“There are few visitors to the galleries—only me and the mice.”
From Catherine the Great letters – About Hermitage
The Hermitage was the Catherine the Great private place at her palace in Saint Petersburg where she opened up an art gallery for herself only. For around eighty years, only she and some supreme families could visit the gallery. Because of this and the fact that she would go there alone to rest and relax, she called it My Hermitage. If we want to rank all the museums in the world by their capacity and capability, The Hermitage would be at the top three, alongside the French Louvre museum and the British Madame Tussaud museum.
The Hermitage Museum which is the second-largest art museum in the world locates at the center of the Saint Petersburg near Neva River. This massive complex was built in 1764 by order of the Catherine the Great. It's over 230000 sq. meters now and still growing. It has even some abroad exhibition in Amsterdam, Las Vegas, and London. The complex includes six principals and several additional buildings which each one displays a part of the museum's enormous collection.
Catherine the great took her first steps to start up one of the greatest art museums in the world, by purchasing around 220 artworks from a German merchant in 1764. She chose a place within her residence to open a gallery for the artworks, and because visiting the gallery was prohibited for almost everyone, she called it my hermitage. Over times, her tendency to the artworks grew stronger, at the point that she gave missions to Russia ambassadors around the world to search for available collections of art and purchase them for her gallery. Later, her appetite for sculptures and pieces of jewelry combined with her former passion for paintings. The Hermitage gallery grew numerous during her lifetime as she appended more than 4000 paintings, over 38000 books, and around 60000 items, drawing, jewelry, and other artworks to her collection.
Over the years till the Russian October Revolution, Alexander I, Nikolas I, Alexander III, and other museum administrators added many artworks such as arsenal collections, ancient artifacts from all around the world, numerous paintings, and pieces of jewelry, sculptures, and many more to this amazing museum which made it the largest art museum in the world at some point in history.
After the October Revolution in 1917, The Hermitage and the Winter Palace both declared state museum and ultimately joined together. When the collection from other museums and private galleries which sent to the Hermitage nationalized, the museum itself nationalized. Unfortunately, the Soviet government didn't care much about arts belongs to the royals and upper classes, so Josep Stalin ordered to sell part of the Hermitage collection in overseas sales. Madonna di San Sisto by Italian Raphael Sanzo, Venus with a Mirror by Italian Titian, The Annunciation by Netherlandish Jan van Eyck were part of that sold items.
However, besides the items which turn out at Washington State Museum, thousands of the pieces transferred to other museums in Russia during that time. Sadly, some of the art pieces destroyed during the Second World War when people used the museum's building as a shelter. Though, the Hermitage underwent some unfortunate time during that period, after the war ended, the Red Army overtook some German's museum and private collections' art pieces and brought it back to the Hermitage which diminished a little bit of the loss it suffered.
The Hermitage Museum with over three million historical and art pieces which of course only a bit of it displayed permanently in the collections is the second-largest art museum in the world, and it's a six major and several minor buildings complex in a nutshell.
The Winter Palace which can identify as the Russian monarchy symbol was the Tsars' families’ residency for almost 150 years. The structure designed and built with the Baroque architectural style by Italian architect Francesco Rastrelli in 1754, but restored by Vasily Petrovich Stasov in 1837 after the enormous fire. The Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Nimrod uncovered artifacts exhibitions at the east side, the passive history artifacts, the Paleolithic period and the Iron age at the west side, and the Caucasus jewelry, and the Sarmatian's golds at the southwest side of the palace are some of the permanent exhibitions in the Hermitage Museum.
Right next to the Winter Palace, there's a successful fusion of Baroque architecture and early Neoclassicist style building, designed and built by Yury Velten and ordered by the Catherine the great in 1764. Between 1767 till 1769, De la Mothe built a pavilion which designed whit the same pattern as the Winter Palace near the Neva River and an orangery next to it for the Empress to rest there. The Whole complex called the Small Hermitage. An exhibition of paintings and handmade artifacts from Western Europe took place there and is part of the permanent collection which displayed in the Hermitage Museum. You can also find the famous Peacock Clock in the Small Hermitage exhibit as well.
The Great Hermitage which originally meant to use as a library and gallery for the Hermitage's art, designed and built during 1771-1787 by Yury Velten by the orders of the Catherine the Great herself. Because of the point that the building was larger than the Small Hermitage it was named the Great Hermitage. Classical artifacts from ancient Greek and ancient Rome, plus some West European jewelry are parts of the permanent exhibition in the Great Hermitage.
