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Hermitage Collections in the 19th Century

The Emperor's Hermitage - One of the First Museums of Europe
Alexander II followed the guide lines, that directed the policy of his highly esteemed father regarding the Hermitage, and was concerned about an absolute order in the Museum. Though he regarded the Museum one of the departmental subdivisions of the palace, he did not see to it personally. All the affairs were entrusted to the new director of the Hermitage Sergei Gedeonov. In 1861 the Hermitage got a significant replenishment of the department of antiquities after purchasing in Italy the collection of marquis Campana, an amateur archaeologist. Gedeonov selected from this collection the most interesting Etruscan monuments, Italic and Attic vases (the famous "Queen of Vases" among them), bronzes, antique sculptural portraits, statues of nine muses, marble relief with the scene depicting the death of Niobids, traced back to the studio of Phidias. Together with the antiquities the Hermitage also acquired frescos by Raphael, that originally decorated "villa Spada" on the Palatin hill. In 1865 the Museum purchased a masterpiece of the world significance - "Madonna with Child" by Leonardo da Vinci - from the gallery of the Litta family in Milan. In 1870 another "Madonna with Child" by Raphael arrived to Saint Petersburg from Florence where it was purchased from Count Conestabile. The painting was in the posession of Maria Alexandrovna. In 1880 together with the "John the Theologian" by Domenicino it was bequeathed by the owner to the Hermitage. Both acquisitions got a ready response in Russia and abroad.
During the reign of Alexander III the Hermitage led an independent existence. The Emperor with enthusiasm replenished his private collection in the Anichkov Palace, that he started when he was still the heir on the throne. This collection enriched the Hermitage with the "Head of Cupid" by Greuze , "Pond in the Harem" by Gerome. The Emperor's Museum at the same time had not enogh money to purchase works of art, as the new director of the Hermitage Alexander Vasilchikov put it in his report to the minister of the court. The only acquisition abroad before the revolution was the fresco by Fra Beato Angelico "Madonna and Child with St.Dominic and Thomas Aquinas" purchased in 1885. But the initiative and resourcefulness of Prince Alexander Vasilchikov helped him find the ways to enlarge the Hermitage collections. From the Monplaisir Palace in Peterhof he rescued 22 canvases of the Dutch masters that suffered there from dampness. One of them was the "David and Jonathan" by Rembrandt. From the palace in Gatchina he returned among the others the canvas by Tiepolo "Maecenas in front of Augustus" and two pictures by Boucher "The Pastorale" and "The Landscape". It was the time of increased interest in applied arts when objects from the palace interiors acquired in the eyes of experts high artistic value. In the newly created royal stables museum carriages and gobelins were kept for display, and on the second floor of the Winter Palace an exhibition of porcelain and silver from the funds of the Palace was organised.
In the spring of 1885 an event of extreme significance for the history of the Museum took place in Paris. The collection of the Russian diplomat Basilevsky was bought there for the Emperor's Hermitage in Saint Petrsburg on the eve of the auction of this collection that antiquaries and connoisseurs of art in Paris were looking forward to. The budget of the Museum that amounted to 5 thousand roubles annually did not allow to buy this expensive collection. Emperor Alexander III, who saw this collection in Paris when he was there as an heir, bought it for his own money. The Hermitage got wonderful metal articles of the 11-16 centuries, including Limoges enamels, carved bone of the 9-11th centuries, furniture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, carved wood, tapestries, fabrics and embroidered articles, Spanish-Moorish faiences, Italian majolicas, Venetian glass. This acquisition allowed to open a new department in the Museum that was also enlarged with the collection of armour and weapons from the Armoury in the Tsars Village and some valuable objects of applied arts of the 18th century from the Golitsyn Museum in Moscow. From the latter collection the Hermitage also got the "Triptych" by Perugino and "Announciation" by Cima da Canegliano, sculptural portraits of Emperor Antoninus Pius and Caracalla, "Sapho" and an unknown philosopher, antique vases, bronzes, books with engravings and manuscripts.
In 1884 the Russian envoy in Greece Saburov transferred to the Hermitage 233 terracotta statuettes bought in 1870-s during the plunder in search of buried treasures in the necropolis of the ancient Tanagra (Boeotia).
Nicholas II showed absolute indifference to the Hermitage Museum and purchased paintings for the decoration of private rooms. He preferred works of the artists of the Salon. However in the late 19th century the Museum became so popular in Russia and Europe that Russian patrons of art considered it an honour to offer their treasures to it as a gift. In 1911-1912 some paintings of the Italian artists were bequeathed to the Museum by the Stroganovs family, the Reliquary by Fra Angelico "Madonna" by Simone Martini and masterpieces of Sassanian silver among them. The same year the Hermitage received a gallery of beautiful English portraits of the 18th century bequeathed by Alexander Khitrovo. The senior curator of the picture gallery Eduard Liphart managed to induce the owners of some pictures significant for the Museum to bring them as a gift. Thus the Hermitage acquired "The Rape of the Sabine Women" by Tiepolo (the collection of Campanari), "Apostles Peter and Paul" by El Greco (the collection of Durnovo). A well-known ethnologist Semenov-Tien-Shansky offered the Museum his collection of 700 canvases of the Dutch and Flemish artists. It was left in the possession of the owner for life but after his death purchased by the Hermitage for the sum of money twice as small as Western firms offered for it to the scientist. In 1914 " Benois Madonna", attributed by Liphart to Leonardo da Vinci, arrived to the Hermitage. During the reign of Nicholas II the Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III opened in Saint Petersburg, where the paintings of the Russian artists from the Hermitage came in. The rooms of Russian art were closed.
The tradition of collecting works of art, started during the reign of Catherine the Great, became the state policy of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her "Solitary little place" turned into a wonderful public museum, one of the best in Europe.


The Madonna and Child
(The Litta Madonna)
Leonardo da Vinci
Larger view


The Virgin and Child
(The Madonna Conestabile)

Raphael
Larger view


The Madonna and Child
(The Benois Madonna)

Leonardo da Vinci
Larger view


The Annunciation
Cima da Conegliano
Larger view


A Woman in Blue
Gainsborough, Thomas
Larger view


Sts Peter and Paul
Greco, El

Larger view


Leaf of the Consular Diptych of Areobindus
Byzantium, Constantinople
Larger view

 
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The Hermitage
 
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Related Links:
The official homepage of the State Hermitage Museum: www.hermitagemuseum.org

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