(Photo via flickr)
The State Hermitage, located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is one of the biggest and oldest museums of art and culture in the world. Catherine the Great founded the museum in 1764, and it has been open to the public since 1852. The Hermitage is home to the largest collections of paintings in the world, and its permanent exhibition is composed of over 3 million works. The main Hermitage complex is comprised of six buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Menshikov Palace, Museum of Porcelain, and the Winter Palace. The Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Winter Palace buildings are only partially open to the public.
The Hermitage hosts a plethora of artistic styles and movements, including Egyptian antiquities, classical antiquities, prehistoric art, Italian Renaissance art, Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque, and German, British, Swiss, French, and Russian fine art.
Catherine the Great started the museum’s current exquisite collection in 1764 after purchasing paintings from Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. The original collection comprised between 225 and 317 paintings, mainly of Flemish and Dutch styles. Artists of Catherine’s 1764 collection included notables such as Rembrandt, Rubens, and Raphael. In 1769, Catherine purchased Heinrich von Brühl’s collection of over 600 paintings, prints, and drawings. She acquired Robert Walpole’s collection of 198 paintings in London in 1779, and Count Baudouin’s collection of 119 paintings in Paris is 1781. By the time of her death in 1796, Catherine had acquired 4,000 paintings, 38,000 books, 10,000 drawings, 10,000 engraved gems, and 16,000 coins and medals. This huge collection quickly outgrew the walls of the Hermitage, and the complex continued to expand throughout the 19th century.
Today the Hermitage is ranked the number one most visited location in Russia, and the number 13 most visited attraction in the world.