The State Hermitage Museum

The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg is Russia's premier art museum. It began life as the private art collection of the imperial family and was nationalised and greatly expanded after the Revolution. The Museum is housed in the buildings of the former imperial palace in the centre of St Petersburg. They comprise the Baroque Winter Palace built by Bartolemeo Rastrelli for the Empress Elizabeth, the Neoclassical Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage and Hermitage Theatre built by Vallin de la Mothe, Yuri Velten and Giacomo Quarenghi respectively for Catherine the Great and the Historicist New Hermitage built by Leo von Klenze for Nicholas I. The latter was built as a museum where the cream of the imperial collection could be shown to the public. It opened its doors in 1852 and was known as the Imperial Hermitage Museum up to 1917.

The Museum owns one of the world's greatest collections of Old Master paintings, important Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, Classical antiquities, European and Russian applied arts, Oriental art and items excavated by archaeologists throughout the former Soviet Union. Since 1981 the Museum has also had charge of the Menshikov Palace on Vassilevski Island where the curators have mounted an exhibition devoted to Russian life in the first third of the 18th century. A new storage facility is being built on the outskirts of the city and the Museum has been allocated half of the General Staff Building on Palace Square where it intends to create a specialist museum devoted to the applied arts.

Today the Museum's collection runs to some three million items, compared to one million in 1917. The State Hermitage Museum has ten curatorial departments including a large, and very active, education department which runs courses for school children, as well as tours and lectures for adults. The director of the museum, professor Mikhail B. Piotrovsky, has seven deputies, each in charge of a different sector of the Museum's activities. The staff of the Museum totals some 1,500, including 150 specialist curators and 120 guides.

History of the Museum

The foundation of the State Hermitage Museum is generally dated to 1764, the year when Catherine the Great bought a collection of 200 Old Master paintings from Berlin. Catherine, who reigned from 1762 to 1796, was a keen collector and her purchases are still among the most distinguished exhibits in the Museum. She bought 4,000 Old Master paintings, tens of thousands of drawings and engravings, a large collection of antique and modern sculpture and 10,000 engraved gems - her special collecting passion. She also purchased and commissioned furniture, silver, porcelain and other decorative arts on an imperial scale. The famous silver dinner service that she ordered from Roettiers in Paris for her lover Count Grigori Orlov originally comprised over 3,000 pieces.

Catherine was not the first imperial collector. Peter the Great (1682-1725) bought works by Rembrandt and other Dutch masters, invited contemporary sculptors to Russia and ordered that gold and silver artefacts found in the ancient tombs of Siberia and Central Asia be collected on his behalf - thus laying the foundations of the Museum's magnificent archaeology collection.

The 19th century saw many additions to the imperial collection, notably during the reigns of Alexander I (1801-1825) and Nicholas I (1825-1855). The latter built the 'New Hermitage' onto the imperial Winter Palace and put the best of the imperial collection on show there with classical antiquities on the ground floor and Old Master paintings upstairs.

In September 1917, between the February Revolution and the October Revolution, the Museum's most important treasures were evacuated to Moscow to escape the advance of the German army. After Lenin moved the capital to Moscow in 1918, the government considered exhibiting them there and the Hermitage curators had to fight to get their treasures back. In the course of the 1920s some 400 paintings were transferred to Moscow to turn the Pushkin Museum into a national gallery and works of art were also given to provincial museums. However, the State Hermitage Museum, as it was called after 1917, grew in size since it was allocated many important items from nationalised private collections and began to organise its own archaeological excavations.

The main departments of the Museum are as follows:

The Department of Western European Art

This has been the largest and most important section of the Hermitage collection from the time of Catherine the Great's first purchases onwards. It acquired its present name after the fine and decorative arts collections were combined in 1930 and curates 7,869 paintings, 2,100 sculptures, more than 525,000 prints and drawings, and 60,000 examples of the decorative arts, including silver, porcelain and furniture. Among the most famous features of the department are the Rembrandts (more than 20 works) and the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pictures - including Picasso and Matisse - from the former Shchukin and Morosov collections. There are also paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Giorgione among other Italian masters, a superb collection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings and the best collection of French art outside the Louvre.

The Oriental Department

The first new department to be created after the Revolution, it was established in 1920, under the direction of the future Museum director, Iosif Orbeli. Exhibits were gathered from institutions all over Russia representing the cultures of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Byzantium, Iran, Central Asia, the Caucasus, China, Japan and India. The Sassanian silver collection is world famous, as are the collections of Coptic textiles and Persian carpets. The scholarly publications of the department have won it a world wide reputation.