Catherine the Great ordered to design a structure to use it as a theater hall for the Hermitage in 1783 and hired Italian architect, Giacomo Quarenghi to construct it. He designed the structure with Russian neoclassical style and completed it in 1787. Since even now its stage witnessed astonishing performances as before, exhibitions are taking place in the lobby of the building.
The New Hermitage might be the first structure in Russia which its only intention was to use as a museum and built that way. The building constructed by Leo von Klenze in 1842 to 1851 via Nicholas I's order. He wanted to bring the European museum design to Russia and took Nikolay Yefimov and Vasily Stasov assistance to blend the structure with The Hermitage design. The entrance to the museum decorated with colossal Atlantes statues, works of famous Alexander Terebenev. Each floor of the building designed to display specific works of art. Likewise The Old Hermitage, The New Hermitage permanently display the Italian Renaissance and classical antiques from Greek and ancient Rome to the public.
The Menshikov Palace's name has been written in history for it's one of the first stone buildings in Saint Petersburg. The structure built by Italian Giovanni Fontana and German architect Schädel and the assistant of some other colleagues in years of 1710 to 1727. The interior designed with marble, paintings, sculptures, and luxurious decorations.
The General Staff Building which is one of the famous structures in Saint Petersburg was constructed “between 1820 to 1830” by the Italian architect Carlo Rossi. The west and east wing of the building connected by a triumphal arch which celebrated the victory over Napoleon army. The building always hosted the government and their offices, and also in 1917, the Soviet government occupied the building to place their army supplies unit inside it. The structure went through restoration from 2008 to 2014, then after it completed, the exhibition of 18-19 century arts displayed to the public included the works of Picasso and Matisse.
Among thousands and thousands of historical items and pieces of art in the Hermitage, there are some items that you should check them out. For instance, the enormous Peacock Clock which is designed and built by English company James Cox in the eighteenth century presenting a peacock, an owl, and a rooster which each of them does automatic mechanical movement in the certain time of the day to announce the clock. The Peacock Clock purchased by the Catherine the Great, in 1781, but, it damaged during the transfer, though, Russian engineers reconstruct it in the Hermitage. The clock is working fine up to now, but, because of the complicated and vulnerable mechanism, it only announces the clock once a week. This clock is well kept at the Treasure Gallery. One of the favorite parts of the Hermitage Museum is the Treasure Gallery at the Small Hermitage which because of the important pieces and treasures in there such as the Peacock Clock, the security is at its highest level possible. The entrance tickets are also separated from the other parts.
The Madonna Lita which we don't have enough information about its painter but by the look of the technique and style, we could point at Leonardo Da Vinci as master of this painting portrays Virgin Mary breastfeeding her newborn child. This painting which belonged to the Lita House in the past and got its name from that time donated to the Hermitage as a gift from a member of that family.
The Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss sculpture by the Italian master, Antonio Canova has perfectly displayed the pureness of these two fictitious creatures by just altering the form and style of the rock that they're on so that us as the audience would acknowledge the genius mind of this Italian master by his touch.
The Sarcophagus of Alexander Nevsky, one of the Russian monarchs, and national hero of the war between the Swedish Empire, in the 17th century, brought to Saint Petersburg after it declared as the capital. As he was a highly critical person in the history of Russia, The Alexander Nevsky Lavra established to host this silver tomb. However, the 1.5 Ton silver tomb taken apart and brought to the Hermitage for us to witnessed its greatness as closely as possible.
This incomplete marble sculpture of a naked boy crouching is the only piece of work by Michelangelo in the Hermitage museum.
The entrance of the new Hermitage is guarded by ten colossal Atlantes figures which each of them is representing an artist, philosopher, or scientist in history.
When you travel to Russia, lots of spots recommended to you for visiting, But the Hermitage museum complex is one unique reason to visit Russia in the first place. With over three million pieces of art including paintings from famous artists, sculptures, drawings, items, symbols, pieces of jewelry, and many more things that found in Egypt, ancient Rome, Russia, the Middle East, the Far East, and many more places which together are one gigantic temptation to flight to Russia and visiting its Hermitage right now. However, only part of the collections is presenting permanently, for observing the rest of it, you should check the museum schedule before your visit. Of course, you can arrange your visit yourself with some help and asking, but it's better to take Russia tour or the Hermitage own tour programs to have an assured enjoyable visit to the museum. But the common thing which everyone can agree on is that traveling to Russia and not visiting its Hermitage Museum might be a pointless trip.
St. Petersburg has lots of other museums and attractions which you can find more about them in our blog including this outline guide about the city of St. Petersburg.