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The Great Hermitage
To the commission of Catherine II from 1771 till 1787 a new building along the Neva next to the Small Hermitage was being construted. It was bigger than the Small Hermitage and got the name of the "Great Hermitage". The architect Yury Veldten found an interesting decision to unite it with the appearance of the neigbouring buildings: splendidly decorated Baroque facade of the Winter Palace and Classicial facade of the Small Hermitage. The Great Hermitage having no columns or pilasters, is distunguished with strict simplicity and monumentality and represents an example of the Classical architecture of the late 18th century "without order".

Its interior decorations were in detail described at the end of the 18th century by a well-known Saint-Petersburg doctor and natural scientist Iohann Georgi: "The suite of rooms on the Neva river bank is decorated with refined taste, the floors are inlaid, the ceilings with paintings, big rounded windows with mirrored glass, crystal chandeliers, silk curtains with tassels, rich fire-places or stoves, doors with mirrors, corner tables, rich clocks, sofas and the like furnishings filled the rooms". The Oval Hall with two tiers of windows housed a library. The new palace became the centre of high society life as all the first persons of the court, foreign ambassadors, Petersburg nobility were invited to the "Great hermitage assemblies" that started after six and were over at nine in the evening. The tradition set by Catherine II required that at the beginning she danced minuet and Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich danced polish dance with the oldest court lady. In the gallery above the court Catherine had her private rooms where she used to entertain herself with her favourite hobbies: she carved seals, studied chemistry and made alloys for cameos, played billiards with her guests.

In the Great Hermitage appartments her art collections started in 1764 were comfortably housed. The history of the Hermitage collections started from the purchasing of the collection of the Berlin merchant Iohann Gotzkovsky who repaid his debt to Catherine II by 225 paintings selected for the Prussian king Frederick II whose treasury was wasted on Seven Years' War. The collection consisted mostly of the pictures by Dutch and Flemish artists. From the collection of Iohann Ernst Gotzkovsky comes, for example the "Portrait of a Young Man with a Glove" by Frans Hals. Catherine II bought abroad works of art according to advice of the educated people of her time, Denis Diderot, Melchior Grimm, Francois Tronchin among them. Besides that specially instructed intermediaries constantly attened actions for selling works of art abroad. In 1769 the collection of paintings of the Saxon minister Count Heinrich Bruel was purchased for Catherine II in Dresden. It included paintings by the Dutch artist, the "Portrait of an Old Man in Red" by Rembrandt among them, and of Flemish school, the "Perseus and Andromeda" and the "Landscape with a Rainbow" by Rubens being the most precious. In 1772 on the initiative of of the Russian ambassador in Paris Dmitry Golitzyn a very famous collection of pictures of Pierre Crosat was purchased to add to the Hermitage collections the "Danae" by Titian, "The Holy Family" by Raphael, "Judith" by Giorgione, "Portrait of a Lady of the Chamber" by Rubens, "Selfportrait" by Van Dyck and many other masterpieces. 1779 was especially marked in the history of the Hermitage as in this year the most important event happened. It was purchasing in England of the famous gallery of Lord Robert Walpole that particularly enriched the palace collection of Flemish art. The collection of Count Baudouin amounting to 119 first class paintings of Dutch, Flemish and French schools was purchased in Paris in 1783 and became the last replenishment of that scale of the Hermitage picture gallery in the 18th century.

Characteristic feature of the development of the Empress's collection were connections with modern art. Thus a famous French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet invited to Russia brought the "Still-life with Atributes of Arts" by Jean Baptist Chardin and the plafond "Pygmalion and Galatea" by Francois Boucher that were both painted for the Academy of Arts. Joshua Reynolds was commissioned to paint a picture glorifying the power of Russia "The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpents". The enlightened Empress was interested in antiquity which found its reflection in the appearance of a substantial collection of antique sculpture based on the collection of Ivan Shuvalov bought in 1785 and monuments sent by him from Rome. Almost at the same time the collection of sculpture of Lyde Browne was bought in London. It included some pieces of sculpture of the Renaissance. Collection of carved stones was in fashion in the 18th-century Europe. Catherine II paid tribute to this passion and called it "a stone disease". In 1790 the Empress wrote to Melchior Grimm "My museum in the Hermitage apart from paintings and loggias of Raphael consists of 38 thousand books, four rooms full of books and engravings, 10 thousand carved stones, approximately 10 thousand drawings and natural science collection placed in two big halls". The catalogue of 1783 that included paintings from the Winter Palace and the Hermitage only ennumerated 2658 canvases. Though during the reign of Catherine the Great the art collection of the Hermitage remained her private collection in the full sense of the word, it became the largest in Europe.


Great Hermitage
Architect Yuri Veldten
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Oval Room
Drawing by Julius Friedenreich

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Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Glove
Hals, Frans

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The Holy Family (The Madonna with Beardless Joseph)
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The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpents
Reynolds, Joshua
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Portrait of an Old Man in Red
Rembrandt, Harmensz van Rijn
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Still Life with Attributes of the Arts
Chardin, Jean-Simeon
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Perseus and Andromeda
Rubens, Pieter Paul
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The Hermitage
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Related Links:
The official homepage of the State Hermitage Museum:

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