The State Hermitage Museum and the Vatican Museums are similar in being large, multi-faceted, urban European museums. Significant differences include the museum’s ownership, purpose, and location. The Hermitage is owned by the Russian state and located in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The museum traces its beginnings to the Russian royal family, beginning with a European painting collection that the Empress Catherine acquired in 1764. Most of the collections and galleries are in a group of six buildings on and near the Palace Embankment. Prominent among them is the Winter Palace, formerly an official royal and Soviet residence; it has been rebuilt numerous times since its original construction by Peter the Great in the 1730s. With some three million objects, it is the second-largest museum in the world.
What has expanded into the Vatican Museums was originally founded as a papal institution in the early 1500s by Pope Julius II. Over the centuries, additional institutions were established, and some units were split off from others. The museums’ mission includes evangelization. The collections total about 70,000 objects, including well known Renaissance paintings and the Sistine Chapel, with the ceiling by Michelangelo. The different units comprising the museums include the Pinoteca, Collection of Modern Religious Art, Gregorio Profano Museum, Pio-Clementino Museum, Chiaramonti Museum, and Vatican Historical Museum, and two Gregoriano Museums of Etruscan and Egyptian art. Some galleries are regularly open to the public, while others may be visited for research purposes only.