The Hermitage History


The Hermitage ranks with the very finest of the world's art museums.
It contains more than two and a half million works of art representing
different ages, countries and peoples.
The history of the Hermitage is closely connected with that of the
buildings which house the present-day museum. The Winter Palace and
the three buildings of the Hermitage, conventionally called the Small
Hermitage, the Old Hermitage and the New Hermitage, and united by a
series of covered passage-ways, form one of the most superb architec-
tural ensembles in Leningrad.
The Winter Palace. The Winter Palace was built between 1754 and
1762 by Bartolommeo Rastrelli (1700-1711) in magnificent Baroque
style. The inside of the Palace has been reconstructed several times:
during the 1780s and 1790s by Giacomo Ouarenghi (1744-1817) and
Ivan Starov (1744-1808) and in the first thirty years of the nineteenth
century by such distinguished architects as Carlo Rossi (1775-1849)
and Auguste Montferrand (1786-1858). In the winter of 1837 a fire broke
out and burnt for three days, leaving nothing but charred walls.
The restoration work under Vasily Stasov (1769-1848) and Alexander
Briullov (1798-1877) was completed for the most part by the spring of
1839. The exterior was restored in the original, the majority of the in-
teriors redecorated in late Classical style. For more than a century and
a half the Winter Palace served as the residence of the tsars; then, for
a short time, as the seat of the Provisional Government. Finally, after the
Revolution, the Palace became a museum.
The Main Staircase of the Winter Palace. From the entrance hall
on Palace Embankment we enter the Rastrelli Gallery, at the end of which
the ceremonial staircase of the Winter Palace comes into view. High,
well lit and sparkling with gilt and mirrors, the staircase was redesigned
after the fire of 1837 by Vasily Stasov in keeping with the plan of Ras-
trelli, though with certain alterations. Stasov replaced the pillars of pink
imitation marble with columns of grey granite from Serdobol (Karelia),
and the gilded wooden handrail with a marble balustrade. On pedestals
are the following alabaster statues: Wisdom and Justice by Terebenev,
Grandeur and Opulence by Ustinov, Fidelity and Equity by Leppe,
Mercury and Mars by Manuylov, and The Muse by Hermann. In the
central recess on the lower landing stands the marble sculpture entitled
Allegory of the State (Sovereignty) by an unknown eighteenth century
sculptor. The eighteenth century ceiling portrays the gods on Olympus.
The Foundation of the Hermitage. The Hermitage is regarded
as having been founded in the year 1764, when two hundred and twenty-
five paintings were delivered to the Palace, having been bought for the
Russian empress Catherine II from the Berlin merchant Gotzkowsky.
After this, large consignments of paintings acquired at sales began to
arrive one after the other from abroad: the Briihl collection from Saxony
in 1769, Crozat's, bought in France in 1722, the Walpole gallery from
England and several others. Prints, sculptures, carved stones, coins and
medals, tapestries, jewellery, in addition to paintings, gave the Hermitage
collections exceptional diversity. The treasures of the palace museum,
which is what the Hermitage was at that time, were regarded as the per-
sonal possession of the Empress, and very few people were allowed to
visit the collection. In one of her letters Catherine wrote, referring to the
riches of the Hermitage: "Only the mice and I can admire all this..."

The Small Hermitage. Between 1764 and 1767, according to a
plan made by Yury Velten (1730-1801) and Jean-Baptiste-Michel
Vallin de la Mothe (1729-1800), a building of smallish proportions was
erected adjacent to the Winter Palace. This became known as the
"Hermitage" (from the French ermite, a recluse; hence "hermitage",
the abode of a recluse, a place of solitude), which was used by Catherine
for unofficial receptions. The art collections were accommodated in two
galleries adjoined by the Hanging Garden which was laid out on the roof
of the Palace stables. In 1856 the architect Andrey Stakenschneider
(1802-1865) designed the still existing Pavilion Hall in what had been
some small rooms built during the time of Catherine. At the present
time the Pavilion Hall contains an excellent collection of eighteenth and
nineteenth century Italian mosaics-for example the mosaic tables The
Bottom of the Sea, A Day in Rome. A floor mosaic, a copy of an ancient
Roman original now preserved in the Vatican museum, was completed
between 1847 and 1851 by artists who had studied in Rome. Another
notable feature of the Hall is the "Peacock" clock, the work of James
Coxe, an eighteenth century English watchmaker. The complex mecha-
nism, concealed beneath a mound above which stands the trunk of a tree,
sets in motion, when the clock strikes, the figures of a peacock, an owl
and a cockerel. A small revolving dial, set in the cap of a toadstool, shows
the time.

The Old Hermitage was built in 1787 by the architect Yury Velten
to accommodate the ever growing collection of works of art. In the
nineteenth century, rooms on the first floor, which now contain an ex-
hibition of thirteenth to sixteenth century Italian art, were redecorated
by Stakenschneider as additional Palace premises, and this decor has
been preserved up to the present day.

The Growth of the Collection. In the course of time the collec-
tions were enriched by relics of Greek and Scythian culture, unearthed
during excavations on ancient burial mounds in southern Russia. Thus
was begun the world-famous collection of Scythian antiquities and of
relics from ancient towns on and around the northern Black Sea coast.
The purchase of the best items from the collection of the Marquis of
Campana in Rome in 1861 facilitated the creation of a department de-
voted to the art of classical antiquity. At the same time, though not so
intensively, a collection was accumulated of items of oriental culture.
Throughout the nineteenth century up to the beginning of the twentieth
the Hermitage collections were further enlarged by the acquisition of
works of art from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, individual specimens
of Sassanian and Byzantine silver, Coptic fabrics, Syrian vessels,
oriental weapons, etc.

