that span the museum's history from the seventeenth century to the present. The narratives include photographs, portraits of historical figures, and pieces from the museum's collection. History buffs may find it fascinating to learn about Catherine II's amorous indiscretions, and to discover the secret places where Hermitage employees hid museum collections when the Nazis captured St. Petersburg.

The Big Picture

One of the program's strengths is the seamless way each section of the museum is linked to the others. This makes navigation through the virtual Hermitage akin to walking through the actual museum in St. Petersburg. If a painting catches your eye as you are touring one of the rooms, simply click on it to learn more about that particular piece. If a particular room is of special interest, click on the Works link -- available in almost every room -- to see all the paintings in that room, or to learn about the room's history via the History link.

The CD-ROM is jam-packed with information, offering more than 100 biographies of artists and Russian royalty, and five hours of commentary on the museum's history. Plus, you can create a virtual album to collect pieces of art that interest you or send e-mail postcards of some of the artwork to friends via e-mail. The program also offers an animation function for about 30 of the 200 works featured on the CD-ROM. This function allows visitors to view the construction and composition of certain paintings. For example, in the animated version of Matisse's The Dance, a narrator explains the artist's use of primary colors and dancing nudes while white lines are superimposed upon the painting to illustrate its strong diagonal images.

Lost in the Museum

With so many pieces of art, different buildings and rooms, the Hermitage Museum CD-ROM is at times difficult to navigate, however. The Go Back button at the bottom of the screen will occasionally vanish inexplicably. And with so many ways to view the museum, visitors may find themselves lost. The CD-ROM offers a Path feature that is supposed to track your progress through the museum, but it doesn't always capture every screen you view and can lead you astray.

Other than the possibility of finding yourself lost among some amazing art and history, The Hermitage Museum is an easy-to-use, educationally rich and attractive choice for anyone who wants to learn about the museum.

Navigate through the Hermitage Museum.Choose a room to view.A study of Matisse.
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