The Hermitage Museum is the largest museum in Russia, St. Petersburg's top attraction and one of the largest museums in the world. It rivals with such world-famous museums as Louvre in France, The National Gallery, The British Museum in England, and The Prado Museum in Spain. Its collection numbers over 3,000,000 works of art with major display occupying 365 rooms of The Winter Palace, Little, Old, New Hermitage, and The General Staff building. The Hermitage Museum collection consists of Prehistoric, Antique, Western European, Russian, Oriental, Numismatics art departments and two Treasure reserves (Gold rooms). The Hermitage building - The Winter Palace - was built in 1762 by order of Empress Elizabeth (the Italian architect Rastrelli designed it). It was meant to become the main winter residence of Russian czars. The name Hermitage was given to a future museum by Catherine the Great who dreamt of her personal art collection to appear close to The Winter Palace. Little Hermitage (French - 'Ermitage' - an 'abode of a hermit') really was an abode of Catherine who only showed her precious art to distinguished guests and friends.
The Hermitage Museum art collection originally consisted of Flemish and Dutch art. It was a result of the first purchase made by Catherine the Great from Berlin art-dealer Gotskovsky. Later on, the Hermitage collection was greatly enriched with over 600 paintings of Saxon prime-minister Count de Brule, over 400 paintings of the French aristocrat Pierre Crozat, and a scandalous purchase from the heirs of the English prime-minister Sir Robert Walpole. Catherine the Great would continue to hunt for more: she learnt about interesting deals and auction sales in Europe, spent enormous sums of money striking bargains with European nobility and royalty, sent Russian diplomats and ambassadors abroad to purchase valuable art pieces, made friends with European art-connoisseurs, followed advice of her friend, French philosopher Deni Didrot. Since Catherine's time, collecting works of art became the royal tradition. Each emperor would enrich the Hermitage collection: Alexander I purchased Josephine de Beauharnais's collection from Malmaison, Nickolas I and Alexander II enlarged the collection of Greek and Roman antiques. Hermitage remained a closed private royal collection until the middle of 19th century when the royal family decided to partly open it up for noble visitors and New Hermitage building was added to The Winter Palace complex.
Only after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 did it open its treasures to the public. By then its collection was greatly enriched with the nationalized nobility's collections.
The hardest times started in 1941 when Nazis besieged Leningrad and the museum had to be abandoned. Its collection was evacuated to Siberia, only empty picture frames were left on the empty palace walls. Long years of restoration followed. Now, again, the Hermitage boasts of the world second largest collection of French impressionists, second largest collection of Rembrandt, priceless works of Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Titian, Rubens, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and more.
Even if you are not an art-lover or a historian, you will find much of interest: the medieval knights exhibition at New Hermitage, ancient mummies display at the Egyptian vestibule, breathtaking interiors, imposing staircases, richly decorated halls and the czars' living rooms of The Winter Palace.
During the tour you will view masterpieces from the old masters, highlights of its European art collection, a large collection of French impressionists, and get to admire the shining Winter Palace halls and galleries.
Gold Room - treasure gallery of The Hermitage.
Open: 10.30 - 18.00, Sundays - 10.30 - 17.00.
' ... The Hermitage was worth our full day visit. A major highlight was viewing the imposing stairways, halls and czar "living rooms" (rooms 188-198) of the 400-room structure. Here the attraction was history, as we viewed the draped, gilded, and jeweled chambers where Russian royalty once cavorted. In the green-pillared Malachite Hall the Provisional Government that briefly succeeded the czars held its last meeting before being arrested in the adjacent dining room by the Bolshevik forces that stormed in from neighboring Palace Square. The Hermitage art collection, three million pieces, occupies most of the Hermitage structure. We ended up concentrating on just the paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Leonardo, Rafael, El Greco, Goya, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse…to drop a few names. The czars spared no expense in developing their collection '
'... We are no art lovers, but people say you just have to visit the Hermitage when you’re in St. Petersburg. It contains the complete art collection of the Russian state and is located in the Winter Palace and nearby buildings. Once inside, our mouths open with awe. In the most beautiful decorated rooms, enormous amounts of gold and silverware are exhibited, among which two golden carriages. The living rooms and library of the tsars are supposedly in their original state in all their glory. We are amazed, even before we reach the rooms with the actual art collections, arranged by the different countries and regions they come from. The first rooms are filled with collections from the middle and far east, like woodcuttings and ivory. After that we reach the European art: sculptures and paintings. It is not really our cup of tea, but we search for the famous artists, and especially the Dutch paintings. There is a lot, and we have to move on if we want to see the rest of the rooms. In those rooms, the harnesses get our attention but we now especially focus on the rooms themselves. Each room is decorated differently with a lot of gold, silver, or silk, in one word amazing. At the end of the afternoon this is what sticks with us: you just have to see the Hermitage, if only for the interior of the Winter Palace ...'
... With the possible exception of the Louvre, there is no museum in the world that rivals the Hermitage in size and quality. Its collection is so large that it would take years to view it in its entirety--at last count, there were nearly three million works on exhibit. The museum is especially strong in Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist paintings, as well as possessing outstanding collections of works by Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse. Visitors should also take advantage of its excellent Greek and Roman antiquities collection and its exhibits of Siberian and Central Asian art. Not least among the attractions of the Hermitage is the museum itself, with its fine interior decoration and architectural detail ...'
'... We spent a beautiful afternoon inside one of the largest and most extensive museums in the world. We were by turns overwhelmed and amazed at the incredible numbers of rooms filled with incredible numbers of gorgeous pieces of art. Many were extremely famous. We saw works by Da Vinci, Renoir, Michelangelo, Rodin, Picasso, Rembrant, and on and on ...'
' ... My second visit to the Hermitage is as fascinating as my first. This is without question the most impressive art museum in the world, with works dating back to the Stone Age. Through the maze of massive elaborate rooms are displayed countless masterpieces--sculptures by Michelangelo and Bernini; paintings by DaVinci, Renoir, and Monet; ancient marble sculptures of Jupiter, Dionysis, and Mercury.... Walking around the Hermitage, it is difficult to visualize this as an actual residence or palace of the tsars until you find yourself walking through the recreations of those rooms--the White Room, Catherine the Great's' Bourdois in red, the Gold Room.... You leave awestruck and a bit exhausted from all the walking and the blur of masterpieces you have seen throughout its six buildings!'
'... I have visited St. Petersburg 3 times, I have visited the Hermitage every time. While indeed I have seen some parts of it more than thrice; neither I, nor you, will ever become bored with it. a man from the USA I met, who had lived in SPB for 10 years, warned me 'no matter how long you live here, no matter how long you live, you will never see it all!'... '
' ... The building itself is a series of truly magnificent rooms, 12 miles of them. The floors are magnificent, the ceilings are magnificent, the walls are magnificent, the colour schemes are glorious. The doors are so astonishing that Meg goes through a period of repeating "Just look at this door" non stop for about ten minutes and I have to draw her attention to the Leonardo da Vinci on the nearby wall. Ok but that is just the fabric. They have the finest collection of paintings, sculptures, jewellery, costumes you will see anywhere. It is quite common to find galleries in other places where they have a few old masters and they fill the spaces on the walls with anything else that is only notable for being old. Usually the are rather dull portraits. Here every item was worth ten or fifteen minutes... '