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State Hermitage Museum
Очередь посетителей в Зимний дворец.jpg
Established 1764
Location 38 Palace Embankment, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Coordinates 59°56′28″N 30°18′46″E / 59.941°N 30.3129°E / 59.941; 30.3129
Director Mikhail Piotrovsky

The State Hermitage Museum (Russian: Государственный Эрмитаж) is a museum of art and culture situated in Saint Petersburg, Russia, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise nearly 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. Apart from them, the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya and the eastern wing of the General Staff Building also make part of the museum. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad. The Hermitage is a federal state property. Since 1990, the director of the museum has been Mikhail Piotrovsky.


Out of six buildings of the main museum complex, four, namely the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage and New Hermitage, are partially open to the public. The other two are Hermitage Theatre and the Reserve House. The entrance ticket for foreign tourists costs several times as much as the fee paid by Russian citizens. However, the entrance is free of charge first Thursday of every month for all visitors and daily for students and children. The museum is closed on Mondays. Entrance is in the Winter Palace from Palace Embankment or the Courtyard.

Since 1940 the Egyptian Collection of the Hermitage Museum, dating back to 1852 and including the former Castiglione Collection, has occupied a large hall on the ground floor in the eastern part of the Winter Palace. It serves as a passage to to the exhibition of Classical Antiquities. A modest collection of the culture of Ancient Mesopotamia, including a number of Assyrian reliefs from Babylon, Dur-Sharrukin and Nimrud, is located in the same part of the building.

Egyptian Hall

The collection of Classical Antiquities occupy most of the ground floor of the Old and New Hermitage buildings. The interiors of the ground floor were designed by German architect Leo von Klenze in the Greek revival style in the early 1850s, using painted polished stucco and columns of natural marble and granite. One of the largest and most notable interiors of the first floor is the Hall of Twenty Columns, divided into three parts by two rows of grey monolithic columns of Serdobol granite, intended for the display of Graeco-Etruscan vases. Its floor is made of a modern marble mosaic imitating ancient tradition, stucco walls and ceiling are covered in painting.

The Room of the Great Vase in the western wing features the 2.57 m high Kolyvan Vase, weighting 19 tonnes, made of jasper in 1843 and installed there before the walls were erected. While the western wing was designed for exhibitions, the rooms on the ground floor in the eastern wing of the New Hermitage, now also hosting exhibitions, were originally intended for libraries. The floor of the Athena Room in the southeastern corner of the building, one of the original libraries, is decorated with an authentic 4th-century mosaic excavated in an early Christian basilica in Chersonesos in 1854.

A red-figure vase in the Hall of Twenty Columns

The collection of Classical Antiquities feature Greek artefacts from the 3rd millennium – 5th century BC, Ancient Greek pottery, items from the Greek cities of the North Pontic Greek colonies, Hellenistic sculpture and jewellery, including engraved gems and cameos, such as the famous Gonzaga Cameo, Italic art from the 9th to 2nd century BC, Roman marble and bronze sculpture and applied art from the 1st century BC - 4th century AD, including copies of Classical and Hellenistic Greek sculptures. One of the highlights of the collection is the Tauride Venus, which, according to the latest research, is an original Hellenistic Greek sculpture rather than a Roman copy as it was thought before.[1]. There are, however, only a few pieces of authentic Classical Greek sculpture and sepulchral monuments.

On the ground floor in the western wing of the Winter Palace the collections of prehistoric artifacts and the culture and art of the Caucasus are located, as well as the second treasure gallery. The prehistoric artifacts date from the Paleolithic to the Iron Age and were excavated all over Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire. Among them is a renowned collection of the art and culture of nomadic tribes of the Altai from Pazyryk and Bashadar sites, including the world's oldest surviving knotted pile carpet and a well-preserved wooden chariot, both from the 4th-3rd centuries BC. The Caucasian exhibition includes a collection of Urartu artifacts from Armenia and Eastern Turkey. Many of them were excavated at Teishebaini under the supervision of Boris Piotrovsky, former director of the Hermitage Museum.

Four small rooms on the ground floor, enclosed in the middle of the New Hermitage between the roomd displaying Classical Antiquities, comprise the first treasure gallery, featuring western jewellery from the 4th millennium BC to the early 20th century AD. The second treasure gallery, located on the ground floor in the southwestern corner of the Winter Palace, features jewellery from the Pontic steppes, Caucasus and Asia, in particular Scythian and Sarmatian gold. Only guided visits to the treasure galleries are allowed.

