The New Hermitage
The Buildings and the Rooms
The 19th century was the time when public museums were created across
Europe. In 1830 the New Museum was built in Berlin. Also in 1830 the architect
Leo von Klenze finished construction of the Glyptothek in Munich, a building
to house the collection of the works of art of the Classical Antiquity
which had been purchased by the future king of Bavaria, Ludwig I. In 1836
the Pinakothek picture gallery designed by von Klenze opened in Munich.
It was this architect, who had designed several of the first European
museum buildings, whom Nicholas I invited to construct the Imperial Hermitage
in St Petersburg.
The New Hermitage was not a typical example of the Petersburg architecture.
It revealed not only the distinctive features of Leo von Klenze's art
but also the stylistic tendencies of Historicism. The architect managed
to combine in a single composition elements of the styles of Classical
Antiquity, Renaissance and Baroque, though interpreting them through the
medium of Classicism.
Every facade of the building has its own decoration. The main facade,
overlooking Millionnaya Street, is notable for the monumental portico
with ten wonderful figures of atlantes carved by Alexander Terebenev from
grey Serdobol granite. His immediate assistant, the stone-mason Gavriil
Balushkin, wrote that 150 masters worked with Terebenev. Klenze highly
appreciated Terebenev's skill and wrote: "The beauty and noble character
of these sculptures, the accurateness and delicacy of the work and the
glittering polished finish are beyond comparison and allow us to say that
just as Egyptian Pharaohs could make their monolithic colossi, so these
telamones are no worse for the Extreme North."
Apart from the portico with the atlantes and ornamental decor, the facades
are embellished with 28 statues and bas-reliefs on the eastern pediment
that represent famous artists, architects and sculptors of all times and
countries. The arrangement of these sculptural portraits in the niches
and on the corbels indicated where the rooms with paintings or sculptures
of this or that school were located.
Leo von Klenze paid only brief visits to St Petersburg and his project
was designed without taking into account the existing architectural surroundings.
Vasily Stasov and Nikolai Yefimov, the architects of a Special Commission
established upon the order of Nicholas I, introduced substantial alterations
in the design of their colleague from Munich. They changed the location
of the main entrance to the Museum, added expressive details to the facade
overlooking Millionnaya Street and, what is most important, preserved
the building of the Large Hermitage from Catherine's time.
The New Hermitage was the first building in Russia constructed for the
purpose of housing art collections and is also a monument of art in itself.
Rooms and Interiors
When Leo von Klenze created the interiors for exhibiting works of art,
he kept in mind the close connection between the Hermitage and the Winter
Palace: "This museum forms one unit with the imperial residence and
has to be so designed and decorated as to present an endless suite of
rooms that are luxuriously and elegantly embellished." More than
800 drawings and sketches were made by von Klenze to show every detail
of the decoration of the rooms, the furniture and even the display of
art works that the architect sought to include in the ensemble of interiors.
And these interiors have been preserved till today almost untouched.
The Gallery of History of Ancient Painting
The idea of Leo von Klenze was to show in the gallery the history of the
development of painting in Greece and Rome from archaic colouring of idols
to the decay of art and culture of Classical Antiquity in the epoch of
the great migration of peoples. Grotesque ornaments, pictures by the Munich
artist Georg Hiltensperger in the encaustic technique (wax pigments on
copperplate) and ceiling-paintings by the Italian artist Cosroe Dusi are
free imitations of the paintings in antique buildings created by the imagination
of the architect. The pictures reproduce works of famous ancient artists
- Zeuxis, Parrasius, Apelles - known from the descriptions of ancient
The pendentives are decorated with 36 relief depictions of world-famous
artists in profile, including Giotto, Perugino, Raphael, Michelangelo,
Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Holbein. There are also a representation
of the apostle Luke and a portrait of Klenze himself.
Today the gallery displays sculptures by the well-known masters of the
late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Skylight Rooms
The most spacious and most beautifully decorated part of the building
on the first floor is a suite of three enormous rooms "lit from above"
that were designed by Leo von Klenze. These rooms with glass ceilings
and huge wall surfaces were meant to display the largest pictures of the
collection. Insofar as the building functioned both as a museum and as
a palace, the architect concentrated the decorative elements of the Skylight
Rooms on the ceiling. The huge vaults with wide friezes on top are covered
with gilded arabesque stucco decoration set against a light blue background
and contrasting with the dark red walls where the pictures are hung.
The "rich and versatile" appearance of these rooms is to a
large extent created by the specially designed furniture. Carved gilded
sofas and armchairs upholstered with crimson velvet were executed in the
court furniture workshops according to the designs of Leo von Klenze.
Vases, standard lamps and table-tops from semi-precious stones and richly
ornamented with gilded bronze were made at the Yekaterinburg and Peterhof
lapidary works in the mid-19th century.
Nowadays the Skylight Rooms exhibit Italian and Spanish paintings from
the 16th-18th centuries.
The Main Staircase of the New Hermitage
The monumental Main Staircase with its splendid colonnade on the first
floor produces a festive impression immediately upon entering the Museum.
The vestibule with dark pink columns of polished granite contrasts with
the wide straight staircase consisting of three flights of white marble
stairs framed by walls of yellow polished stucco imitating Sienese marble.
The gallery surrounding the top of the staircase is decorated with two
rows of well-proportioned columns of Serdobol granite. This interior design
is notable for the noble colour-scheme of the staircase, for its monumentality
and for the harmony which is characteristic of the architecture of Ancient
The upper landing of the staircase displays vases of coloured stone made
in Russia during the 19th century and works by the 17th- to 19th-century
Italian sculptors Bartolini, Barozzi, and Tenerani.
The Hall of Twenty Columns
The hall was specially designed to exhibit Graeco-Etruscan painted vases.
Leo von Klenze, who was an expert in the art of Classical Antiquity, used
an array of devices going back to the Ancient Greek architects. Two rows
of perfectly polished columns made of Serdobol granite mark the central
space. The walls, frieze and caisson ceiling were painted in the style
of antique painted ceramics by Fiodor Wunderlich. The wall paintings reproduce
scenes depicted on the painted vases of Ancient Greece and were executed
by Piotr Shamshin. The antique vessels included in the compositions remind
us that the purpose of the hall was to display vases. The floor according
to the ancient tradition is covered with a mosaic of coloured marble,
produced at the Peterhof Lapidary Works. Today this hall is used to display
artifacts from Ancient Italy.