 There was an increase in the number of works of Western
European art: in 1814 a large part of the Malmaison gallery was bought
from the empress Josephine (Napoleon's first wife), and in 1815 the col-
lection of the Amsterdam banker Coesvelt was added. The collection of
the Spanish minister Godoy was acquired in 1836, and in 1850 that of the
Venetian Barbarigo family among others. Leonardo da Vinci's The Litta
Madonna was purchased in Milan in 1866, and The Benois Madonna in
St Petersburg in 1914, and Raphael's Conestabile Madonna in Perugia in
1870. A collection of medieval works of art belonging to A. Bazilevsky
was bought in Paris in 1884. The last major purchase before the Revolu-
tion was made in 1915, when the museum acquired, after the death of the
famous Russian geographer and traveller P. Semionov-Tyanshansky, his
large collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings.

The New Hermitage. Between 1842 and 1851 Yefimov (1799-
1851) carried out the construction, according to the design of the Munich
architect Leo Klenze (1784-1864), of a special museum building-the
New Hermitage, the entrance to which, from the present-day Khalturin
Street, is adorned by a portico with grey granite atlantes, five metres high
(a little over 16 ft.), the work of A. Terebenev (1812-1859).

The ceremonial opening of the Imperial Hermitage took place in
1852. For a long time, however, tickets enabling the bearer to visit the
museum were issued by a court office; admission was granted only to
those wearing military uniform or tail-coat. Only in the late nineteenth
century did admission to the museum become relatively easy.

The Hermitage after the Revolution. In October 1917 the Win-
ter Palace was witness to a great historic event. From the morning
of November 7th (October 25th O.S.) detachments of Red Guards
and revolutionary units of soldiers and sailors rushed from the head-
quarters of the Revolution at Smolny to the Winter Palace, where the
ministers of the counter-revolutionary Provisional Government took
refuge under the protection of the officer cadets and shock troops. During
the night of November 7th the Winter Palace was taken by storm.

In spite of the difficult conditions of civil war, foreign intervention
and post-war economic disruption, the Soviet government, under the
personal guidance of Lenin, took vigorous measures towards preserving
the cultural legacy of the past. In October 1918 a special decree was
issued by the Council of People's Commissars concerning the preservation and
registering of works of art and relics of antiquity.

During the years of Soviet power the scope of the Hermitage collec-
tions has been enlarged more then fourfold. Among the works acquired
are the finest items from the Anichkov Palace, the suburban palaces of
Peterhof and Gatchina, and from the private picture galleries of the
Youssupovs, Stroganovs, Shuvalovs and Sheremetevs requisitioned by
the state after the Revolution, and from the galleries of the Moscow col-
lectors, Shchukin and Morozov, and a number of others. For the pur-
poses of acquiring works of art and ancient relics expeditions were made
on several occasions to the Caucasus, Central Asia and other parts of the
country, and many valuable items have been, and are still being bought
from private individuals by a special purchasing commission. Lastly,
there are excavations systematically conducted by Soviet scholars, and
these represent inexhaustible sources for the enrichment of the museum:
It eventually became possible to create new departments-departments
devoted to the history of Russian culture, to prehistoric culture, and to
the culture and art of the peoples of the East. Besides, a scientific depart-
ment was organized, its work involving tours of the musum and lectures.
A fundamental rearrangement of all the exhibitions on the basis of the
Marxist-Leninist approach to history made it possible to show, in the
first-class items of the Hermitage, the history of world art and culture in
its natural, successive stages of development.

The Hermitage during the War of 1941-45. In the very first
days of the war all valuable items were carefully packed and made ready
for evacuation. 1,118,000 exhibits were dispatched to the safety of the
Urals; the remainder, largely decorative objects, were put into the cellars
of the Winter Palace. Bombing attacks and artillery fire caused consider-
able damage to the buildings of the Hermitage; thus, as a result of direct
hits, the famous portico of the New Hermitage with the atlantes was
damaged, as well as several rooms in the Winter Palace. Glass was blown
out of the windows, and paintings on the ceilings and walls, stucco work,
gilt and inlaid floors all suffered from the dampness and cold. Even during
the siege of Leningrad plans were made for the reconstruction work,
which was begun immediately after the blockade was lifted. On November
8th, 1945, after an interval of four years, the doors of the Hermitage were
again opened to visitors.

The Hermitage today. At present the collections of the Hermitage
number 2,600,000 items. These include about 15,000 paintings, 12,000
sculptures, 600,000 prints and drawings, over 600,000 archaeological
exhibits, 1,000,000 coins and medals, and 220,000 items of applied art.
Four hundred rooms are open to the public.

Expressing its high regard for the services rendered by the museum
staff in art education, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet awarded the
Hermitage the Order of Lenin in connection with the museum's two
hundredth anniversary in 1964.




- The Hermitage - The History of the Museum -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Russian Culture -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Prehistoric Culture -
- The Hermitage - The Department of the Art and Culture of the Peoples of the East -
- The Hermitage - The Department of the Art and Culture of Antiquity -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Western European Art -
- The Hermitage - The Numismatic Department -
- Floor Pans -