The Pavillion Hall

On the first floor, the Pavillion Hall, designed by Andrei Stakenschneider in 1858, occupies the Northern Pavillion of the Small Hermitage. It features the 18th-century golden Peacock Clock by James Cox and a collection of mosaics. The floor of the hall is adorned with a 19th-century imitation of an ancient Roman mosaic.

Two galleries running along the western side of the Small Hermitage from the Northern to Southern Pavillion house an exhibition of Western European decorative and applied art of the 12th to 15th century and the fine art of the Low Countries from the 15th and 16th centuries.

The rooms on the first floor of the Old Hermitage were designed by Andrei Stakenschneider in revival styles in 1851-1860, although the design survived only in some of them. They feature works of Italian Renaissance artists, including Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, as well as Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta attributed to Leonardo da Vinci or his school.

the Small Italian Skylight Room

The Western European Art collection include European painting, sculpture, applied art from the 13th to the 20th century and is on display in about 120 rooms on the first and second floor in the four buildings. Drawing and prints are displayed in temporary exhibitions.

The Italian Renaissance exposition continues in the eastern wing of the New Hermitage with paintings, sculpture, majolica and tapestry from Italy of the 15th-16th centuries, including Conestabile Madonna and Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph by Raphael. The gallery known as the Raphael Loggias, designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s as a replication of the loggia in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican frescoed by Raphael, run along the eastern facade.

There are three large interiors with red walls lit by a skylight from above enclosed in the middle of the Hermitage complex on the first floor of the New Hermitage. They are adorned with 19th-cetury Russian lapidary works and feature Italian and Spanish canvases of the 16th-18th centuries, including Veronese, Tintoretto, Velázquez and Murillo. In the enfilade of smaller rooms alongside the skylight rooms the Italian and Spanish fine art of the 15th-17th centuries, including Michelangelo's Crouching Boy and paintings by El Greco.

The Three Graces by Canova

The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting runs from the Knights' Hall, flanking the skylight rooms on another side. It was designed by Leo von Klenze in the Greek revival style as a prelude to the museum and features neoclassical marble sculptures by Antonio Canova and his followers. In the middle the gallery opens to the main staircase of the New Hermitage, which served as the entrance to the museum before the October Revolution of 1917, but is now closed. The upper gallery of the staircase is adorned with twenty grey Serdobol granite columns and feature 19th-century European sculpture and Russian lapidary works.

The Knights' Hall, a large room in the eastern part of the New Hermitage originally designed in the Greek revival style for the display of coins, now hosts a collection of Western European arms and armour of the 15th-17th centuries, part of the Hermitage Arsenal collection. The Hall of Twelve Columns in the southeastern corner of the New Hermitage, adorned with columns of grey Serdobol granite, which is also designed in the Greek revival style and was originally intended for the display of coins, is now used for temporary exhibitions.

The Rubens Room

The rooms and galleries along the southern facade and in the western wing of the New Hermitage are now entirely devoted to Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque painting of the 17th century, including the large collections of van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt.

On the first floor of the Winter Palace rooms along the southern facade are occupied by the collections of German fine art of the 16th century and French fine art of the 15th-18th centuries, including paintings by Poussin, Lorrain, Watteau. The collections of French decorative and applied art from the 17the-18th centuries and British applied and fine art from the 16th-19th century, including Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, are on display in nearby rooms facing the courtyard.

The richly decorated interiors of the first floor of the Winter Palace on its eastern, northern and western sides are part of the Russian culture collection and host the exhibitions of the Russian art of the 11th-19th centuries. Temporary exhibitions are usually held the Nicholas Hall.

The second floor is partially available to the public only in the building of the Winter Palace. French Neoclassical, Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, including works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin, is displayed there in the southeastern corner. In the rooms on southern side of the second floor modern art is on display, featuring Matisse, Derain and other fauvists, Picasso, Kandinsky, Giacomo Manzu and Rockwell Kent. A small room is devoted to the German Romantic Art of the 19th century, including several paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. The Western wing on the second floor features colelctions of the Oriental art (from China, India, Mongolia, Tibet, Central Asia, Byzantium and Near East).


