Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Empresses Behind The Catherine Palace

I wanted to share a little bit of the history I learned about the Catherine Palace, that houses the famous Amber room which I shared with you in my last post. I also wanted to share what I learned about the Empresses(most notably, Elizabeth & Catherine II) that influenced the building and design of the palace.

The Catherine Palace located in Tsarskoye Selo in Saint Petersburg, Russia originated in 1717 as the summer palace for Catherine I of Russia. The architect was Johann Friedrich Braunstein. In 1733, Empress Anna Ivanovna, daughter of Ivan V and niece to Peter the Great, who succeeded Catherine I, commissioned Mikhail Zemtsov and Andrei Kvasov to expand the Catherine Palace.
However, it was Empress Elizabeth Petrovna's influence that catapulted the Catherine Palace to achieve international recognition.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I(Martha Elena Scowronska). Elizabeth gained power by leading a palace revolt against Anna Leopoldovn a, regent and mother of the infant Ivan VI. She became Empress of Russia (1741 – 1762) who took the country into the War of Austrian Succession (1740 – 1748) and the Seven Years' War (1756 – 1763).Her domestic policies allowed the nobles to gain dominance in local government while shortening their terms of service to the state. She encouraged Lomonosov's establishment of the University of Moscow and Shuvalov's foundation of the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.
Under Elizabeth's rule, capital punishment ended in Russia. Although the Senate handed down capital sentences during her reign, she commuted all of them.
She called for the introduction of Russian porcelain, an industry that would expand rapidly and ensure a reputation for high quality craftsmanship throughout Europe.

She also spent exorbitant sums of money on the grandiose baroque projects of her favourite architect, Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, particularly in Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo. Affairs of state were often left unattended while her greatest legacy might have been the 15,000 dresses she collected.

(Hall of lights at the Catherine Palace June 2007)

On May 10 1752 she signed a decree ordering a complete overhaul of the palace. She commissioned her court architect Rastrelli to begin the four year reconstruction project on what she described as an outdated and incommodious old structure.

In it's place, a much grander edifice in the Baroque & Rococo style. On July 30 1756 the brand-new 325-meter-long palace was completed.

The palace had gained fame for its obscenely lavish exterior. More than 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco facade and numerous statues erected on the roof.
It was even rumored that the palace's roof was constructed entirely of gold. The galleries of the palace's facade consisted of windows and columns, each of which bore a wooden, gold-leafed statue or vase. In front of the palace a great formal garden was laid out. It centers on the azure-and-white Hermitage Pavilion near the lake, designed by Zemtsov in 1744, overhauled by Rastrelli in 1749 and formerly crowned by a grand gilded sculpture representing The Rape of Persephone.

The interior of the pavilion featured dining tables with dumbwaiter mechanisms.

The grand entrance to the palace is flanked by two massive "circumferences", also in the Rococo style. A delicate iron-cast grille separates the complex from the town of Tsarskoe Selo.

For twenty years, Elizabeth’s court architect, Rastrelli, would leave his mark on St. Petersburg, building the Winter Palace on the Neva River and introducing the distinctive Russian baroque style.
Generally, she was one of the best loved Russian monarchs, because she didn't allow Germans in the government and not one person was executed during her reign. On the eve of her death in 1762, the Russian empire spanned almost 4 billion acres.
The palace would be enlarged under the reign of Catherine II the Great. The new Empress Catherine the Great added a second story to the side wings and separate entrances to the same. With the exception of halting the completion of gilding the outside ornamentation(ordered by Empress Elizabeth) due expenses and because she thought it was too extravagant, She left the exterior unchanged. However, she renovated the interiors by commissioning Scottish architect Charles Cameron to incorporate the Neoclassical/Palladian and Greek revival styles. Of all the royal residences available to Catherine the Great, this was her favorite.

The Picture hall

The Music room

Looking down the hallway, through some of the many grand rooms at the Palace.

This room is furnished with a custom made bed that was reportedly a gift to Catherine the Great from one her lovers. This room is furnished with a custom made bed that was reportedly a gift to Catherine the Great from one of her lovers.

The blue and white Delft tile covers one of the many fireplaces that provided warmth in the frigid Russian winters. The same style fireplaces can be found in the royal residences of other Northern European nations such as Sweden and Denmark.

This is the grand hall which is also referred to as the hall of lights intended for formal dinners and masquerade balls.

Beautiful photo capturing the gilding work in the Amber room.

Close up of one of a pair of the gilded statues that flank the archways in the Great hall.

Amazingly beautiful wood parquetry throughout the palace.

A couple of the ceiling frescos in the palace.

The front gates to Tsarskoye Selo.



vicki archer said...

What a fantastic post - thank you so much. I went there some years ago and I really have had a wonderful reminder of my Russian trip. Love your blog, xv.

Beaux Mondes Designs said...

Thank you Vicki!

Saint Petersburg is definitely a city worth visiting again and again. I loved it so much. As you know, there is so much to see and do. It's on my wish list of places to return for another visit.

Paris Atelier said...

Wow! What a wonderful post! It looks amazing there! I have to add that to my list of places to go!

Chris said...