What is the Hermitage Museum?
The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg is one of the most famous museums in the world. The museum is the most visited attraction in the city, becoming a reason on its own to visit Russia’s former capital.
The Hermitage consists of 5 buildings in total, with the main building being the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace was the home of the Romanov Tsars from the 1700s until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Visiting the Hermitage is not just about seeing the art collection, but also about the beautiful location that you are visiting. The Russian royals sure knew how to live!
If you spent 1 second looking at each collection piece in the Hermitage it would take 11 years! Therefore, I have created this blog post to tell you the tops things to see in the Hermitage Museum.
Hermitage Museum | Self Guided Tour
The Hermitage Museum is comprised of the Winter Palace, The Small Hermitage, The New Hermitage, The Large (Old) Hermitage and the Winter Palace of Peter I. All the buildings are connected (and included in the overall ticket for the Hermitage) except for the Winter Palace of Peter I (which we did not visit). If you have more than 1 day to dedicate to visit the Hermitage (and you love, love art) then you should buy a ticket to the Winter Palace of Peter I – but I will not cover it in this blog post.
The following guide will discuss the key pieces to look out for in the Hermitage, it is not going to discuss every single piece. The guide will help you to discover the highlights, and it is expected to take you between 4 – 5 hours, depending on how long you stay at each piece!
The main floor to discover in the Hermitage is the 1st Floor – this is where all the key pieces are found. If you want to discover the ground floor then you can check out some cool Egyptian and Siberian Antiquities, but this guide will mainly cover the first floor.
The starting point for any trip to the Hermitage is the Jordan Staircase. This grand staircase is one of the few remaining interior spaces which retains the original style and it really displays the extravagance of the royal Tsars – imagine entering here! Check out the opulence throughout!
Field Marshal Room
Turn left at the top of the Jordan Staircase to enter the Field Marshal Room. This is the first room of many that were said to be so spectacular that they would overwhelm anyone entering with the imperial strength and majesty of Russia. The room displays Russia’s greatest field marshals, such as Kutuzov, Suvorov, and Potemkin.
Small Throne Room
The next extravagant room is the Small Throne Room – look at the red velvet wall panels, all with double-headed eagles (the Russian symbol). This room is also known as the Memorial Hall of Peter the Great – with a painting of the Tsar, and his initials (PP) marked throughout the room. How many can you spot?
One of the largest and visually stunning rooms in the Palace – the Armorial Hall was intended for official ceremonies. It has a gold and white throughout, with large Corinthian columns dominating. As you can when we visited there was an unsightly exhibition being displayed in the room – so it won’t always be empty!
War Gallery of 1812
Go left through the door in the middle of the Armorial Hall to enter the War Gallery of 1812. This long and narrow room has 333 gold-framed portraits, all of the military commanders who were instrumental in defeating Napoleon’s army and pushing them back from Moscow to Paris in 1812.
Pay special attention to the 13 empty frames throughout the room, these represent generals who were not available to sit in person for their portraits!
On the left is the dominating portrait fo Tsar Alexander I, the Tsar in power during the war with Napoleon. In the background of the picture is Paris, while Alexander I is mounted on a white horse, which is said to have been presented to him by Napoleon when they were on friendly terms.
St. George Hall
This was one of the most important interior spaces in all of the Russian Empire, the principal throne room for the Russian Tsars. This room was the scene of many of the Imperial family’s formal receptions and ceremonies. The main highlights in the room are the intricate parquet floor and the chandeliers on the ceiling. Not even the beauty of both of these can take away from the main attraction – the imperial throne in the middle of the room.
The Peacock Clock in the Pavillion Hall
The next highlight is the Pavillion Hall (Room 204 and now entering the Small Hermitage) and in particular one of the collection’s most famous pieces, the Peacock Clock. The room, like many others, is adorned with twenty-eight chandeliers and numerous white columns throughout.
You will immediately get drawn to the crowd surrounding the famous Peacock Clock – which was commissioned for Catherine the Great by one of her most famous lovers, General Potemkin.
The Peacock Clock is believed to have been designed by Englishman James Cox. It uniquely features a number of moving animals such as an owl, squirrel and of course the peacock. There is a video beside the peace to show how the clock operates – and it really is quite interesting! The clock is wound up every Wednesday night at 8 pm if you want to view it in person!
The dial for the clock is actually on the head of a mushroom – how unique!
Italian Art Highlights
After leaving the Pavillion Hall, you enter into the Large Hermitage, where the Italian collection is located. There are lots of religious, renaissance art here, so it is good to know which ones to look out for.
The Paolo di Giovanni Fei painting Madonna with Child and Two Angels is worth a look for its gold outlay alone.
The highlight of the Italian Art collection is without a doubt the two Leonardo Da Vinci paintings in Room 214 – Madonna and Child with Flowers (Benois Madonna) and Madonna and Child (The Litta Madonna). Unfortunately for us, both of these paintings were being loaned to a museum in Milan – so we never got the chance to see them!
Room 227 is a special one – the Raphael Loggia. This room, commission by Catherine the Great herself, is a replica of the Loggia in the Vatican Palace, painted by Raphael for Pope Leo X. It is worth checking out the individual frescoes, painstakingly replicated from the original, around the walls of this stunning room!
Indeed the next room, Room 229 (just off Room 237), is a room containing some Raphael authentic’s! Don’t miss the tiny, circular Madonna and Child (The Conestabile Madonna)- this was one of Raphael’s earliest works.
The 2nd Raphael piece of art is the Holy Family, which was painted during the artist’s stay in Florence. The painting is notable for the fact that Joseph is pictured without a beard – which is a great rarity.