View of the Palace Embankment by Karl Beggrov, 1826. The Old Hermitage is in the middle of the painting
Old Hermitage and Small Hermitage as seen from the river Neva in 2007
Winter Palace in 2008

Catherine the Great started her art collection in 1764 by purchasing paintings from Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. He had put together the collection for Frederick II of Prussia, but ultimately the latter refused to purchase it. Thus Gotzkowsky provided 225 or 317 paintings, mainly Flemish and Dutch, including 90 not precisely identified, to the Russian crown.[2] The collection consisted of Rembrandt (13 paintings), Rubens (11 paintings), Jacob Jordaens (7 paintings), Antoon van Dyck (5 paintings), Paolo Veronese (5 paintings), Frans Hals (3 paintings, including Portrait of a Young Man with a Glove), Raphael (2 paintings), Holbein (2 paintings), Titian (1 painting), Jan Steen (The Idlers), Hendrick Goltzius, Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick van Balen and Gerrit van Honthorst.[3]

In 1764 Catherine commissioned Yury Velten to build an extension to the east of the Winter Palace, completed in 1766. Later it became the Southern Pavillion of the Small Hermitage. In 1767-1769 French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe built the Northern Pavillion on the Neva embankment. In 1767-1775 the extensions were connected to each other by galleries, where Catherine put her collections.[4] The entire neoclassical building is now known as the Small hermitage. At the time of Catherine the Hermitage wasn't a public museum, very few people were allowed within.

Catherine acquired the best collections offered for sale by the heirs of prominent collectors. Brühl's collection, consisting of over 600 paintings and a vast number of prints and drawings, was purchased in Saxony in 1769. Crozat's collection of paintings was bought in France in 1772 with the assistance of Denis Diderot. The collection of 198 paintings that once belonged to Robert Walpole was acquired in London in 1779. In 1781 a collection of 119 paintings was purchased in Paris from Count Baudouin.

The collection soon overgrew the building. In her lifetime Catherine acquired 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and a natural history collection filling two galleries[5], so in 1771 she commissioned Yury Velten to build another major extension. The neoclassical building was completed in 1787 and has come to be known as the Large Hermitage or Old Hermitage. Catherine also gave the name of the Hermitage to her private theatre, built nearby between 1783 and 1787 by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi.[6] In 1787 in London Catherine acquired the collection of sculpture that belonged to Lyde Browne, mostly Ancient Roman marbles. Catherine used them to adorn the Catherine Palace and park in Tsarskoye Selo, but later they became the core of the Classical Antiquities collection of the Hermitage. In 1787-1792 Quarenghi designed and built a wing along the Winter Canal with the Raphael Loggias to replicate the loggia in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican designed by Donato Bramante and frescoed by Raphael.[7][8][9] The loggias in Saint Petersburg were adorned with copies of Vatican frescoes painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s.

In 1815 Alexander I of Russia purshased 38 pictures from the heirs of Joséphine de Beauharnais, most of which had been looted by the French in Kassel during the war.

The Hermitage collection of Rembrandts was then considered the largest in the world.

The Raphael Loggias
Portico with atlantes, historical entrance

Eventually the imperial collections were enriched by Greek and Scythian artifacts excavated within the Russian Empire.

In 1840-1843 Vasily Stasov redesigned the interiors of the Southern Pavillion of the Small Hermitage.

Nicholas I commissioned the neoclassicist German architect Leo von Klenze to design a building for the public museum. The construction was overseen by Vasily Stasov and Nikolai Yefimov in 1842-1851 and incorporated Quarenghi's wing with the Raphael Loggias.

In 1850 in Venice the museum acquired the collection of Cristoforo Barbarigo, including five more canvases by Titian.

The New Hermitage was opened to the public in 1852.[10] In the same year the Egyptian Collection of the Hermitage Museum emerged. Meanwhile in 1851-1860 the interiors of the Old Hermitage was redesigned by Andrei Stackensneider to accommodated the State Assembly, Cabinet of Ministers and state apartments. Andrei Stakenschneider reated the Pavilion Hall in the Northern Pavillion of the Small Hermitage in 1851-1858.[11]

Until the 1920s entrance was under the portico supported by five-metre high atlantes of grey granite in the middle of the southern facade of the New Hermitage building.

In 1861 the Hermitage purchased from the Papal government part of the Giampietro Campana collection, mostly classical antiquities. These included over 500 vases, 200 bronzes and a number of marble statues. The Hermitage acquired Madonna Litta, which was then attributed to Leonardo, in 1865, and Raphael's Connestabile Madonna in 1870. In 1884 in Paris Alexander III of Russia acquired the collection of Alexander Basilewski, featuring European medieval and Renaissance artifacts. In 1885 the Arsenal collection of arms and armour, founded by Alexander I of Russia, was transferred from the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo to the Hermitage. In 1914 Leonardo's Benois Madonna was added to the collection.

