The Russian Academy of Arts, informally known as the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, was founded in 1757 by Ivan Shuvalov under the name Academy of the Three Noblest Arts. Catherine the Great renamed it the Imperial Academy of Arts and commissioned a new building, completed 25 years later in 1789 by the Neva River. The academy promoted the neoclassical style and technique, and sent its promising students to European capitals for further study. Training at the academy was virtually required for artists to make successful careers.
Formally abolished in 1918 after the Russian Revolution, the academy was renamed several times. It established free tuition; students from across the country competed fiercely for its few places annually. In 1947 the national institution was moved to Moscow, and much of its art collection was moved to the Hermitage. The building in Leningrad was devoted to the Ilya Repin Leningrad Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, named in honor of one of Russia's foremost realist artists. Since 1991 it has been called the St. Petersburg Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
Since its foundation the Academy has been the largest art educational institution and one of the most important scientific centers in Russia. For almost two and a half centuries the Academy has been promoting the traditional and classical fine art of Russia and plays a key part in the preservation of its native style.
Today there are more than 700 students during the day and over 500 attending evening courses at the Academy. About 100 professors, associate professors, and 60 teachers teach at the Academy. The Academy has 5 faculties:
- Fine Art
- Graphic Arts
- Art Theory and History
The Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts is one of the oldest fine arts collections in St. Petersburg. It was founded in 1758 in the reign of Empress Elizabeth to provide young artists with a possibility to learn from the best works of art. I.I. Shuvalov, the initiator and first curator of the Academy (established in 1757), presented as a gift his private collection of paintings including canvases by Raphael, Veronese, Rubens and other masters that became a core of the Museum collection.
Later, many members of the Royal family regularly enriched the collection. Catherine the Great donated cartoons for monumental frescos of the Vatican Library made by A. Mengs, noted artist of the 18th century and a big collection of models of antique architectural monuments executed by A. Keekee in the 18th century. Emperor Nicholas I purchased for the Academy large copies from Raphael’s frescos in the Vatican as well as copies from the Italian Renaissance masters’ paintings made by renowned artists such as K. Bryullov and F. Bruni. Being the President of the Academy Great Duchess Maria also contributed to the Museum collection by a number of canvases and a unique drawing by D. Bossi – copy of the “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.
Count N. Kushelev-Besborodko’s collection, which he bequeathed to the Academy in 1862, was one of the most remarkable acquisitions of the Museum that contained 466 paintings and 29 sculptures by European and Russian masters including Peter Bruegel the Elder’s “Adoration of the Magi”, “The King is Drinking” by J. Jordans, “Christ in the Crown of Thorns” by Peter Paul Rubens, as well as paintings by the famous French artists Delacroix, Millet, Corrot, Rousseau and others.
The Museum received a lot of gifts from artists. The French sculptor E. Falconet, who was commissioned to design a statue to Peter the Great in St. Petersburg, donated to the Museum some of his sculptures and many casts and works of French masters. More than 160 drawings were donated to the Academy by L. de Lorren, 190 drawings were a gift from L. Lagrenet.
Due to the significance of the Academy emphasized by the Russian emperors it was an honor to be elected its honorary member. Each new elected member had to present his portrait to the Academy. As a result, the Museum houses a big portrait gallery of the Academy’s presidents and honorary members from the 18th century. Among its first honorary members were Grand Duke Paul (Petrovitch), Count A. Stroganov – President of the Academy in 1800-1811; Count G. Orlov; Count A. Shuvalov, Count N. Panin, Duke A. Golitsyn.
After the 1917 Revolution a huge part of the Museum collection was transferred to many other museums and libraries of the Soviet Union, such as the Hermitage, the Russian Museum and many others.
The present Museum exposition, occupying three floors of the concentric building, begins in the hall of casts. Nearly 3000 exhibits are located on the first floor as well as in the main rooms of the Academy. Lobbies, halls, galleries, staircases of the building serve as an exhibition space for paintings, replicas of antique sculptures, reliefs, Roman vases and other works of art, thus creating a remarkable atmosphere of submergence in arts.
The collection of sculptures gives an opportunity to trace the history of sculpture from ancient Egypt to the 18th century. Containing casts of original antique and Western-European sculptures made in the late 18th – early 19th centuries, it can not be rivaled by any other collection of sculptures in Russia. On display are works of L. Bernini, B. Torwaldsen, A. Moderatti and other artists.
The Library of The Russian Fine Arts Academy is the oldest art library in Russia. During the first decades of the Library's existance many important books on painting, sculpture and architecture and on adjacent and subsidiary brunches of art such as anatomy, perspective and so on were acquired by the Library. Today the library houses editions from the XVIth, XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, some of them are with the monogram and the coat of arms of the founder of The Arts Academy Ivan Shuvalov. Many old books are the remarkable examples of Russian and Westnern European polygraphic art.
There are two exhibition halls, one called "Raphael", the other "Titian". The reason behind this is the fact that each individual hall displays frescos of these two fantastic artists. Temporary exhibitions are mostly held there, such as the "Exhibition of Diploma works" and the "Exhibition of the Academy professors", as well as personal exhibitions by Russian artists and professors of the Academy.
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