The State Hermitage Museum, commonly known as the “Hermitage,” is located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and is one of the largest and best-known museums of fine art and applied arts in the entire world.
The State Hermitage Museum, a 19th-century museum is primarily comprised of the lavish baroque Winter Palace and its extensions, which served as homes to Catherine the Great’s collection. The collection of structures that houses one of the top museums in the world serves as a stunning backdrop for the exhibitions.
The Old and New Hermitages to the east, the Hermitage Theatre, which bridges the Winter Canal to connect to the other structures, and the former imperial Winter Palace, which is made up of a courtyard and state chambers on the piano nobile (the first storey in European terminology or second floor in American terms), are the interconnected buildings. The restored palace and the museum are now one as both parts of the complex of buildings housing The State Hermitage Museum.
The New Hermitage was Russia’s first purpose-built public museum, and it is situated in the south. The Old Hermitage is located in the northern section along the river and was constructed between 1771 and 1787. Foreign architects, including those who worked on the design of the State Hermitage Museum, were hired in St. Petersburg more so based on their capabilities and recognition in their home countries than on the grounds of their nationalities.
The Hermitage museum houses a vast collection of fine art, ornamental and applied art, prehistoric items, antiquities, numismatics, furniture, costumes, weaponry, and armour that spans more than 300,000 years.
38 permanent exhibition halls host a sample of the collection’s objects. The museum is home to one of the largest collections of old master paintings in the world, which includes pieces by Spanish and Flemish artists as well as artists from the Dutch Golden Age and the Italian Renaissance and Mannerism.
St. Petersburg is referred to as a “city of art.” With world-class ballet, theatre, and other arts on display, the imperial metropolis of Peter the Great is without a doubt Russia’s cultural hub today. In terms of fine arts, it is unparalleled.
Unquestionably, the Hermitage, a vast complex, is the jewel in the crown of all Russian museums, not only those in St. Petersburg. The ensemble is dominated by the baroque Winter Palace, which seems to be a jeweller’s creation.
The Palace Square | Hermitage Museum
St. Petersburg functioned as the imperial capital of Russia from 1713 to 1918, but after that, the key government institutions relocated back to Moscow. The historic city centre and the surrounding palaces were included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1990.
The huge Palace Square, which Yury Matveyevich Felten (1730–1801) designed after the Academy of Fine Arts held a competition in 1779, can be seen from the existing Winter Palace. From 1752 to 1762, Felten, who was born Georg Veldten from a family of German immigrants, worked as a helper on the construction of the Winter Palace. A triumphal classical concept with unsurpassed vastness and majesty is the urban square. Beginning in 1819, the area saw changes as new offices for the General Staff, the Finance Ministry, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were constructed nearby.
The Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre are the five public buildings in the main museum complex that is open to the general public. The Winter Palace, the Tzars’ imperial home, and the other four structures that make up the Hermitage Museum today are closely related in terms of architectural history.
The Winter Palace
The imperial family’s winter residence inspired the name of the Winter Palace. Emperor Peter the Great had a wooden house erected for himself, which was subsequently brick-painted.
The wooden structure known as the “Small Winter Mansion of Peter I” was constructed on the site of the present Hermitage Theatre in 1708. The “Wedding Palace” of Stone Peter I was probably constructed in 1711–1712 by Domenico Trezzini. The Second Winter Palace was pieced together between 1716 and 1722 by German baroque artist and architect Georg Johann Mattarnovi. One of Peter’s granddaughters, Empress Anna Ioannovna, began the first reconstruction of the palace. It only lasted for 17 years before Empress Elizabeth Petrovna requested that Rastrelli extend the present edifice. The empress approved his new design in 1754, and construction took eight years.
The Winter Palace, which faces Palace Square, features a sizable, two-story façade that rises over a ground floor divided by Roman Ionic columns. The building has 51 bays, with a projecting pavilion with nine bays on either side and a pediment flanked by broken segmental pediments in the centre. Vase and figurine finials decorate the balustrade that encircles the cornice.
