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Trans-siberian blog hermitage St Petersburg

St Petersburg’s Hermitage

The History of St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum

The State Hermitage is one of the world’s oldest museums having been founded by Catherine the Great 250 years ago and has been open to the public for over 160 years and is a must see as part of a visit to St Petersburg as part of any Trans-Siberian tour. There’s only ever a small amount of the museum’s pieces on show at any one time with the overall collection thought to be upwards of 3 million pieces.

It has the single largest collection of paintings to be found anywhere in the world and these, along with the other pieces are held in six buildings, 5 of which are open to the public.

The Hermitage Founded by Catherine the Great Contains Rembrandts and Rubens

The collection was begun by Catherine the Great in 1764 out of a collection that was initially earmarked for Frederick II of Prussia by the merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. Frederick had refused to take the collection of mainly Dutch and Flemish paintings that Gotzkowsky had assembled and so he decided to head to Russia with the stash of paintings. There are conflicting accounts of exactly how many paintings there were but it was over 200. They included works by greats such as Rembrandt and Rubens. The most famous pieces in that collection still reside in the Hermitage today – “Danae” & “Descent of Chaos” by Rembrandt and “Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Glove” painted by Frans Hals.

Catherine became an avid collector, purchasing collections from across Europe to add to her cache. A new building was constructed as an addition to the Winter Palace and the corridors that joined the buildings would house the collections – this was eventually to develop into the modern day Small Hermitage.

Catherine the Great Bought Whole Collections for the Hermitage

Catherine continued to collect for the rest of her life and it is thought that she managed a collection in her lifetime that included 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and an extensive natural history collection. She is thought to have bought collections from famous people of the time such as London’s Robert Walpole – from whom she is thought to have acquired nearly 200 paintings and France’s Crozat from whom she took over 600.

Before long there was the need for a larger building to house all these treasures and so the Large Hermitage was completed in 1787. At the end of the 18th Century and into the 19th Century, the Hermitage continued to expand in both size of buildings as well as size of the collection. Catherine had added Lyde Browne’s collection of Roman marbles and statues and after her death Alexander I continued to collect further works of art, natural history and various other treasures.

The Hermitage Collection Grew From 1852 to the Communist Revolution of 1917

In February 1852, the New Hermitage was opened to the public and later that year the museum’s Egyptian collection came to the fore. The museum was to buy collections from the Vatican and also added the arms and armour collection that Alexander I had founded in the Catherine Palace. These collections continued to grow up until the Communist Revolution of 1917.

The Bolsheviks were to immediately merge the Imperial Hermitage and Winter Palace into one museum and were to expand the collection with the “nationalizing” of many of Russia’s private collections however they also secretly sold off some of the collection.

The Hermitage continues to wow visitors year on year and is undoubtedly one of the world’s “must-see museums”. Visit the Hermitage in St Petersburg at the start of finish of any of our Trans-Siberian tours.

Article originally posted by Phil Stanley and Headseast: 19th February 2015

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