The State Hermitage is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three 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 are also 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.
Of six buildings of the main museum complex, five, named the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage and Hermitage Theatre, are open to the public. The entrance ticket for foreign tourists costs more than the fee paid by citizens of Russia and Belarus. However, entrance is free of charge the first Thursday of every month for all visitors, and free daily for students and children. The museum is closed on Mondays. The entrance for individual visitors is located in the Winter Palace, accessible from the Courtyard.
Catherine the Great started her art collection in 1764 by purchasing paintings from Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. He assembled the collection for Frederick II of Prussia who ultimately refused to purchase it. Thus, Gotzkowsky provided 225 or 317 paintings (conflicting accounts list both numbers), mainly Flemish and Dutch, including 90 not precisely identified, to the Russian crown. The collection consisted of Rembrandt (13 paintings), Rubens (11 paintings), Jacob Jordaens (7 paintings), Anthony 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), Hendrik Goltzius, Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick van Balen and Gerrit van Honthorst. Perhaps some of the most famous and most notable artwork that was a part of Catherine’s original purchase from Gotzkowsky was: Danae, painted by Rembrandt in 1636, Descent from the Cross, painted by Rembrandt in 1624, and Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Glove painted by Frans Hals in 1650. These paintings remain in the Hermitage collection today and were purchased by Catherine in 1764 among many others that were a part of Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky’s collection.
Originally, the only building housing the collection was the ‘Small Hermitage’. Today, the Hermitage Museum encompasses many buildings on the Palace Embankment and its neighbourhoods. Apart from the Small Hermitage, the museum now also includes the ‘Old Hermitage’ (also called ‘Large Hermitage’), the ‘New Hermitage’, the ‘Hermitage Theatre’, and the ‘Winter Palace’, the former main residence of the Russian tsars. In recent years, the Hermitage has expanded to the General Staff Building on the Palace Square in front of the Winter Palace, and the Menshikov Palace.
The Western European Art collection includes European paintings, sculpture, and applied art from the 13th to the 20th centuries. It is displayed, in about 120 rooms, on the first and second floor of the four main buildings. Drawings and prints are displayed in temporary exhibitions.
The rooms on the first floor of the Old Hermitage were designed by Andrei Stakenschneider in revival styles in between 1851 and 1860, although the design survives 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 Italian Renaissance galleries 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 Rome frescoed by Raphael, runs along the eastern facade.
Four small rooms on the ground floor, enclosed in the middle of the New Hermitage between the room 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 southwest corner of the Winter Palace, features jewellery from the Pontic steppes, Caucasus and Asia, in particular Scythian and Sarmatian gold. Visitors may only visit the treasure galleries as part of a guided tour.
Pavilion Hall, designed by Andrei Stackenschneider in 1858, occupies the first floor of the Northern Pavilion in 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 spanning the west side of the Small Hermitage from the Northern to Southern Pavilion house an exhibition of Western European decorative and applied art from the 12th to 15th century and the fine art of the Low Countries from the 15th and 16th centuries.
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 from the 15th-17th centuries, part of the Hermitage Arsenal collection. The Hall of Twelve Columns, in the southeast corner of the New Hermitage, is adorned with columns of grey Serdobol granite and was also designed in the Greek revival style for the display of coins, is now used for temporary exhibitions.
The collection of Classical Antiquities feature Greek artifacts 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 latest research, is an original Hellenistic Greek sculpture rather than a Roman copy as it was thought before. There are, however, only a few pieces of authentic Classical Greek sculpture and sepulchral monuments.
The only portion of the second floor open to the public is in 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. It also displays paintings by Camille Pissarro (Boulevard Montmartre, Paris), Paul Cézanne (Mount Sainte-Victoire), Alfred Sisley, Henri Morel, and Degas.
Modern art is displayed in the rooms on the southern side of the second floor. It features Matisse, Derain and other fauvists, Picasso, Malevich, Kandinsky, Giacomo Manzù, Giorgio Morandi 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 second floor of the Western wing features collections of the Oriental art (from China, India, Mongolia, Tibet, Central Asia, Byzantium and Near East).
The collection of Classical Antiquities occupies 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, while the stucco walls and ceiling are covered in painting.
Since 1940, the Egyptian collection, 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 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.
The Room of the Great Vase in the western wing features the 2.57 m (8.4 ft) high Kolyvan Vase, weighting 19 t (42,000 lb), made of jasper in 1843 and installed 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 south-eastern 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.
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