Peter I, Enrico Belli after an original by Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723). Oil on canvas, 239.7 x 147.5 cm. Mid-19th century. San Petersburgo, State Hermitage Museum

The Hermitage holdings are principally the result of the collecting of Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725), the founder of St Petersburg, his grand-daughter by marriage, Catherine the Great (r. 1762-1796), and her grandson, Nicholas I (r. 1825-1855). All three are shown here in full-length portraits.

Peter consolidated the autocratic power of the Tsars, modernizing Russia and raising it to the status of a European power. He travelled to Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and Austria and sought to 'westernize' aspects of Russian life and government. He reformed the army and built the Russian navy. He founded the first museum in the new capital, the Kunstkámera or cabinet of curiosities, part of whose collections are now in the Hermitage.

Catherine II was a German princess who married Tsar Peter III and became empress after a coup in 1762. She was quick-witted, intelligent and an avid reader of Voltaire and the philosophers of the French Enlightenment, some of whose ideas she tried to implement in Russia. She loved music, theatre and art and laid the foundations of the Hermitage's superb picture gallery, acquiring entire collections from Russia and western Europe and commissioning works from artists like Chardin and Wright of Derby.

The complex of buildings which makes up the Hermitage was completed by Nicholas I who constructed the New Hermitage alongside the Imperial residence opening it to the public in 1852.

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