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The Great Hermitage
At the order of Catherine II, a new building was erected along the Neva embankment in alignment with the North Pavilion of the Small Hermitage. Work went on from 1771 till 1787 and produced a larger structure than the Small Hermitage which eventually was named the Great Hermitage. Designed by the architect Yury Velten, it as an example of Classical architecture of the late 18th century. Its interior decorations were described in detail at the end of the 18th century by a well-known Petersburg physician and natural scientist Johann Georgi: "The rooms overlooking the Neva are decorated with very refined taste: the floors are inlaid, the ceilings have painted inserts. There are big rounded plate-glass windows, crystal chandeliers, silk curtains with tassels, richly embellished fire-places or ceramic stoves, doors with mirrors, corner tables, clocks, sofas and the like furnishings filling the rooms". The Oval Room housed a library.

The new palace became the centre of high society life. All the principal personalities of the court, foreign ambassadors and the Petersburg nobility were invited to the "large Hermitage assemblies". A tradition established by Catherine II required that she first dance a minuet and that Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich dance a Polish dance with one of the oldest ladies of the court. In the gallery overlooking the courtyard, Catherine had her private living quarters where she used to entertain herself with her favourite hobbies: she carved seals, studied chemistry making alloys for cameos, and played billiards with her guests. The Great Hermitage apartments also accommodated art collections.

The history of the Hermitage collections began with the acquisition of the collection of Berlin merchant Johann Gotzkowski who repaid a debt to Catherine II by shipping to Russia the 225 paintings he had selected earlier for Prussian King Frederick II, whose treasury was depleted by the Seven Years' War. The collection consisted mostly of paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists. For example, among the works which came to the Hermitage from the collection of Gotzkowski is the Portrait of a Young Man with a Glove by Frans Hals.

Catherine II bought works of art abroad following advice from the educated people of her time, including Diderot, Melchior Grimm and François Tronchin. Moreover, specially instructed intermediaries constantly attended European auctions where works of art were being sold.

In 1769 the collection of paintings of Saxon minister Count Heinrich Bruhl was purchased for Catherine II in Dresden. It included paintings by Dutch masters (among them Portrait of an Old Man in Red by Rembrandt) and by artists of the Flemish school, of which Rubens's Perseus and Andromeda and Landscape with a Rainbow are the most precious.

In 1772, through the mediation of Russian ambassador in Paris Dmitry Golitsyn, the very famous Pierre Crozat collection of pictures was purchased for the Hermitage. Among its masterpieces are Danał by Titian, The Holy Family by Raphael, Judith by Giorgione, Portrait of a Lady-in-Waiting by Rubens and Van Dyck's Self Portrait.

A most important development in the history of the Hermitage came in 1779 with the purchase in England of the famous gallery owned by Sir Robert Walpole. This collection was particularly rich in Flemish art. The collection of Count Baudouin, consisting of 119 first-class paintings of the Dutch, Flemish and French schools, was purchased in Paris in 1783 and became the last major acquisition for the Hermitage picture gallery in the 18th century.

A characteristic feature of the development of the imperial collection was its link with contemporary art of the age. When the famous French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet was invited to Russia, he brought with him the Still Life with Attributes of the Arts by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin and the ceiling-painting Pygmalion and Galatea by François Boucher. Both had been 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's interest in Classical Antiquity found its expression in the appearance of a substantial collection of antique sculpture which started with monuments sent by Ivan Shuvalov from Rome and led to the purchase of his personal collection in 1785. Almost at the same time the Lyde Browne collection of sculpture was bought in London. It included some pieces of sculpture dating from the Renaissance. Collecting of cut stones was very fashionable in 18th-century Europe. Catherine II paid tribute to this passion and called it "the cameo disease".

In 1790 the Empress wrote to Melchior Grimm: "Apart from paintings and the Raphael loggias, my museum in the Hermitage includes 38 thousand books, four rooms full of books and engravings, 10 thousand cut stones, approximately 10 thousand drawings, and a natural science collection which fills two big rooms". The catalogue of 1783 which considered only paintings in the Winter Palace and the Hermitage makes mention of 2,658 canvases. Although during the reign of Catherine the Great the painting gallery of the Hermitage remained her private collection in the full sense of the word, it was the largest collection of paintings 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
Frans Hals

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The Holy Family (The Madonna with Beardless Joseph)
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The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpents
Joshua Reynolds
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Portrait of an Old Man in Red
Harmensz van Rijn
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Still Life with Attributes of the Arts
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
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Perseus and Andromeda
Pieter Paul Rubens
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