Anyone who disagrees with the saying “bigger is always better” has never been to Russia’s State Hermitage Museum. The largest museum in the world, the Hermitage boasts roughly three million pieces of art and has nearly as many visitors annually. Founded by Catherine the Great in 1764, the Hermitage has the largest collection of paintings anywhere in the world and consists of six main buildings situated along the Neva River.
By spending a few days exploring the treasures of the Hermitage, visitors realize that bigger really is better, and nothing is as big as the Hermitage’s collection of artwork.
Alexander Column on Palace Square
Even before entering any of the buildings, visitors are mesmerized by the Alexander Column, the largest freestanding column in the world. A triumphal column made to commemorate Russia’s victory in the Patriotic War of 1812, the Alexander Column is named in honor of Alexander I, military commander in the triumph over Napoleon. The 156-foot high column stands in the center of Palace Square.
With four buildings housing the largest collection of paintings in the world, the Hermitage is sure to have a painting to suit every visitor’s taste. Famous paintings include Henri Matisse’s Dance, Vincent van Gogh’s White House at Night, Claude Monet’s Le Jardin, and Caravaggio’s Lute-Player. There are also special displays devoted to paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and Edgar Degas, and works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and thousands of others.
“Oohs” and “aahs” fill the room as visitors gape at the superb sculpture collection. Here visitors can see Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy, an astoundingly detailed sculpture originally intended for the Medici Chapel in
Florence, Italy. Famous French sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider, considered by some to be the second greatest sculptor (after Michelangelo) to ever set hand to clay, has numerous works on display including Madonna with Child, Mary Magdalene, and The Head of St. Anne. Other acclaimed pieces include the powerful Statue of Athene made by an unknown sculptor and Jean-Antoine Houdon’s magnificently detailed Voltaire.
Gold and Ancient Treasures
The Hermitage possesses over two million ancient and early medieval artifacts, including objects dating from the Stone (Paleolithic) Age. The Stone Age collection includes bone and stone figurines over 20,000 years old and famous carvings and drawings of women and birds. Pottery and figurines from Southern Turkmenia in 6000 BC also make up an entire exhibit. The ancient items collection has a substantial number of items from the medieval culture of Baltic tribes.
Visitors are always awestruck by the Gold Room, which consists of 1,500 gold objects made between the seventh century BC and the nineteenth century AD. The Gold Room has unique Scythian and Greek gold not found anywhere else in the world.
After the Gold Room, visitors enter the Diamond Room, a collection of diamonds and other jewels used in masterpieces of art dating back to the third century BC. Striking pictures made entirely of diamonds and other rare gems mesmerize visitors and would tempt anyone to become a jewel thief.