- The State Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage occupies six magnificent buildings situated along the embankment of the River Neva, right in the heart of St Petersburg. The leading role in this unique architectural ensemble is played by the Winter Palace, the former residence of the Russian tsars that was built to the design of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1754-62. This ensemble, formed in the 18th and 19th centuries, is extended by the eastern wing of the General Staff building, the Menshikov Palace and the recently constructed Repository.
The Winter Palace was commissioned by Empress Elizabeth, but unfortunately she died before the completion of her masterpiece. Catherine the Great was the ruler who really made an impact both on the design of the palace, but also the art collection. She extended the Winter Palace, adding the Small Hermitage (1764-1775), the Great Hermitage (1771-1787) and the Hermitage Theatre (1783). She started collecting art when she purchased a German merchant's collection in 1764. From this moment onwards she continued to buy collections from Western nobles. In her lifetime alone, she collected over 4000 works of art.
Unfortunately a fire in 1837 destroyed a large part of the original interior works which had to be redesigned.
- The State Hermitage Museum
The tsars continued collecting artwork including da Vinci's 'Madonna and Child' in 1865 and 'Madonna with a flower' in 1914. There are only 12 surviving works of Leonardo da Vinci in the world, and two of them can be found here in the Hermitage.
The Winter Palace was the site where the Russian Revolution famously began with the storming of the palace. The Revolution actually did wonders for the Hermitage as private collections from other palaces and nobles were brought to the Hermitage to be displayed. In recent years other Hermitage exhibitions have opened in various locations around the world including Las Vegas, Ferrara (Italy) and Amsterdam.
Put together over two and a half centuries, the Hermitage collection of works of art (over 3,000,000 items) present the development of the world culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. There is one of the best collections of Western European art spread over 120 rooms including works by Rembrandt and Giorgione. If you aren't an art enthusiastic don't think that the Hermitage won't be for you. It still has so much to offer as you walk around the stately rooms of the tsars and really see how they used to live. As for the range of art on display, it is an art lover's paradise but you have to remember that it's impossible to see everything. Experts say that if you spent a minute looking at each exhibit on display it would take you over 11 years to see the whole of the museum. And then you have to remember that there's about 20x more hidden in the vaults and storage.