On our second tour of the European Masterpieces wing of the vast Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia [see our earlier blog post], we had a chance to visit different rooms. This vast collection was given a solid foundation by the collecting of Catherine the Great in the mid-18th century, with many additions over the following 250 years.
Here are some facts about the Hermitage’s amazing art collection:
- officially began in 1764 when Catherine the Great made her first bulk purchase of 225 paintings from a Berlin merchant, including thirteen Rembrandts and eleven Rubens. Ironically, the collection had originally been intended for Catherine’s adversary, Frederick the Great of Prussia, but poor Frederick was forced to decline as his unsuccessful wars with Russia had resulted in a deficit of funds.
* increased exponentially as Catherine’s diligent agents purchased massive lots of artwork across Europe. By the time of her death in 1796, she had amassed thousands of items including paintings, books, drawings, jewelry, coins, medals, sculpture, and copies of original Vatican frescoes, and had expanded the complex beyond the Small Hermitage to include the Large (Old) Hermitage and the Hermitage Theatre.
* continued to burgeon, causing Nicholas I to commission the New Hermitage, built between 1842 and 1851, with its Atlas-embellished entrance on Millionaya Street. This was the only part of the complex that was occasionally opened to the well-heeled public until after the Revolution in 1917.
* greatly benefited from the confiscational mindset of the post-revolutionary period and actually increased threefold as many valuable private collections were expropriated by the state and deposited in the Hermitage. This influx of, among other things, Matisses, Picassos, and Gaugins helps to compensate somewhat for the artworks secretly sold off for hard currency by Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s. – www.saint-petersburg.com
“Danaë is Rembrandt‘s painting from the collection of Pierre Crozat which since the 18th century has resided in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. It is a life-sized depiction of the character Danaë from Greek mythology, the mother of Perseus. She is presumably depicted as welcoming Zeus, who impregnated her in the form of a shower of gold. Given that this is one of Rembrandt’s most magnificent paintings, it is not out of the question that he cherished it, but it also may have been difficult to sell because of its eight-by-ten-foot size. Although the artist’s wife Saskia was the original model for Danaë, Rembrandt later changed the figure’s face to that of his mistress Geertje Dircx.” — Wikipedia