The Department is comprised of two sectors: the sector of Ancient Greece and Rome and the North Black Sea Region sector. The Department’s collections number over 170,000 items. The Department has thirty employees. Head of Department: Anna Trofimova.
The Department of the Ancient World is one of the oldest in the Hermitage. From 1805, collections of antiquities and a staff of curators formed part of Departments I and II of the Imperial Hermitage. A new Department of Antiquities was founded after a staff reform of 1863. In 1919, it was subdivided into the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities and the Department of the South Russian Archaeology. In 1930, it was renamed the Department of the Ancient Society, and it has been known as the Department of the Ancient World since 1941.
The gathering of antique collections pre-dates the foundation of the museum by a long time. It was Peter the Great who ordered the first ancient sculptures to be purchased and brought to Russia in 1719-1720. These included the famous Venus of Taurida. In the second half of the 18th century, the passionate collecting drive of Catherine the Great created the core of the antique collection; carved gems were bought from European and Russian aristocratic families, including Louis Philippe Duke of Orléans, the Medici family, Louis de Breteuil, G.B. Casanova, P. Crozat, and a collection of ancient sculptures was bought from John Lyde Browne in 1785-1787. An important landmark in the history of the Classical antiquities was the opening of a public museum in 1852 in the New Hermitage building, specially commissioned by Emperor Nicholas I.
The architect Leo von Klenze designed the interior decoration to match the works of art displayed in the rooms. The New Hermitage became the home of antiques from Tsar residences as well as collections bought from the Pizatti, Demidov, Laval families. In 1861, the acquisition of Giampietro Campana’s collection made the Hermitage a major European museum of classical antiquities; they occupied all the ground-floor rooms in the New Hermitage building. Apart from acquisitions, another important source of ex-hibits for the collections were the archaeological excavations carried out since the early 19th century in the former Greek colonies along the Black Sea coast. The Imperial Archaeological Commission was formed in 1859 to oversee the excavations, prepare re-ports, publish and distribute the finds. The best pieces were sent to the Hermitage. The collection took final shape after the Revolution (in the 1920s and 30s) when it was centralised and augmented by the addition of antiques from nationalized private collections, suburban palaces, museums of the Academy of Fine Arts, the Academy of Sciences, the Central (Stieglitz) School of Technical Drawing and others.
Today, the Hermitage collection of Classical antiquities numbers over 170,000 items. The most important among them are the painted vases, carved gems, ancient sculptures, archaeological finds from the North Black Sea coast, along with ancient jewellery, terracotta and bronze pieces. The exhibitions of ancient art take up twenty two rooms or the entire ground floor of the New Hermitage Building and the Sivkov linking passage. Since 1998, the Department has been carrying out a Program of renovation of its permanent display. Within the framework of this program, interior restoration and renovation of exhibitions in twenty galleries has already been completed. The exhibition programm aims to preserve the style of a 19th-century museum and to create new permanent displays of ancient art in the New Hermitage that would combine the air of Neo-Classicism with the latest academic and conservation practices.
Between the early 19th and the early 21st century, generations of scholars have studied the Classical heritage and created the Hermitage school of Classical studies. The key research areas are related to the contents of the collections and the academic traditions of museum-based Classical scholarship: the study of painted ceramics, Greek and Roman Sculptures, carved gems, jewellery, research into the history of collecting; developing the theory and practice of exhibiting ancient historic collections, archaeological excavations and the academic conservation of antique artefacts discovered in the South of Russia. The Department produces numerous and diverse publications; in the recent decade, one of its key productions was the regular publication of its materials in two international series: the Corpus of Ancient Vases and the Corpus of Ancient Sculpture. The catalogues of the Berezan collection and the Cypriot antiquities have now been published alongside works on ancient weapons and armour, coroplastics, history of collecting, and a separate branch dedicated to the study of Hellenistic art.
A number of temporary exhibitions organised by the Department have received wide international recognition: “Greeks on the Black Sea” (2006), “Alexander the Great: the Journey to the East” (2007, 2010, 2012). Conferences held by the Department were well received by the international museum community; among them are “The Bosporan Phenomenon”, “World Museums in the 21st Century: Restoration, Reconstruction, Re-Exhibition”. Long-term international cooperation programmes are in place under agreements with the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation, the Institute of Archaeology, University of Lausanne, the German Archaeological Institute and others.
The Department has six working archaeological expeditions: Berezan, the Classical Complex, Myrmekion, Nymphaion, Chersonessos, and Stabiae (since 2006); the latter is the first Russian expedition in Italy.
The Department pays a lot of attention to education. The “Days of Classicism” annual festival for children and young people has been held in the Rooms of Antiquities since 2006. It is organised by the Department employees and is very popular with school-children. The majority of the Department’s curators teach Classical Art History at St Petersburg universities, institutes, gymnasia and colleges.