Hermitage Museum – Saint Petersburg
The State Hermitage Museum (Russian: Государственный Эрмитаж) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, often simply called Hermitage, is one of the world’s largest and most famous museums of fine art, and applied arts.
History and architecture
The architectural history of the Hermitage museum is deeply linked to that of the Winter Palace, the Imperial residence of the Tzars which, together with other four buildings, accommodates the museum today.
The design of the palace was commissioned in 1754 by Empress Elizabeth of Russia to Italian-born Russian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli in order to create a sumptuous Baroque-style Royal residence in the site of a smaller palace, overlooking the Neva river, built by Peter the Great about 40 year before.
After the death of Elizabeth, the new empress, Catherine II, commissioned a substantial expansion of the palace in Neoclassical forms, as well as the construction of an array of new buildings designed by Russian, Italian, and French architects, including Ivan Starov, Yuri Velten, Giacomo Quarenghi, and Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe.
Completed around 1795, the new, monumental complex – comprising, along with the Winter Palace, two other palaces and a theater – was called “Hermitage” (from a French world roughly meaning “retreat”).
One of the new palaces, the so-called Great Hermitage, was aimed to create a home for the Empress’ art collection, comprising mostly Flemish, Dutch and Italian old master’s paintings. The collection was subsequently expanded to include also ancient sculptures, drawings, jewels, coins and medals.
In 1852, Emperor Nicholas I opened the collection to the public (although not to all, but only to selected visitors) thus establishing the first state museum in Russia. In 1917, after the Russian Revolution, the museum and the former Imperial palace were finally opened to the general public.
View of the Neva river in Saint Petersburg with the Winter Palace on the right, etching and watercolor by Grigoriy Kachalov and Yefim Vinogradov from a drawing by Mikhail Makhaev, ca, 1753
View of the Hermitage complex from the Neva river; photo: Rilaak
Engraving from a drawing by Jules Monet showing the Winter Palace southeastern facade in 1869
The Winter Palace southeastern facade today; photo: kuhnmi
The Armorial Hall of the Winter Palace, designed by architect Vasily Stasov; photo: Thibault Chappe
Collections and most important works on view
The Hermitage museum holds an encyclopaedic collection – encompassing fine art, decorative and applied arts, prehistoric artifacts, antiquities, numismatics, furniture, costumes, arms and armors – which spans a time period of over 300,000 years.
A selection of objects from the collection is displayed into 38 permanent exhibition galleries.
The museum has one of the world’s largest collections of old master’s paintings, which includes works by artists of the Italian Renaissance and Mannerism (with masterpieces by Simone Martini, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Giorgione, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Andrea del Sarto, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Jacopo Pontormo, Angelo Bronzino, Giulio Romano, and Caravaggio, among others); of the Flemish art (such as Peter Paul Rubens, and Anthony van Dyck), of the Dutch Golden Age (including Jan Steen, Gerard Terborch, Paulus Potter, and Rembrandt van Rijn), and from Spain (including El Greco, Jusepe de Ribera, Francisco de Zurbaran, Diego Velazquez, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, and Francisco de Goya).
Other notable pieces on view in the museum include Egyptian, Mesopotamic, Etruscan, Hellenistic, and Roman antique artifacts; two sculptures by Antonio Canova, beautiful works of Japanese art; and various pieces of Russian and Central Asian ancient and medieval art.
The collection of modern art, on view in the General Staff Building in front of the Winter Palace, features masterpieces by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Rodin, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jacques Lipchitz, among others.
Activities an services
The Hermitage museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, concerts, theatrical performances, ballets, and educational programs.
The museum’s building complex includes an 800,000-volume academic library, a cafe, and a gift shop.
Interior views of the Hermitage; photos: Ron Kikuchi
Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna Benois, 1478-1482, oil on panel; photo: yaili
Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), The Lute Player, c. 1596, oil on canvas; photo: Paula Funnell
Antonio Canova, Cupid and Psyche, 1794-1799; photo: Patty
View of the General Staff Building which accommodates the modern art collection of the Hermitage Museum; photo: Jonathan
Vincent van Gogh, Thatched Cottages and Houses, 1890, oil on canvas; photo: Jaime Silva
Paintings by Pablo Picasso on view in the General Staff Building; photo: Sandy Kemsley
Hermitage Museum, the Matisse room in the General Staff Building; photo: Lorenzo Blangiardi
Cover Image, Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace sotheastern facade; photo: James Byrum