Hermitage in Saint Petersburg: world's second-largest art museum

Maria Selezneva | Live the World

November 23, 2022

If you are in quest of the most magnificent treasuries in Russia, such as pieces of art that are famous worldwide, the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg is definitely the place to see. Founded in the 18th century by Empress Catherine the Great, it has become the second-largest art museum in the world. It is located in the very center of the Northern Russian capital, as Saint Petersburg is frequently called, and it should be visited at least once in life.

Hermitage history at a glance

© istock/Delpixart

It all began when Empress Catherine the Great had got a collection of paintings from Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, a Prussian merchant who had a huge debt caused by the failed attempt to supply some grains to the Russian army. He passed to the Empress some precious masterpieces, created by famous artists, such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt, Dirck van Baburen, and Jacob Jordaens. This collection formed a basis for the modern State Hermitage Museum.

At first, it was stored in a discreet suite of the Winter Palace on the Palace Square which back then was an official residence of the Russian Emperors. This building, so-called ‘Small Hermitage’, is located near the Winter Palace. It got the name ‘Hermitage’ derivating from a French word meaning ‘dwelling of a hermit or recluse’ because here where Catherine the Great showed her collection to visitors, she also held some unofficial public functions. In our days, the Hermitage Museum occupies a building complex consisting of the OId Hermitage, New Hermitage, Hermitage Theatre, and Winter Palace.

What to see in one day only

© istock/Vladislav Zolotov

There is a belief that a person needs no less than eight or ten days to see all the showpieces in the Hermitage Museum. And for sure, one day is not enough to have a look at them. No wonder, there are three million exhibits! But also, there are ‘must-sees’, and I will tell you what to focus on when you decide to visit the Hermitage during your stay in Saint Petersburg.

First, just take care of your ticket in advance. As an extremely popular place, the Hermitage draws the attention of many people coming to the Northern capital. Second, try to read something about the museum before your visit, so that you know what to see that very day. For example, spaces with the masterpieces by Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci are extremely popular, so it is better to plan the visit in a way you would not spend a lot of time stuck in a queue. In the Hermitage, there are two famous paintings by Da Vinci, ‘Benois Madonna’ (known as ‘Madonna and Child with Flowers’) and ‘Madonna Litta’.

Also, there is an impressive Spanish art collection exhibited in the Hermitage Museum. Probably the most well-known painting is ‘The Lunch’ (‘El almuerzo’) by Diego Velázquez. And perhaps no one would like to miss magnificent works by French impressionists, such as paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro, among others. They are being exhibited in the General Staff Building, also on the Palace Square.

Of course, there are not only paintings in the Hermitage Museum. It is famous for many exhibits, such as sculptures, historical objects, and interior pieces. Everyone is supposed to find in the Hermitage something beautiful to admire.

Some tips

It is strongly recommended to find a suitable time to visit the Hermitage Museum, when in Saint Petersburg. Just remember that during the high season, such as the school breaks, the ‘white nights’ season, or summertime and bank holidays, there are a lot of people in Saint Petersburg, so the chances to visit the Hermitage Museum without long queues are pretty low. Also, if stay longer in Saint Petersburg, try to plan your visit to the Hermitage on a weekday, and preferably before the noon (the museum opens at 10:30 am every day except Mondays), or after 4 pm when fewer people are present.

© istock/Elena Odareeva

The Hermitage Museum, with its masterpieces and well-preserved interiors, is obviously worth seeing. It is the second-largest art museum in the world, and if you are already in Saint Petersburg, do not miss a chance to explore it. Precisely speaking, plan your time ahead to see as much as you can at once, and why not - come back another time to see the rest.

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