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  • Writer's pictureMoorea Hall-Aquitania, MA

A Brief History of Hermitage Amsterdam

What is Hermitage Amsterdam?

Hermitage Amsterdam is a Dutch satellite of the famous Russian state museum, which was opened in 2009.

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Hermitage Amsterdam History

Along the banks of the Neva River in St Petersburg, Russia lies the glittering green Winter Palace of the Hermitage. The museum was founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine the Great, who purchased an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky and built a new wing onto the Winter Palace to house it. In 1852, Tsar Nicholas I opened the Hermitage to the public, making it one of the first open-access museums. Now the largest in the world, the Hermitage in St Petersburg has a collection of over three million objects spread throughout six buildings along the Palace Embankment as well as in satellite collections globally. One of these is based here on the Amstel River, in a lovely (if slightly less impressive) brick building that predates the Winter Palace by more than half a century.

Developed to celebrate the historic connections between the Netherlands and Russia, the Hermitage Amsterdam opened in 2009. The relationship between the two countries began when Tsar Peter the Great spent three months in the Low Countries at the end of the 17th century and again from 1716 to ’17, when he became the first Russian to buy a painting by esteemed Dutch artist Rembrandt. This purchase marked the beginning of the renowned imperial collection of Dutch Masters.

In 1680, the merchant Barent Helleman passed away, leaving his fortune to the Diaconate of Amsterdam, who used the money to open a home for elderly women. The city donated the land and in 1683 the Amstelhof, site of the Diaconate Home for Elderly Women, was completed. The large brick construction could shelter 400 women, and in 1817 began accommodating elderly men as well. The building was composed of chambrettes (or lodging rooms), a large church hall that doubled as the refectory, and many service rooms and salons, including the Regent’s Chamber. The central heating system installed in 1860 was the first of its kind in the world. However, after so many centuries of use and despite large-scale renovations, by 2007 the building was no longer suitable for residential purposes. The director of the Nieuwe Kerk, Ernst Veen, came up with the idea that the Amstelhof should partner with the Hermitage in St Petersburg. The next two years were spent converting the building into a state-of-the-art museum, and in June 2009 the Amsterdam offshoot of the Hermitage was opened to the public.

The inaugural exhibition was a celebration of the Russian court of the 19th century and filled the entire building with impressive displays aimed at conveying to visitors the lavish imperial lifestyle. Since then, the museum has held regular exhibitions celebrating the links between the two countries. These temporary shows accompany permanent presentations on Netherlands–Russia relations and the history of the Amstelhof. The massive, light-filled building is both a tribute to its Russian partner and a celebration of Dutch art and history.

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