By far one of the most popular attractions in St. Petersburg, the Winter Palace (which houses The Hermitage art museum), deserves the crowds it attracts. It is an outstanding series of structures as well as one of the world’s finest art museums.
Completed in 1762, it was the home of Russia’s monarchs for 150 years, starting with Catherine the Great. Her love for art created a vast collection that formed the largest part of the works for decades. The initial collection grew out of 255 paintings the Empress purchased from Berlin, and has grown to over 2.7 million objects.
The interior of this Baroque masterpiece has been extensively remodeled since its construction. After an 1837 fire devastated much of the building, entire wings were redone. Over the years four more buildings were added, with the entire set taking up a substantial strip along the Neva River. The result is a palace festooned with gold-leaf and one of the largest (ex-)residences in existence.
The museum itself is a work of art. Just viewing the many architectural details and the surrounding grounds of these structures could take days. With over a thousand rooms done in the Rococo style, there is far more to see than can be appreciated in even a few days. Encompassing six buildings with 117 grand staircases, it would take weeks just to walk the interior.
But the main attractions for most visitors are inside, among the magnificent art collection.
There are fifty rooms dedicated to the French masters alone. There are over 350 rooms housing Catherine’s collection, along with works obtained by her successors.
The works on display are some of the finest from a long line of Europe’s masters. There are numerous works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. There are Titians and Rembrandts and a great many Rubens. Later Impressionists are very well represented in works by Monet and Pizzaro, van Gogh and Renoir. Manet, Degas and Matisse hang not far from Gauguin.
But beyond the classic European-style masterworks there are thousands of artifacts from Ancient Egypt through early 20th century Europe and Asia. There are Greek and Roman antiquities that rival the best anywhere.
For a preview of the museum and its contents, visitors can view the fine website associated with the Winter Palace and The Hermitage. By going to www.hermitagemuseum.org, one can view images of dozens of the masterpieces forming part of the collections.