Whatever else you may want to say about Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia, she was an anorak when it came to art. She started her collection by buying a couple of hundred paintings in 1764. Nothing too fancy, just a few Rembrandts, a couple of Holbeins and Raphaels, and a nice Titian. A bit later, she acquired several hundred more paintings, as well as some prints and drawings. Gradually, Catherine branched out into other arts, commissioning extensions to her imperial home in the Winter Palace to display her belongings; the buildings are today collectively called The Hermitage. Catherine eventually acquired thousands of paintings, thousands of drawings, thousands of books, thousands of engraved gems (her passion), alongside coins, medals, sculptures, silver, clocks, furniture, porcelain and archaeological artefacts. Later Romanovs added to the collection, which also grew after the Russian Revolution in 1917, when private art collections were claimed for the people. The result is one of the largest museums in the world. We’d read about The Hermitage, knew something of what it contained, but nothing prepared us for what we found when we walked across that courtyard and through the doors of the Winter Palace. All that glass and gold. Marble floors. Crystal chandeliers. And so much art.