As someone who loves architecture, I think the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia is one of the must-see places in the world. Thus, the Hermitage was one of the first museums I visited once I had my студенческий билет (the student card that gives discounts and free access to museums in Saint Petersburg). Although seeing the art was incredible, I was absolutely fascinated by the architecture and history of the Hermitage itself.
In my opinion, in order to understand how amazing the Hermitage is, one should first understand its history. Although it houses some of the most famous art in the world, the Hermitage itself is a piece of art and history. In 1754, Empress Elizabeth of Russia commissioned renovations of the Winter Palace (one of the buildings that today makes up the museum) as an additional Baroque-style residence near the original, smaller residence built by Peter the Great in the early 1700s. After Elizabeth’s death, the following empress, Catherine II, also commissioned an expansion with new buildings in neoclassical forms. With its completion in 1795, the new group of buildings was called “Hermitage” (likely from a French world that means “retreat”). In addition to being a royal residence, the Hermitage complex also housed the royal collection of art. Then, in 1852, Emperor Nicholas I opened the collection to a select few public visitors, establishing the first state museum in Russia. Finally, after the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Hermitage Museum opened to the general public.
In the following brief photo guide, I will explain the history and style of its architecture. As a whole, much of the Hermitage comprises a range of architectural styles that fit together well, despite clear differences.
First, the main building, the Winter Palace:
In 1708, Tsar Peter I constructed the first Winter Palace, which was wooden and eventually was replaced by a stone palace. Then in the early 1730s, Empress Anna commissioned Architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to build a larger residence, which was later renovated by Empress Elizabeth in opulent, Baroque style. Although considered a masterpiece of Russian Baroque architecture, Empress Catherine II had the interior replaced in a neoclassical style, which is largely retained despite the introduction of new elements after a fire destroyed the interior in 1837. Today, despite changes in colors over the years, the exterior of the palace is painted green and white.
The Concert Hall
Located in the Winter Palace, the Concert Hall is the final room in the Neva Enfilade of state rooms. After the 1837 fire, architect Vasily Stasov created this room in a Classical style. In the room, Corinthian columns support statues of the muses and goddess Flora. In addition to the intricate artwork adorning the walls and ceilings, this room also features the shrine-tomb of Alexander Nevsky.
The Large Italian Skylight Room
The Large Italian Skylight Room is one of three rooms that have skylights, where large canvases are displayed. This room was designed by Leo von Klenze and Montferrand in the mid-19th century. In addition to17th- and 18th-century Italian paintings, the Large Italian Skylight Room is decorated with Renaissance motifs in the molded ceilings and the works of 19th-century Russian stonecutters.
Fore Hall was recently renovated in 2015 to restore lost features. Overall, the architectural style is Baroque, but the main feature in the room is an oil-on-canvas depiction of The Sacrifice of Iphigenia located on the ceiling. Decorative, painted wood and frieze surround the painting.
The Raphael Loggias
In the 1780s, Empress Catherine II commissioned The Raphael Loggias. The Raphael Loggias is an exact reproduction of the Gallery in the Papal Palace in Vatican City. The copies of the frescoes are of the Papal Palace’s open loggias, which depict scenes from biblical stories and cover the walls with paintings of ornamentation motifs, also known as “grotesques”.
Located in the Small Hermitage, the Pavilion Hall is one of the most opulent rooms in the museum. Designed and built based on Andrey Stackenschneirder’s design in 1858, the room combines Renaissance, Gothic and Oriental elements. Primarily white marble and gold, the ceiling and walls are decorated with golden gilt stucco. In addition, throughout the room there are multiple marble fireplaces and fountains. One of my favorite aspects of the room is the crystal chandeliers found throughout the room.
By: Madeleine McCabe
Program: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program, St. Petersburg, Russia
Term: Spring 2020