The Russian Imperial court was a place of enormous opulence during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially at formal banquets. Tables groaned with crystal, silver, and gold, and as many as 300 different dishes. A taste of this is available at the Hermitage Amsterdam.

Journey deep into southwest France and you’ll reach the town of Rodez, two hours north of Toulouse, the final stretch of the road winding across storybook farmland to the base of a hill climbed by looping curves and crowned by a cathedral.

Looking at its granite-grey exterior from afar, the manorial 18th-century Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, doesn’t appear as though its inner walls would be brimming with canvases by Rembrandt van Rijn, Anthony van Dyck, or Diego Velázquez. And though it certainly did display those artworks a few hundred years ago, in recent history it hasn’t—until now.

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg easily holds its own among the world’s preeminent cultural institutions. It is a treasure house and a guardian of masterpieces. “The rest of the world wants what we have,” says Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the museum. Now, the institution is celebrating the opening of a new branch, the Hermitage Amsterdam, on June 20, 2009.