State Hermitage

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hermitage, State


a museum of art and cultural history in Leningrad. One of the largest museums in the world, the Hermitage occupies five buildings: the Winter Palace (architect V. V. Rastrelli, 1754–62), the Little Hermitage (architect J. B. M. Vallin de la Mothe, 1764–67), the Old Hermitage (architect Iu. M. Fel’ten, 1771–87), the Hermitage Theater (architect D. Quarenghi, 1783–87), and the New Hermitage (architect L. von Klenze, 1839–52).

The Hermitage collections originated with Catherine II’s purchase of 225 paintings, primarily of the Dutch and Flemish schools, in Berlin in 1764. Many of the paintings were placed in the apartments of the palace that were known as the Hermitage. (The name “Hermitage” later came to be applied to the entire picture gallery.) Among the large private collections of paintings purchased abroad for the Winter Palace were those of H. von Brühl (1769), P. Crozat (1772), and R. Walpole (1779). In 1774 the catalog of the Winter Palace listed 2,080 paintings.

The collections of the Winter Palace were augmented by the acquisition of engravings, drawings, classical antiquities, Western European works of applied art, stone carvings, coins, medals, and books, including Voltaire’s library. The expansion of the Hermitage collections continued in the 19th century with the acquisition of objects found at archaeological excavation sites; the famous Scythian collection began to take shape in this period.

The Hermitage played a major role in the development of Russian culture. A special museum building, the New Hermitage, was built to house the Hermitage collections. Admission to the New Hermitage was limited, and no tours were allowed until the end of the 19th century. The progressive Russian intelligentsia fought for wider access to the museum.

Many works in the Hermitage collections were evacuated to Moscow in 1917; they were not returned to Petrograd until 1920. After the October Revolution of 1917, the Hermitage collections were greatly expanded through the acquisition of the nationalized collections of such families as the Stroganovs, Iusupovs, and Shuvalovs. The Winter Palace and buildings formerly associated with the palace were gradually turned over to the museum. The Hermitage was completely reorganized, and new departments of the museum were set up. Scholarly activity and museum work continued at the Hermitage during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, although a large portion of its holdings was evacuated to Sverdlovsk.

The Hermitage now has eight departments: primitive culture, classical antiquity, cultures of the peoples of the East, the history of Russian culture, numismatics, Western European art, education, and restoration. The department of the history of Russian culture includes the 1812 Gallery, which contains portraits of generals, officers of lower rank, and others who distinguished themselves in the Patriotic War of 1812. The department of Western European art includes a picture gallery with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Giorgione, D. Velazquez, B. E. Murillo, P. P. Rubens, A. van Dyck, F. Hals, Rembrandt, H. Holbein the Younger, L. Cranach, J. Reynolds, T. Gainsborough, T. Lawrence, L. Le Nain, N. Poussin, A. Watteau, E. Delacroix, A. Renoir, P. Picasso, and H. Matisse; it also has a sculpture collection containing works by Michelangelo, J. A. Houdon, and A. Rodin and a collection of drawings and works of graphic and applied art. The education department is in charge of tours and lectures.

The Hermitage has more than 350 exhibition halls and is visited by 3.5 million people a year. In addition to conducting scholarly and educational work on a large scale, it holds scholarly conferences, organizes archaeological expeditions, and prepares for publication scholarly works, catalogs, albums, and guides. Organizing temporary exhibitions of works from foreign museums is another important aspect of the museum’s activity. The Hermitage was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1964.


Benois, A. Putevoditel’ po kartinnoi galeree imp. Ermitazha. St. Petersburg, 1911.
Ermitazh za 200 let (1764–1964): Istoriia i sostav kollektsii, rabota muzeia. Leningrad–Moscow, 1966.
Gosudarstvennyi Ermitazh: Zapadnoevropeiskaia zhivopis’ [2nd ed.], vol. 1. Leningrad, 1976.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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