Michaelangelo’s Crouching Boy
This sculpture commands the entirety of Room 230. Devised in the early 1530s, pay attention to the chisel marks on the marble surface (along with some stunning detail). The rumour has it that it is unfinished.
The Knights Hall
A quicker breather from Renaissance painting can be found in Room 243 of the New Hermitage, and it is known as ‘The Knights Hall’.
Here we can find a great collection of Western European arms and armour – with one of the largest numbers of items in the world (over 8,000).
Caravaggio’s Lute Player
Back to the art, and a fascinating item in the collection of Caravaggio’s can be found in Room 232. ‘Lute Player’ – is our first example of Baroque art, moving subtly away from the Renaissance period. Note the contrast in the bright clothes and the dark background. The imperfection of the bruised pear, the broken flute and crumpled sheet of music. This is one of those painting where the longer you look at it, the more you notice.
The room containing these Carvaggio’s is also stunning – with bright skylights. Originally the rooms were designed to display art, which they still do today.
The Hermitage as a fantastic collection of Rembrandt’s (Room 254) – considered one of Europe’s finest artists. Check out his version of Danae and his depiction of his wife in Flora.
Keep moving to the end of the room to see the highlight – The Return of the Prodigal Son. If there isn’t a tour group hogging the painting, you can notice the haggard son begging forgiveness, and the compassionate loving expression of the father. All perfectly demonstrated by Rembrandt’s artistic skills.
Unless you love British and French art, make your way to the Western part of the Hermitage Palace. This is the Russian Culture section. Here you can see some of the rooms that were used towards the end of the Royal Imperial family of Russia’s time in the Winter Palace. There are some huge portraits of famous Emperors (and Empress’) but the highlight of this part of the Hermitage is the Malachite Room.
The Malachite Room was the formal reception room for Empress Alexandra, the wife of Nicholas I. The room gets its name due to the use of malachite for the columns and fireplace.
The members of the provisional government were arrested in the adjoining dining room during the 1917 Russian Revolution – so the room retains a lot of history for Russian people.
General Staff Building Highlights
A ticket to the Hermitage museum will generally include entrance to the General Staff Building also. The General Staff Building is located in the building across from the Winter Palace (its entrance is on the left-hand side as you come out of the Hermitage).
It is in the General Staff Building that some of the more modern art is housed. It is recommended you spend at least 1.5 hours in the General Staff Building, and the following are some of the highlights:
Claude Monet Room
Room 403 houses some of Claude Monet’s best pieces, including ‘Women in the Garden’ and ‘Corner of the Garden at Montgeron’.
In Room 407 lookout for ‘Woman in Black’ and ‘Child with a Whip’
Cezanne may just be my new favourite artist. His most memorable pieces in Room 410 are ‘Smoker’ and ‘Lady in Blue’
Van Gogh Room
Room 413 is officially known as the Vincent Van Gogh room. Here some of the highlights include ‘Cottages’ and ‘Memory of the Garden at Etten’.
Hall of the Fauves
Room 422 has some great pieces, including ‘Woman in a Black Hat’ by Dongen and ‘Roofs and Cathedrals in Rouen’ by Friesz.
Room 440 is the Matisse Room. This was my favourite room in the General Staff Building, I had never seen a Matisse painting before, so this was a great treat!
The main attractions are the pair of panels, ‘Dance’ and ‘Music’. Pay special attention to the picture titled ‘Fruits, Flowers, and the Panel “Dance”‘ where, as the name suggests, you can see the panel ‘Dance’ depicted in it.
If you didn’t know it was there you would walk past it (I know I did!). Black Square is one of the most famous Russian 20th-century paintings.
The artist, Malevich, wanted to portray the conception of “the zero of form”, the beginning and end of everything.
Find it in Room 443 and judge for yourself!
Opening Hours and Buying Tickets
Museum opening hours are 10.30 am – 6 pm on Tuesday’s, Thursday’s, Saturday’s and Sunday’s. Very handily the opening hours extend until 9 pm on both Wednesday’s and Friday’s. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Buying tickets is always a fun exercise when it comes to famous museums. Note that there are a number of ways to buy tickets for the Hermitage, but they actually have different costs.
The third Thursday of each month is a day of free entrance to the museum for all individual visitors (with free tickets).
Buy it in the ticket office
This is the most used way and also one of the more cheaper. The only issue is that there can be big queues in high season, so you may have to wait a considerable amount of time.
Entrance is 800 rubles (€12) for foreigners, and 400 rubles for Russian/Belorussian citizens. Note that due to the fact that Russians get the discounted price and can only avail of this price at the ticket office, this is why there are such queues. Therefore, if you are not a Russian citizen then you should use the next option.
Buy it in the ticket machines inside the courtyard
There are ticket machines in the courtyard, that many people won’t know about. The queue can extend around the museum and you may think that you need to join. However, if you have a look inside the courtyard you can see if you can buy your ticket in a machine. Then all you have to do is scan it when entering! Note that the prices are the same as the ticket office (i.e. 800 rubles) but you cannot get the discounted price!
Buying the tickets online is another option, and one with did (but regret). Firstly, it gives you peace of mind – you don’t have to queue and waste hours out of your precious time to just queue to enter the museum (although the above point may help with this problem).
The problem with buying online, however, is that the price is greater than buying in person. It is a fixed rate of $17.95 (yes, that is right, USD not rubles). This means you will end up paying about €4 by buying the ticket in advance.
If you are visiting in high season and have some time constraints (and don’t mind paying extra) then go for this option. If you are visiting in low season/winter, just buy your tickets in person – whether in the machine or the ticket office!
Note that entrance to the Hermitage with an online ticket is only available via the entrance at the Small Hermitage, to the right of the main gates.