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The New Hermitage

The First Public Art Museum
Emperor Nicholas I "ordered the New Museum to be opened" in 1852. A special festive ceremony was held in honour of this event. The performance consisted of an opera "Don Pascuale" by Donizetti and a ballet "Catarina". The festival was concluded with a wonderful dinner for 600 persons, the tables were laid in the Sky-light Halls, lit and decorated for this occasion "with exceptional skill".The head of the I department of the Hermitage Florian Gilles wrote about this event :"... ladies of the court in their beautiful garments among the glittering lights and treasures of the Hermitage, elegant groups of the military men in the shining full dresses, ministers, statesmen of the highest ranks, all of them collected in one charming place ...added a new lustre to the selected rooms. The spectacle was of inimitable beauty and stood in the memory of the participants of the festival, that seemed to combine the gleam of the Orient with the most refined and graceful, what the taste of Europe may offer. The life of the Emperor's Hermitage was ruled by the "Instruction on maintenance of the Museum" adopted in 1851, that read that the Museum was managed by the minister of the court adjutant general Count Adlerberg under the direct authority of the lord high marshal of the court Count Shuvalov. The staff included 31 members (apart from 90 people of attending staff). The Museum was subdivided into two departments:

  1. The library, manuscripts, prints, engravings, coins, medals, carved stones, painted stones and antiquities.
  2. The collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewellery and the Study of Peter the Great.

The "Instruction" dealt with all spheres of life of the Hermitage including the question of admission of the public. Having founded the Museum and being aware of its public importance Emperor Nicholas I wanted to keep it open for everybody. In 1851 he ordered to work out the rules that ran as follows: the collections of the Museum are to be available not only for the experts and connoisseurs, but "for every individual with a ticket" issued by the court office of His Majesty. When these rules were being discussed Gilles expounded his thoughts in the note to the lord high marshal Shuvalov: "In Europe it is a common practice to display exceptional generosity in such cases, because only rich people can collect huge galleries like this.... But as long as the Hermitage is a private collection of the Emperor and the public is admitted there at the Imperial will with some restrictions and with tickets... the visitors should simply:

  1. check in their greatcoats, walking-sticks, umbrellas and other things at the guard room
  2. keep strictly away from touching objects in the Hermitage rooms

The visitors may address the curators... when they need to get any particular information. If the visitors justify their questions by real knowledge of the subject, the curators are obliged to demonstrate their respect to these needs". The "Rules", drawn up by the head of the II department of the Hermitage Feodor Bruni, dealt with the arrangement of the exhibits as well: "The paintings and portratits are arranged in the Hermitage galleries according to the schools, artists and time of creation... so that they could have the most favourable surroundings". Emperor Nicholas I not only initiated and inspired organisation of the Museum, but directed the work of the commission, that selected and arranged paintings, every day from 1 till 2 p.m., as Bruni noted. "Had he decided that this or that picture belonged to a certain school, it was hard to reassure him of anything else. -This is Flemish school! - Your Majesty, I beleive...- No, Bruni, don't argue, please. It is Flemish school!" The exhibition in general was entrusted to the head of the department but with preliminary presentation of the project through the lord high marshal for final approval to the minister of the court. Apart from putting in order storage practice - compulsory sealing up of the cases with exhibits by curators - laced up registered with copies kept in the court office were introduced for the first time. In the note concerning the "Personell of the I department" Gilles wrote: " The personell and the librarians ...are the first-hand curators of the collections... The delicacy of the situation requires from them to combine double nature - knowledge of the subject and moral... Active intellect together with the necessary knowledge should be natural for the curators to hold the office in the Hermitage and to constantly widen their knowledge of the collections they are resposible for." The curators also had to compile a "detailed and accurate description (catalogue raisonne)" of their collections.

When the collections were originally arranged in the rooms of the New Museum, the first floor was occupied with the picture gallery. Three large rooms with sky-light windows ("Sky-light Halls") housed Spanish, Italian and Flemish (mostly Rubens and Van Dyck) schools. In the small studies, except for the one called "The Study of the Empress" that housed the collection of the golden antiquities from Kerch, the exhibition of the Italian painting found its place. In the studies, located along the present Rembrandt Room, French and German schools were followed by the hall of Snyders and a small room of Flemish art. Works of the Dutch and Flemish painters were also displayed in the Tent Room, and where now Rubens is on display the pictures of Rembrandt used to be arranged. Russian school was represented in the two neighbouring rooms. The collection of the carved stones occupied the large room with majolicas. It took 12 years from the moment when the construction of the museum building was completed and the first collections were disposed to the time when the new Museum structure (5 departments) and all the exhibitions were finally established in 1860-s. Popularity of the Hermitage increased greatly since the mid-60-s. It might have been caused by free admittance to the Museum. By 1880 fifty thousand people visited the Hermitage annually. Apart from publication of the catalogues, the lists of pictures in every separate room were also prepared as well as the so called "manual catalogues" glued to the thick cardboard with a wooden handle and distributed to the visitors. In 1859 the future curator of the Hermitage Museum Andrei Somov published a little book "The Pictures of the Emperor's Hermitage". A couple of years later the writer Dmitry Grigorovich published in the magazine "Otechestvennye Zapiski" a guide-book round the Museum under the title "The Tour round the Hermitage". In the preface to this book he wrote: "The significance of the Hermitage for Russia is proved by the fact that though only a few years ago it was not available for a wide public and our society did not manifest its disposition to fine arts - the Hermitage, nevertheless, enjoys great popularity in our country. Just pronounce the word "Hermitage"! In all the corners of Russia everyone has already heard of it. Even those who have never visited Saint Petersburg ask about it".


Document of the Ministry of Imperial Court
1860
Larger view


Permanent ticket for admission to the Emperor's Hermitage
1859
Larger view


The Room of Dutch and Flemish schools
(Tent Room)

Luigi Premazzi
Water-colour
Larger view


The Room of Flemish school copyists
Luigi Premazzi
Water-colour
Larger view


The Cabinet of sculpture
Konstantin Ukhtomskii
Water-colour
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

Complete playbill of all St. Petersburg,Russia theatres, shows, concerts, etcComplete playbill of all St. Petersburg,Russia theatres, shows, concerts, etc. !
World-known music festival "The Stars of the White Nights". Artistic director - Valery Gergiev (Mariinky (Kirov) Opera and Ballet)World-known music festival "The Stars of the White Nights".
Artistic director - Valery Gergiev (Mariinky (Kirov) Opera and Ballet)

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