Where Is the Hermitage Museum?
The Hermitage Museum, one of the great art museums of the world, was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great of Russia in St. Petersburg, which is second only to Moscow as a cultural and educational center. It is the traditional home of Russian ballet, has 13 theaters, one of the largest libraries in the world, a university and many academies.
The city has 48 museums. Of these by far the most famous is the Hermitage, where the collection of art of all countries and periods, especially that of the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionist painters, is considered one of the finest in the world.
Over the years, acquisitions by the Tsars and the addition of a considerable volume of works gathered over the past half century have contributed to the collection, which now includes more than 2,500,000 works.
The Hermitage was a private, or court, museum for many years until it was opened to the public by Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855). It is part of the Winter Palace. 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 Theater 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 the 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.
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, as well as others, 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 notable artworks that were a part of Catherine’s original purchase from Gotzkowsky were 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.
In 1764, Catherine commissioned Yury Felten to build an extension on the east of the Winter Palace which he completed in 1766. Later it became the Southern Pavilion of the Small Hermitage. In 1767–1769, French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe built the Northern Pavilion on the Neva embankment. Between 1767 and 1775, the extensions were connected by galleries, where Catherine put her collections. The entire neoclassical building is now known as the Small Hermitage.
During the time of Catherine, the Hermitage was not a public museum and few people were allowed to view its holdings. Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe also rebuilt rooms in the second story of the south-east corner block that was originally built for Elizabeth and later occupied by Peter III. The largest room in this particular apartment was the Audience Chamber (also called the Throne Hall) which consisted of 227 square meters.
The Hermitage buildings served as a home and workplace for nearly a thousand people, including the Imperial family. In addition to this, they also served as an extravagant showplace for all kinds of Russian relics and displays of wealth prior to the art collections. Many events were held in these buildings including masquerades for the nobility, grand receptions and ceremonies for state and government officials.
The “Hermitage complex” was a creation of Catherine’s that allowed all kinds of festivities to take place in the palace, the theatre and even the museum of the Hermitage. This helped solidify the Hermitage as not only a dwelling place for the Imperial family, but also as an important symbol and memorial to the imperial Russian state. Today, the palace and the museum are one and the same.
In Catherine’s day, the Winter Palace served as a central part of what was called the Palace Square. The Palace Square served as St. Petersburg’s nerve center by linking it to all the city’s most important buildings. The presence of the Palace Square was extremely significant to the urban development of St. Petersburg, and while it became less of a nerve center later into the 20th century, its symbolic value was still very much preserved.
Catherine acquired the best collections offered for sale by the heirs of prominent collectors. In 1769, she purchased Brühl’s collection, consisting of over 600 paintings and a vast number of prints and drawings, in Saxony. Three years later, she bought Crozat’s collection of paintings in France with the assistance of Denis Diderot. Next, in 1779, she acquired the collection of 198 paintings that once belonged to Robert Walpole in London followed by a collection of 119 paintings in Paris from Count Baudouin in 1781.
Catherine’s favorite items to collect were believed to be engraved gems and cameos. At the inaugural exhibit of the Hermitage, opened by the Prince of Wales in November 2000, there was an entire gallery devoted to representing and displaying Catherine’s favorite items. In this gallery her cameos are displayed along with cabinet made by David Roentgen, which holds her engraved gems.
As the symbol of Minerva was frequently used and favored by Catherine to represent her patronage of the arts, a cameo of Catherine as Minerva is also displayed here. This particular cameo was created for her by her daughter-in-law, the Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna. This is only a small representation of Catherine’s vast collection of many antique and contemporary engraved gems and cameos.
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, so in 1771 she commissioned Yury Felten 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. In London in 1787, 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.
From 1787 to 1792, Quarenghi designed and built a wing along the Winter Canal with the Raphael Loggias to replicate the loggia in the Apostolic Palace in Rome designed by Donato Bramante and frescoed by Raphael. The loggias in Saint Petersburg were adorned with copies of Vatican frescoes painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s.
Catherine succeeded in accomplishing a huge achievement in the art world. She collected thousands of impressive pieces of artwork that were numerous in size and value. In her collection, at least 4,000 paintings came to rival the older and more prestigious museums of Western Europe. Catherine took great pride in her collection, and actively participated in extensive competitive art gathering and collecting that was prevalent in European royal court culture.
Through Catherine’s art collection, she gained European acknowledgment and acceptance, and portrayed Russia as an enlightened society, another feat that Catherine took great pride in. Catherine went on to invest much of her identity in being a patron for the arts. She was particularly fond of the popular deity, Minerva, whose characteristics according to classical tradition are symbolic of military prowess, wisdom, and patronage of the arts.
Using the title, Catherine the Minerva, she personally created new institutions of literature and culture and also participated in many projects of her own, mostly having to do with play writing. The representation of Catherine alongside Minerva would come to be a known tradition of enlightened patronage in Russia.