The real life ‘Aristocats’ of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum

The animatronic dreidels has already become the museum’s star attraction. Now, it’s time to put a real new spin on them The real life ‘Aristocats’ of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum Russia’s Hermitage museum is…

The real life 'Aristocats' of St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum

The animatronic dreidels has already become the museum’s star attraction. Now, it’s time to put a real new spin on them

The real life ‘Aristocats’ of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum

Russia’s Hermitage museum is putting the “Aristocats” into motion. As of Thursday, visitors can discover real-life dreidels that travel the gallery, dancing, twirling and playing, to reveal other exhibits.

A statue of a dreidel in Odessa, Ukraine, has become a particular hit with visitors. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The 11 symbolic objects will travel from the Strand or Russian exhibition area to the Fakosimentsiya – or exploration hall – in St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum. The exhibit started with four wooden, low-tech model dreidels moving along a pre-lit stage in the days before computers.

Aetheres Antagaris by Balthasar Kluge.

They cost the museum a mere £3,000 ($4,800), but have become a popular attraction since the exhibit opened in March 2016, gaining more than 300,000 visitors. While the theater now varies in quality – they’re also covered in sugary icing, for instance – it remains a highly decorated bronze with a wooden base and basket attached, and lots of characters.

Ice age dreidels by French designer Balthasar Kluge.

The dreidels come in four main types, each with accompanying cartoons, such as a little girl with dreams of becoming a dreidel.

Cristiano de Mello.

The variety is also helped by Nicholas de Mello, a Madrid-based artist who painted real marionettes in colourful old-style dresses and old-fashioned hairstyles and built them small models with wooden rocking children. He has created the dreidels since 2011.

Each model, decked out in a full-length wig and a dress of your choice, is painted with acrylics on hand painted plywood. The artist also wrote a booklet with lyrics about the dreidels in real life, and plans to keep them, at least, until the end of the exhibition.

De Mello, who has hundreds of people for assistants, including a manicurist and a jeweller, plans to eventually move on to other things.

“It’s impossible to have everything in my studio at the moment, but you can have an artistic element. The dreidels are sort of like the virtual versions of my dolls,” he said.

According to the artist, he wants his dreidels to help people stop and consider the experience of interacting with the objects they encounter at the museum.

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