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A great number of tourists come to Saint-Petersburg simply to visit the world-famous Hermitage, a museum of awesome size and diversity which can be compared to Louvre in Paris, National Gallery in London and Metropolitan museum in New-York. In its collection there are more than 3 mln. unique works of art and applied art representing different ages, countries and people starting from the Stone Age and up to the 20th century.
In order to embrace everything from Impressionism and Cubism to the Dutch and Italian masters, Scythian gold to Koyoto woodcuts, one will have to cover a distance of more than 22 km which is more than 400 exhibition halls. It’s also worth mentioning that it’ll take you almost 15 years merely to glance at every minute item of the Hermitage collection which is spread throughout six buildings: the Winter Palace (1754-62, architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli), the Small Hermitage (1764-77, architect Yuri Velten and Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe), the Old Hermitage (1770-87, architect Yuri Velten), the New Hermitage (1842-51, architect Leo von Klenze) and the Hermitage Theatre (1783-87, architect Giacomo Quarenghi).
The history of the foundation of the Hermitage collection dates back to the epoch of Catherine the Great who commissioned the architect Vallin de la Mothe to erect a new building adjacent to the Winter Palace which became known as the ‘Hermitage”. The word “hermite” comes from a French language and means a secluded corner or a dwelling of a recluse. That was a private retreat of Catherine where she used to retire after the court duties and hold small parties.
The first big acquisition that became the core of the world-famous collection happened to be in 1764, when 225 canvases painted mostly by western-european artists were received from the Berlin merchant Gotskovsky who was responsible for selecting paintings for the Prussian king, Frederick II.
After that large consignments of paintings acquired at sales began to arrive one after another from abroad. During that time these treasures of the museum were regarded as personal possession of the empress, so only a few people were allowed to relish these invaluable works of art. Catherine the Great, being en enlightened monarch, wrote to Diderot that only she and her mice could savour the collection.
The purchase of art collections for the imperial family continued until 1917. The most famous among them are the collection of Count Heinrich Bruhl, bought in 1769 from his heirs in Dresden, the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Count Baudouin and Crozat acquired in London and Paris.
After the revolution of 1917, when the Hermitage was turned into a museum, numerous works of art found their way into the museum, following the nationalization of private collections. Especially important additions came from the mansions of the nobility: the Yusupovs, Sheremetevs, Shuvalovs and Stroganovs. It’s worth mentioning that in Soviet times special measures were taken towards preserving the cultural legacy of the past and moreover the museum''s reserves were considerably augmented with items brought back from scientific expeditions and enlarged more then 4 folds.
In the very first days of the WWII almost all invaluable items were careful packed and evacuated to the Urals and although it was impossible to hide the facades from the facades were bombing and artillery fire, the Hermitage overcame all difficulties and hardships of the war period and already on the 8th of November 1945 it was opened to the visitors again.
At present, one can savour not only the masterpieces by Leonard da Vinci, Raphael, Rembandt, Titian, Giorgione, Caravaggio, El Greco and many others but also can get acquainted with the ravishing interiors of the state rooms where the imperial family used to live for almost two centuries.