The Department of Russian Culture

Opened in 1941, this department curates Russian works of art from the 6th to the 20th centuries. It has portrait paintings and views associated with the imperial family and their palaces. (The Russian Museum contains St Petersburg's main collection of Russian painting.) There are superb products of the Imperial Porcelain, Glass and Tapestry Factories. The costume collection runs to tens of thousands of items, including clothes worn by the imperial family from the 18th century onwards. The most unique feature of the collection is steel furniture made at the arms factories of Tula in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Department of the Art and Culture of Antiquity

This department curates art and artefacts from the Greek and Roman civilisations and has formed a major section of the Museum since it first opened to the public in 1852. Peter the Great and Catherine both bought important antique sculpture - the collection of Roman portrait sculpture is the best in the world. From the early 19th century, excavations of Greek settlements around the Black Sea area yielded jewellery and vases and, together with the purchase of Greek vases from the Campana collection in 1862, have ensured that the Museum has a superlative collection.

The Department of the Archaeology of Eastern Europe and Siberia

Founded in 1931, the department has organised archaeological excavations all over Russia and the former republics and curates finds dating from Palaeolithic times up to the Bronze and early Iron Ages. Its special treasures include the so-called 'Siberian Collection of Peter the Great', magnificent gold and silverware of the Scythian and Samartian civilisations, and the rich, 2000 year old textiles, felt, leather, furs, elegantly carved wooden artefacts and even tattooed human skin, found in tombs in the high Altai mountains, whose contents were uniquely preserved by permafrost.

The Numismatic Department

Catherine the Great was a keen collector of coins and medals and her extensive collection is the foundation of the present collection. The department now owns over a million items which represent one of the world's largest collections in the field. It ranges across Antique, Western European, Russian and Oriental items.

The Arsenal

Nicholas I was a passionate collector of antiquarian arms and armour which he kept in a special pavilion in the park of Tzarskoje Selo. In 1885 his collection was transferred to the Hermitage and combined with the collection of Alexander Petrovich Basilevsky, recently purchased in Paris, to form one of the most important collections in the world. There are works of European, Russian and Oriental workmanship, as well as a group of magnificent Colt pistols from America made for presentation to Nicholas I and his sons.

The Research Library

The library began with an accumulation of books acquired by Catherine the Great, a voracious reader, and now contains more than 600,000 volumes in Russian as well as in other European and Oriental languages. In addition to the best art reference library in the country there is a Rare Books and Manuscripts Room, containing some 10,000 items, including a collection of book bindings and many rare periodicals.

The Archives

All aspects of the Hermitage's activity are documented in the archives. There are documents relating to the imperial Hermitage from 1767 onwards as well as State Hermitage papers from 1917 to the present day. There are over 24,000 items relating to acquisitions, staff appointments, restoration work and archaeological digs.

The Educational Department

This department was founded in 1925 and has close links to the St Petersburg school system. The School Centre runs a drawing workshop for 5 to 10 year olds, 46 study groups and 2 clubs - the Young Archaeologists' Club and the Art Lovers' Club. Children can join the Hermitage archaeological digs and take part in their own annual exhibition, 'We draw in the Hermitage'. The department runs evening classes for adults and university students which are attended by more than 6,000 people a year, as well as organising a three-year university course in the history of fine art. The staff conduct between 24,000 and 26,000 guided tours of the Hermitage every year and give some 800 lectures, some in the Hermitage itself and some in lecture halls in other parts of the city. The department writes its own guidebooks and brochures, as well as preparing audioguides, videos and CD Roms.

For further information visit the website: www.hermitagemuseum.org

For further information and photographic material, please contact:

Sue Bond Public Relations
Hollow Lane Farmhouse
Hollow Lane
Thurston, Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk IP31 3RQ
U.K.
Tel. +44 (0)1359 271085
Fax +44 (0)1359 271491
e-mail: info@suebond.co.uk

Lena Getmanskaya
Press Office
The State Hermitage Museum
190000 St Petersburg
Dvortsovaya emb. 34
Russia
Tel. +7-812 110 9657
Fax +7-812 312 1567
e-mail: getmansk@hermitage.ru

Opening hours

Daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Closed on 25 December 2014 and 27 April 2015
Open on 1 January 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.

© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The Hermitage Amsterdam is located on Amstel 51, Amsterdam

Photo Janiek Dam

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