Despite a terrible fire that largely destroyed the palace’s interior in 1837, the exterior remained unharmed. Significant parts had been quickly rebuilt in a variety of eye-catching, primarily classical designs. Alexander Briullov, a prominent architect and artist, oversaw the refurbishment. The Nicholas Hall is situated in the middle of the palace and surrounded by Corinthian columns that are supported by a moulded entablature.
The Small Hermitage | Hermitage Museum
The subsequent phase of development was The Small Hermitage. Empress Catherine II (1729-96) used references to classical antiquity to introduce a new architectural style to St. Petersburg. In 1764, the Empress commissioned Yury Felten to build an expansion on the Winter Palace’s southeast side. Between 1767 and 1775, French architect Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe built a northern pavilion on the Neva embankment. In the 1840s and 1850s, Stasov and Stakenschneider performed substantial interior alterations at the Small Hermitage.
The Old Hermitage
To accommodate her constantly growing collection of artwork and antiques, Catherine II commissioned Yury Felten to construct another neoclassical wing next to the river in 1771. Felten and Quarenghi were in charge of The Old Hermitage’s interior design, but Stakenschneider took over from 1851 to 1860. Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855) added a massive adjacent building on the south side, The New Hermitage, which was constructed in 1838-1852. Leo von Klenze, another well-known German Greek revivalist architect, also constructed Munich’s Alte Pinakotek and Glyptothek (1784–1864).
Andrei Stakenschneider was inspired to build The Council Staircase by the State Council offices, which were then on the first floor. The Pavilion Hall is closely connected to Old Hermitage and features a massive malachite vase from Yekaterinburg dating to the 1850s.
The room is surrounded by fluted jasper Corinthian columns and pilasters on porphyry pedestals with ormolu mounts and the cornice is supported above by the ceiling beams. In 2003, it was given back its original deep crimson hue to showcase the Venetian Renaissance master’s latter creations (1488-1566).
The Hermitage Theatre
Hermitage Theatre is accessible from the Old Hermitage’s northeast corner via a vestibule that crosses the Winter Canal at the intersection with the Neva embankment. It was created by Felten in 1783, and Leon Benois added French rococo decorations to it from 1902–1904. On the site of the former Winter Palace, the modest 200-seat court ‘Hermitage Theatre’ by Giacomo Quarenghi was constructed between 1783 and 1789.
The beautiful design, which used pure-geometry semi-circular classical amphitheatre seating with six rows of rising semi-circular benches and a wide centre aisle, was inspired by contemporary French neoclassical ideas. Imitation marble Corinthian columns with theatrical mask caps surround the auditorium. Plaster sculptures of the nine muses and Apollo may be found in the roundheaded alcoves between them. It is the sole theatre from the 18th century still standing in St. Petersburg.
The New Hermitage | Hermitage Museum
The New Hermitage by Leo von Klenze was constructed between 1838 and 1852. Vasily Stasov and other well-known engineers and architects were members of the Construction Committee, which monitored the construction process. The composition of the neoclassical Greek revival is restrained and erudite. It was formally inaugurated as the Imperial Museum on 5 February 1852.
The Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus in Athens served as inspiration for the Greek wreaths, anthemia, acroteria, and other decorations that adorn the façade of von Klenze’s Imperial Museum. The female Erechtheum is supported by ten enormous, 5 m (16 ft) high granite Atlases.
Harney, M. and Forsyth, M. (2015) The State Hermitage Museum and its architecture, the University of Bath’s research portal. Ertug & Kocabiyik. Available at: https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/publications/the-state-hermitage-museum-and-its-architecture (Accessed: December 10, 2022).
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (2022) Inexhibit. Available at: https://www.inexhibit.com/mymuseum/hermitage-museum-saint-petersburg-russia/ (Accessed: December 10, 2022).