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The museum celebrates the anniversary of its founding each year on 7 December, Saint Catherine's Day. It attracted 4,, visitors in , ranking it eighth among the most visited art museums in the world. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items the numismatic collection accounts for about one-third of them ,  including the largest collection of paintings in the world.
The museum has several exhibition centers abroad. The Hermitage is a federal state property. Since July , the director of the museum has been Mikhail Piotrovsky. The entrance ticket for foreign tourists costs more than the fee paid by citizens of Russia and Belarus. However, entrance is free of charge the third Thursday of every month for all visitors, and free daily for students and children. The museum is closed on Mondays. The entrance for individual visitors is located in the Winter Palace, accessible from the Courtyard.
A hermitage is the dwelling of a hermit or recluse. The building was initially given this name because of its exclusivity - in its early days, only very few people were allowed to visit. Originally, the only building housing the collection was the "Small Hermitage".
Today, the Hermitage Museum encompasses many buildings on the Palace Embankment and its neighbourhoods. Apart from the Small Hermitage, the museum now also includes the "Old Hermitage" also called "Large Hermitage" , the "New Hermitage", the " Hermitage Theatre ", and the " Winter Palace ", the former main residence of the Russian tsars. The Western European Art collection includes European paintings, sculpture, and applied art from the 13th to the 20th centuries.
It is displayed, in about rooms, on the first and second floor of the four main buildings. Drawings and prints are displayed in temporary exhibitions. Since , the Egyptian collection, dating back to and including the former Castiglione Collection, has occupied a large hall on the ground floor in the eastern part of the Winter Palace.
It serves as a passage to the exhibition of Classical Antiquities. A modest collection of the culture of Ancient Mesopotamia , including a number of Assyrian reliefs from Babylon , Dur-Sharrukin and Nimrud , is located in the same part of the building.
The collection of classical antiquities occupies most of the ground floor of the Old and New Hermitage buildings. The interiors of the ground floor were designed by German architect Leo von Klenze in the Greek revival style in the early s, using painted polished stucco and columns of natural marble and granite.
One of the largest and most notable interiors of the first floor is the Hall of Twenty Columns, divided into three parts by two rows of grey monolithic columns of Serdobol granite, intended for the display of Graeco-Etruscan vases.
Its floor is made of a modern marble mosaic imitating ancient tradition, while the stucco walls and ceiling are covered in painting. The Room of the Great Vase in the western wing features the 2. While the western wing was designed for exhibitions, the rooms on the ground floor in the eastern wing of the New Hermitage, now also hosting exhibitions, were originally intended for libraries.
The floor of the Athena Room in the south-eastern corner of the building, one of the original libraries, is decorated with an authentic 4th-century mosaic excavated in an early Christian basilica in Chersonesos in The collection of classical antiquities features Greek artifacts from the third millennium — fifth century BC, ancient Greek pottery , items from the Greek cities of the North Pontic Greek colonies , Hellenistic sculpture and jewellery, including engraved gems and cameos , such as the famous Gonzaga Cameo, Italic art from the 9th to second century BC, Roman marble and bronze sculpture and applied art from the first century BC - fourth century AD, including copies of Classical and Hellenistic Greek sculptures.
One of the highlights of the collection is the Tauride Venus , which, according to latest research, is an original Hellenistic Greek sculpture rather than a Roman copy as it was thought before.
On the ground floor in the western wing of the Winter Palace the collections of prehistoric artifacts and the culture and art of the Caucasus are located, as well as the second treasure gallery.
The prehistoric artifacts date from the Paleolithic to the Iron Age and were excavated all over Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire. Among them is a renowned collection of the art and culture of nomadic tribes of the Altai from Pazyryk and Bashadar sites, including the world's oldest surviving knotted-pile carpet and a well-preserved wooden chariot , both from the 4th—3rd centuries BC.
Many of them were excavated at Teishebaini under the supervision of Boris Piotrovsky , former director of the Hermitage Museum. Four small rooms on the ground floor, enclosed in the middle of the New Hermitage between the room displaying Classical Antiquities, comprise the first treasure gallery, featuring western jewellery from the 4th millennium BC to the early 20th century AD.
The second treasure gallery, located on the ground floor in the southwest corner of the Winter Palace, features jewellery from the Pontic steppes , Caucasus and Asia, in particular Scythian and Sarmatian gold. Visitors may only visit the treasure galleries as part of a guided tour. It features the 18th-century golden Peacock Clock by James Cox and a collection of mosaics.
The floor of the hall is adorned with a 19th-century imitation of an ancient Roman mosaic. Two galleries spanning the west side of the Small Hermitage from the Northern to Southern Pavilion house an exhibition of Western European decorative and applied art from the 12th to 15th century and the fine art of the Low Countries from the 15th and 16th centuries. The rooms on the first floor of the Old Hermitage were designed by Andrei Stakenschneider in revival styles in between and , although the design survives only in some of them.
The Italian Renaissance galleries continues in the eastern wing of the New Hermitage with paintings, sculpture, majolica and tapestry from Italy of the 15th—16th centuries, including Conestabile Madonna and Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph by Raphael. The gallery known as the Raphael Loggias, designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the s as a replication of the loggia in the Apostolic Palace in Rome frescoed by Raphael, runs along the eastern facade.
The first floor of New Hermitage contains three large interior spaces in the center of the museum complex with red walls and lit from above by skylights. In the enfilade of smaller rooms alongside the skylight rooms the Italian and Spanish fine art of the 15thth centuries, including Michelangelo 's Crouching Boy and paintings by El Greco. The Knights' Hall, a large room in the eastern part of the New Hermitage originally designed in the Greek revival style for the display of coins, now hosts a collection of Western European arms and armour from the 15thth centuries, part of the Hermitage Arsenal collection.
The Hall of Twelve Columns, in the southeast corner of the New Hermitage, is adorned with columns of grey Serdobol granite and was also designed in the Greek revival style for the display of coins, is now used for temporary exhibitions. It was designed by Leo von Klenze in the Greek revival style as a prelude to the museum and features neoclassical marble sculptures by Antonio Canova and his followers.
In the middle, the gallery opens to the main staircase of the New Hermitage, which served as the entrance to the museum before the October Revolution of , but is now closed. The upper gallery of the staircase is adorned with twenty grey Serdobol granite columns and feature 19th-century European sculpture and Russian lapidary works.
The rooms and galleries along the southern facade and in the western wing of the New Hermitage are now entirely devoted to Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque painting of the 17th century, including the large collections of Van Dyck , Rubens and Rembrandt. The first floor rooms on the southern facade of the Winter Palace are occupied by the collections of German fine art of the 16th century and French fine art of the 15th—18th centuries, including paintings by Poussin , Lorrain , Watteau.
The collections of French decorative and applied art from the 17th—18th centuries and British applied and fine art from the 16th—19th century, including Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds , are on display in nearby rooms facing the courtyard. The richly decorated interiors of the first floor of the Winter Palace on its eastern, northern and western sides are part of the Russian culture collection and host the exhibitions of Russian art from the 11thth centuries.
Temporary exhibitions are usually held in the Nicholas Hall. A large room is devoted to the German Romantic art of the 19th century, including several paintings by Caspar David Friedrich. Catherine the Great started her art collection in by purchasing paintings from Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky.
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