Immediately after the Revolution of 1917 the Imperial Hermitage and Winter Palace, former Imperial residence, were proclaimed state museums and eventually merged.

The range of the Hermitage's exhibits was further expanded when private art collections from several palaces of the Russian Tsars and numerous private mansions were being nationalized and then redistributed among major Soviet state museums. Particularly notable was the influx of old masters from the Catherine Palace, the Alexander Palace, the Stroganov Palace and the Yusupov Palace as well as from other palaces of Saint Petersburg and suburbs.

In 1922 an important collection of 19th-century European paintings was transferred to the Hermitage from the Academy of Arts. In turn, in 1927 about important 500 paintings were transferred to the Central Museum of old Western art in Moscow at the insistence of the Soviet authorities. In the early 1930s, 70 more paintings were sent there. After 1932 a number of less significant works of art were transferred to new museums all over the Soviet Union.

In 1928, the Soviet government ordered the Hermitage to compile a list of valuable works of art for export. In 1930-1934, over two thousand works of art from the Hermitage collection were clandestinely sold at auctions abroad or directly to foreign officials and businesspeople. The sold items included Raphael's Alba Madonna, Titian's Venus with a Mirror, Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi of 1475, and Jan van Eyck's Annunciation, among other world known masterpieces by Rembrandt, Van Dyck. In 1931, after a series of negotiations, 21 works of art from the Hermitage were acquired by Andrew W. Mellon, who later donated them to form a nucleus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (See also Soviet sale of Hermitage paintings).

A room in the Winter Palace

With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, before the Siege of Leningrad started, two trains with a considerable part of the collections were evacuated to Sverdlovsk. Two bombs and a number of shells hit the museum buildings during the siege. The museum opened an exhibition in November 1944. In October 1945 the evacuated collections were brought back, and in November 1945 the museum reopened.

In 1948 316 works of Impressionist, post-Impressionist and modern art from the collection of the Museum of New Western Art in Moscow, originating mostly from the nationalized collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov and disestablished before the war, were transferred to the Hermitage, including works by Matisse and Picasso. Beginning in 1967, a number of works by Matisse were donated to the museum by his muse Lydia Delectorskaya.


In 1981, the restored Menshikov Palace became a new branch of the Hermitage mueum, displaying Russian culture of the early 18th century.

On June 15, 1985, a man later judged insane attacked Rembrandt's painting Danaë, displayed in the museum. He threw sulfuric acid on the canvas and cut it twice with his knife. The restoration of the painting had been accomplished by Hermitage experts by 1997, and Danaë is now on display behind armoured glass.

In 1991 it became known that some paintings looted by the Red Army in Germany in 1945 had been in the Hermitage. Only in October 1994 the Hermitage officially announced that it had been secretly holding a major trove of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from German private collections. The exhibition "Hidden Treasures Revealed", where 74 of the paintings were displayed for the first time, was opened on March 30, 1995 in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace and lasted a year. Of the paintings, all but one originated from private rather than state German collections, including 56 paintings from the Otto Krebs collection, as well as the collection of Bernhard Koehler and paintings previously belonging to Otto Gerstenberg and his daughter Margarete Scharf, including world-famous Place de la Concorde by Degas and In the Garden by Renoir, and some other collections.[12][13][14] Some of the paintings are now on permanent display in several small rooms in the northeastern corner of the Winter Palace on the first floor.[15][16]

In 1993 the eastern wing of the nearby General Staff Building across the Palace Square was given to the Hermitage. New exhibition rooms were opened there in 1999. Since 2003 the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace has been opened to the public. It provides another entrance to the museum. In 2003 the Museum of Porcelain was opened as a part of the Hermitage on the basis of the Imperial Porcelain Factory.

In recent years, Hermitage expanded to the nearby General Staff Building and launched several ambitious projects abroad, including the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas, the Hermitage Rooms in London's Somerset House (which was closed permanently in November 2007 due to poor visitor numbers[17]), and the Hermitage Amsterdam in the former Amstelhof, Amsterdam.

In July 2006, the museum announced that 221 minor items, including jewelry, Orthodox icons, silverware and richly enameled objects, had been stolen. The value of the stolen items was estimated to be approximately $543,000; by the end of 2006 some of the stolen items were recovered. [18]

In the recent years there was a proposal to open Hermitage Museum's branch in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania.

Hermitage directors[edit]