What to see in the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg

Guided tour of the Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage Art Collection, which is exhibited in the halls of the Winter Palace, is amazing and requires a lot of effort to get to know at least its outstanding specimens. Free Tour Russia offer you a guided tour of the Hermitage museum to walk through the exhibits halls and listen to exciting stories about the Russian emperors, about the history of the museum, about great Russian patrons and art collectors, about the past and present of the museum and the whole country, which are so tightly intertwined with each other.

The History of the Hermitage museum

The Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg is the largest and best-known museum in Russia and one of the greatest art museum in the world. The museum begins its history in the year 1764 from the private collection of Catherine the Great. The museum itself was opened for public visits in 1852 in a building specially built for this purpose, the New Hermitage. Today the main part of the exhibition occupies five buildings located along the Neva embankment plus some branches located in the historical part of the city.

The beginning of the history of the Hermitage

The history of the collection of the State Hermitage has its roots officially with the reign of Catherine II. But his great predecessor, Peter the Great, also contributed off the creation of the museum. During his reign, a large number of exhibits appeared in the private imperial collection. For example, the famous “Scythian gold”: precious jewelry in the form of animals, stored in the golden pantry. The jewels were bought by Prince Gagarin for Peter’s Siberian collection.

Until the reign of Catherine, the replacement of the imperial assembly was almost non-existent or happened by chance. A vivid example is the “Mughal Gold” collection. In the middle of the 18th century, the Shah of Iran conquered the Mughal empire; that was in the territory of India. With the embassy, he sent gold jewelry and other jewels decorated with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires to Russian Queen Ana Ioannovna. The gifts were delivered to St. Petersburg by elephants. However, the gifts were already received by Empress Elizaveta Petrovna; who ascended to the throne as a result of the takeover. The gifts were accepted and forgotten; They were transferred to the Hermitage after the revolution. At the end of the twentieth century, it turned out that there were almost no Mogul treasures in Iran, and the largest jewelry collection of its time is found in Russia.

Hermitage after the Cathrine the Great

The most important period in the history of the museum is inextricably linked with the name of Catherine the Great, who is rightly called its founder. According to the order of the Empress was built an extension to the Winter Palace, where her first collection was placed

During the reign of Catherine the Great the collection was replenished with paintings by Titian, Rubens, Raphael and other great masters of arts, and the only sculpture of Miguel Angelo in Russia was bought “crouching boy”. In addition to the many paintings, Hermitage has obtained to its collection more than 10,000 coins and medals, more than 10,000 drawings and books.

Paul I, Cathrine´s son, continued to collect art, mainly from Italy. However, he ordered to put the letter “P” to all the images in his collection. Thanks to that, the scientists were able to determine exactly which canvases entered the Hermitage before the beginning of the 19th century.

With the reign of Alexander I, the collection was divided into several parts, with each of them a guardian appeared. In the time of Alexander I, the collection of the Hermitage was complemented with Spanish and English paintings. But the most valuable acquisitions are connected to the central episode of his reign: the War of 1812. Like many members of the French nobility, the Countess of Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife, was concerned about the preservation of privileges after the victory of the Russian army. She decided to give Alexander I a gift, which he refused to accept for a long time, but Josephine insisted. Therefore, the famous “Gonzaga Cameo” came to the Hermitage collection.

Nicolas I, interested in military matters, left after his reign 600 paintings depicting battle scenes. He also established the famous War Gallery of the War of 1812, in the year 1826.  Thanks to Nicolás I, the New Hermitage appeared, and the set of existing buildings was reconstructed.

And in the year 1852, the museum was first opened to visitors under the name of “Imperial Hermitage”. The next half century his collection was replaced with varying degrees of intensity. One of the famous acquisitions of that time was the “Virgin of Benois” by Leonardo da Vinci, bought in 1914.

Hermitage in the 20th century

The history of the museum in the 20th century resembles a history of dramatic and action detectives, among whose heroes are the museum staff, the Soviet authorities and the Russian army. In the revolutionary period, the Hermitage collection was not surprisingly damaged. Serious leaks began in the first years of Soviet power.

In the early 20s of the twentieth century, the collection was replaced thanks to nationalized private collections. But in general the goal of the Soviet government was to sell the exhibits to the west, and obviously, the museum employees wanted to keep them as it could be possible.

Thanks to the staff of the Hermitage, during the periods of greater “sale” of the collections of the Hermitage, lost the minimum number of the most valuable exhibitions. But the payment of this was very hard. In different years, more than fifty employees of the museum were repressed.

During the Great Patriotic War, the collection was evacuated to the Ural region, but the museum buildings suffered considerably. The damage inflicted on them is indicated by the list of construction materials needed for the restoration. It included 100 tons of cement, more than 60 tons of plaster, 30 kilometers of fabrics, etc.

After the war, Hermitage started working at the fastest pace. The museum was preparing to receive captured works of art, which were exported in large quantities from Germany. Hitler was going to open the museum, collecting all the best he could in Europe. At the time of the capture of Berlin by Soviet troops, the museum was preparing for the inauguration. By accident, his future director was arrested and reported on the whereabouts of the warehouses. The works of art were exported from Germany in trucks and trains to Russia.

The Hermitage Museum complex 

Winter Palace

The residence of the Russian emperors built according to the project of the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The works of the construction of the palace were begun at the time of the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna and were completed in the reign of Peter III in the year 1762.

Small Hermitage

The palace was built during the reign of Catherine II

Big Hermitage (or old)

The palace built by the architect Felten in the year 1787 to store the replenished collection of Catherine II.

The Hermitage Theather

It was built by the decree of Catherine II by the architect Giacomo Kvarnegi to show spectacles and celebrate masquerades.

The New Hermitage

The building was built under the order of Nicholas I by the architect Leo von Klenze especially to show the exhibits of the imperial collection.

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