The St. Petersburg Academy of Arts

Facing the legendary Egyptian sphinxes on the embankment of St Basil's Island we see a three-storey building. This is the Academy of Arts, whose founding dates back to the reign of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. It's an institution which has acted as the patron of many of St. Petersburg's creative figures.

Fascinating Facts

  • The ceremonial halls of the Academy were decorated by the finest artists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Several of the halls display accurate copies of world masterpieces.
  • Legend claims that the 55-metre circular hall of the palace building within the Academy of Arts was established by Russian Empress Catherine the Great. It had been her wish that the education of future artists should take place beneath a copy of the great dome of St Peter's in Rome.
  • During the 1830s, the granite embankment in front of the Academy was improved with the addition of descent to the water, and decorated with the famous sculptures of Egyptian sphinxes which we see here today, on their granite pedestals.


The Academy of Arts first opened its doors in 1758, when it subsisted on the personal donations of the philanthropist Shuvalov. As an educational institution, it acquired new life after the accession to the Russian throne of Empress Catherine the Great. The Empress conferred numerous royal privileges on the Academy, which led to the construction of a large new building for it on St Basil's Island – in a neoclassical style.

Education at the Academy was modelled on European precedents. Even so, national priorities soon came to the fore – art had to reflect Russia's great history, and the many great individuals who figured in that national story.

The noble principles which underpinned the Academy's founding were not destined to last. On 9th November 1863, a number of would-be graduates of the Academy refused to complete graduate diploma works on the stated topic of Scandinavian myths. This spic stand-off led rapidly to reorganisation within the Academy, and also led to teaching according to new methodologies. The new names of this generation of artists included such major figures as Repin, Vrubel, Serov, Polenov, and Borisov-Musatov.

This outdated institution was finally closed down in 1918. In the 1930s, there was an attempt by the artist Isaac Brodsky to reestablish the Academy of Arts in what was by then Leningrad. However, the nation's capital had moved to Moscow, so the city authorities in Leningrad were not in a position to change anything.

What to see

  • The facade of the building is adorned with a portico. Between its columns we can see statues of Heracles and Flora, the goddess of plants and flowers. The building is of interest for its perfectly circular inner courtyard, 55 metres in diameter. When we look at the exterior facade, we'd never imagine that the inner courtyard was even there. At the centre of the courtyard is a statue of the Academy's first president – Academician I. Shuvalov.
  • The Archives Department houses a unique collection of models and sculptures of ancient architecture. Visitors are often surprised by the small size of the halls. On the second floor is an exhibition of illustrations taken from the academy's collections, while on the third floor visitors can find out more about architects of bygone ages.
  • The Raphael and Titian halls display portraits painted by the Academy's distinguished teachers, alongside copies of works by Italian Old Masters of the 16th to 18th centuries.

Guided Tour to St. Petersburg Academy of Arts

You can book a tour in English on our website.

Send us a request to find out all the information you are interested in. This request is free and without obligation.
Request the Tour
Thank you for contacting us! Our manager will be in touch as soon as possible to finalize the details. Close