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The State Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest museums of the world. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, and open to the public in 1852. The museum collections of works of art comprise over 3 million exhibits, presenting the development of the world culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century.

The Hermitage possesses over two million Ancient and Early Medieval Items, the largest and most remarkable such collection in Russia, including objects dating from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Ages. The items were discovered on Russian territory between the 18th century and the present.

The Department of Antiquity has over 100,000 items representing the art and culture of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Italy, and ancient settlements on the Northern Black Sea coast. The earliest pieces date back to 2000 BC, the latest – to the 4th century AD.

The collection of Western European art is regarded as one of the finest in the world, and forms the nucleus of the Hermitage display. It occupies 120 rooms in the four museum buildings, and reflects all the stages in the development of art from the Middle Ages to the present day. The collection includes numerous works by outstanding masters from Italy, Spain, Holland, Flanders, France, England, Germany and other Western European countries. Great numbers of various items of applied art are presented side by side with paintings and sculptures. Due to their great fragility, prints and drawings are displayed only in temporary exhibitions according to international practice.

The extensive collection of Italian art occupies 30 rooms in the Great and New Hermitage. Of just ten or twelve original works by Leonardo da Vinci known in the world today, Russia possesses two, both in the Hermitage: Madonna with a Flower (The Benois Madonna, 1478) and Madonna Litta (1490-1491). Raphael is also represented by two works: Madonna Conestabile (1502-1503) and The Holy Family (1506). In addition, there are copies of Raphael's famous frescoes in the Vatican Gallery, the Raphael Loggias. Russia has only one work by Michelangelo, the sculpture Crouching Boy (1530-1534), intended for the Medici Chapel in Florence, and now prominently displayed in the Hermitage. Giorgione's Judith is widely recognized as among the artist's most perfect creations. Titian, is represented mainly by works from his mature period.

The collection of 17th-18th century Flemish art includes over 500 canvases by more than 140 artists, with works by almost all the leading masters of the Flemish school. The exhibition occupies five rooms on the first floor of the New Hermitage, the central place allotted to works by the most prominent artists of 17th century Flanders: Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Frans Snyders. There are not only 22 paintings by Rubens, many of them of great size, but also 19 sketches, making the Hermitage collection one of great significance. Twenty four works, mostly portraits, represent Rubens's younger contemporary and pupil, Anthony van Dyck.

The Hermitage collection of Dutch painting consists of more than 1,000 items, among them some of the most important works in the museum. The exhibition of Dutch artists' works occupies six rooms in the New Hermitage, the largest of them, the Tent Hall, containing an excellent display of 17th-century genre works by leading masters: landscapes by Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael, genre pictures by Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Adriaen, and Isaac van Ostade, animal paintings by Paulus Potter, still lifes by Willem Claesz Heda and Willem Kalf. Over 20 works by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, one of the greatest artists in the history of world art, hang in a special room devoted to him and his pupils. The master's portraits, compositions on mythological and biblical subjects, enable us to trace all the stages in his career, from his early canvases through to his last works.

The Hermitage Museum collection of the French art is the largest outside France. The Hermitage is very proud of its works by Auguste Rodin. The Museum contains 7 works by Claude Monet, 6 paintings by Auguste Renoir, 37 paintings by Henri Matisse and 31 paintings by Pablo Picasso.

Over 180,000 items including paintings, sculptures and examples of applied art, give an idea of a remarkable cultural heritage of the Orient from the time of the ancient civilization emergence to the present. The exhibitions occupying 50 museum rooms contain the collections of items from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotania, Central Asia, Byzantium, countries of the Near and Far East.

The collection of the Department of Russian Culture consists of over 300,000 items and reflects a thousand-year Russian history. Icons and articles of artistic handicraft represent the inner world and way of life of ancient Russia. The items of Peter the Great's time illustrate the epoch of important transformations taking place in Russia. Works by celebrated masters of the 18th century enable us to appreciate the reign of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna and the grandeur of Empress Catherine the Great.

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