The palace of Prince Alexander Menshikov, first governor - general of St Petersburg, was founded on Vasilevsky Island in 1710. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city, and once combined both residential and administrative functions.
The unique appearance of the building and its courtyard took shape over the course of construction, which lasted many years and involved European architects and artists: Giovanni Mario Fontana, Johann Gottfried Schadel, Domenico Trezzini, Carlo Bartolommeo Rastrelli, Georg Johanns Mattarnovi, Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond. It was Russian craftsmen and artists, however, who realized their ideas.
The palace combines both traditionally Russian and new, imported, methods and forms, incorporating all the latest achievements in construction and art of the era.
The interior decoration used marble and painting to imitate marble, monumental decorative painting and moulding, antique and contemporary Italian sculpture, as well as Dutch cobalt painted tiles, Russian stove tiles, painted and stamped leather, textiles and woollen tapestries.
This ‘most spacious and splendid palace' (in the words of a foreign traveller who visited Petersburg in 1721) housed collections of paintings, sculpture, works of applied art, books, coins and medals, and was the cultural center of the capital.
After Menshikov's fall from grace, all his property was confiscated by the state. The palace on Vasilevsky Island was transferred to the First Cadet Corps, the leading high school in Russia, which produced many outstanding figures of the 18th and early 19th centuries: the military commanders Count Pyotr Rumyantsev-Zadunaysky, Count Alexander Suvorov, the dramatist and poet Alexander Sumarokov, the first Russian actor Fyodor Volkov and others.
In the 1880s a museum of the Cadet Corps was established in the palace, which functioned until 1924.
The original appearance of the palace was re-created in the course of restoration work undertaken in the 1970s on the initiative of the State Inspectorate for the Preservation of Monuments, and the palace museum opened its doors to visitors in 1981. As part of the Hermitage, the Menshikov Palace was able to draw on the Museum's large collections incorporating not only former imperial property but also the property of the Russian nobility, including objects confiscated from Prince Menshikov.