One of the largest museums in the world, The State Hermitage Museum exhibits over 3 million exhibitions including Antiquity, Middle East, Western Europe, Russia, and many more epochs, countries, and regions. Located in the historical center of St. Petersburg on the Neva embankment is the Hermitage Museum consisting of six buildings constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

The complex consists of five interconnected buildings: the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theatre. The Reserve House also forms the main part of the museum complex. One of the most significant buildings of the museum complex is the Winter Palace, formerly an imperial residence.

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Aerial view of the State Hermitage Museum ©hermitagemuseum.org

A long time ago…

Catherine the Great found the State Hermitage Museum in 1764 as a court museum that started as part of her private art collection of Western European paintings. By commanding Russian ambassadors around the world, she purchased the pieces of art she could find. She grew her collection with their work that went on public display in 1852. 

The museum has grown to exhibit the world’s largest collection of paintings and sculptures from more or less every country in Europe, and monuments of culture and art of the ancient world, as well as archeological and numismatic collections.

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Collection of Spanish paintings ©hermitagemuseum.org

Why the Hermitage?

The word “Hermitage” is derived from the French word “hermit” which translates to “people who live alone”. Considered as an odd name for a museum containing 3 million art pieces, the Hermitage was exclusive in more than one way at the time of its creation. 

Firstly, the design itself is unique with an excellent example of Baroque architecture in Russia. Secondly, it was the official residence of the Romanov Tsars. As the Winter Palace was the heartbeat of the Russian Empire, it was closed off to the public for almost 100 years.

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The five interconnected buildings of the museum complex ©wikipedia.org

The walls holding the Heritage upright were once home to a Russian royal family for almost 200 years. The Winter Palace, a part of the mesmerizing palatial complex is one of the greatest symbols of Imperial Russia and was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The Winter Palace has witnessed one of the major strategic time-period of the Soviet government takeover, the Russian Revolution, and was even stormed by the Red army.

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The baroque style of architecture ©artsy.net

Timeline of the State Hermitage Museum

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The Winter Palace seen from the palace square ©saint-petersburg.com

The Winter Palace was constructed over 8 years from 1754-1762 with a Baroque style in mid-18th-century Russian art. The Palace is a synthesis of decorative plastic art and architecture with facades embellishing two-tier colonnades and an abundance of molded decorative pieces. Each façade of the Palace gives a different rhythm to the structure. 

After the October Revolution in November 1917, the Winter Palace was declared a museum.

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The Small Hermitage ©hermitagemuseum.org

The Small Hermitage was erected between the years 1764-1775. With a blend of baroque style and elements of neoclassicism, architect Yuri Velten built a two-storey building next to the Winter Palace between 1765 and 1766. Architect Vallin de la Mothe built a pavilion that contained a state room, drawing rooms, and a hothouse. The proportions of the Small Hermitage seem finely balanced by the baroque architecture of the Winter Palace and the colonnade of the Corinthian columns in the second tier emphasizing the unity of two different architectural styles.

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The Great (Old) Hermitage ©hermitagemuseum.org

In 1971-1987, the Great Hermitage was built to accommodate the palace collections and the library. The solemnity and the sophistication of the Great Hermitage followed the principle of 18th-century Classicism. The structure is wholly identified by the proportions of the classic order rather than columns or pilasters. The lower massive part of the building is balanced by the upper lighter part. 

The decorative façade of the building is based on the rhythmic fusion of horizontal divisions and vertical window apertures. The extension to the Great Hermitage was built in 1792 to house the Raphael Loggias, 18th-century copies of the original Frescoes from the Vatican, Rome.

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The Heritage Theatre ©hermitagemuseum.org

Giacomo Quarenghi started building the Heritage Theatre in 1783, commissioned by Empress Catherine II that was completed in 1787. The harmonic style of the late 18th century Russian Neoclassicism, the decorated rustic pieces, and the keystone with the lion’s mask enhanced the balance of the structure. The colonnade on the second level of the façade is abutted by the statues of ancient Greek playwrights and poets of the alcove. 

Since the 18th century, the theatre personifies the theatrical performances of tradition and is part of many celebrations.

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The Palace Interior ©hermitagemuseum.org

The magnificent interiors of the palace were designed by Alexander Bryulov in the Historicist style that dominated the architectural fashion in the 19th century. The Arab Hall was designed under the prestige of Ancient Architecture fascinated by the Ethiopian servants. The Alexander Hall was considered to be the finest room commemorating Russia’s victory over Napoleon. 

Not very far ahead of the completion of the interior in 1830, a fire was caught in the Winter Palace on 17th December 1837 that destroyed the interiors of the luxurious imperial residence along with the entire history of the Palace. The passages linking to the Winter Palace and the Hermitage were disassembled thereupon.

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The New Hermitage ©hermitagemuseum.org

In 1852, the New Hermitage was known to be the first building in Russia to house museum collections. The Imperial Hermitage was built in the style of Historicism to balance the architectural volume that features the character of the structure to be monumental. The entrance to the museum is emphasized by the magnificent portico supported by the Atlantas figures carved from grey granite. 

The building also features statues and bas-reliefs depicting famous artists and sculptors of the past. The massive surface of the façade is enlightened by Classical, Baroque, and Renaissance ornaments. The room now houses several collections of ancient art, European paintings, sculptures, and decorative art.

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The General Staff Building ©hermitagemuseum.org

One of the most monumental buildings in Saint Petersburg designed by K.I. Rossi, the General Staff Building was constructed in 1820-1830. The two separate buildings are united with a triumphal arch, representing the victory of Russia in the war of 1812. This grandiose arch that forms a symmetrical pattern with the Winter Palace is the symbol of Russia’s glory and military triumph. 

The appearance of the buildings symbolizes austerity with modest cornices and architraves surrounding the windows with a smooth building façade along with three Corinthian porticos that break the length of the building. After the reconstruction of the General Staff Building in 2014, the five huge atriums were covered with glass roofs.

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The Gala Staircase ©adventurousmiriam.com

The Hermitage underwent several color combinations throughout the years of its existence but today it is recognized by the emerald-green and white color it has now. The Hermitage survived the outbreak of World War I by opening a hospital in the Winter Palace, the Hermitage and the Winter Palace were announced to be state museums, the evacuation of the museum in World War II and reopening after the war ended, shaped the culture of the Hermitage signifying the Russian and Soviet culture. 

Today, the Hermitage is visited by 3 million people annually to perceive the sumptuous elements of architecture, and the world’s largest collection of artifacts, artworks, and paintings with 16,000 canvasses from a vast era of artists.

References

  1. The Hermitage State Museum [online]

Available at: https://srv1.hermitagemuseum.org/

  1. Travel all Russia [online]

Available at: https://www.travelallrussia.com/hermitage

  1. Saint-Petersburg [online]

Available at: http://www.saint-petersburg.com/museums/hermitage-museum/

  1. Adventurous miriam [online]

Available at: https://adventurousmiriam.com/the-hermitage/

Abha Haval
Author

Abha Haval is an Architect who has a vivid imagination of this world. She believes that every place has a story to tell and is on a mission to photograph the undiscovered whereabouts of various cities and narrate the story of its existence.

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