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The Winter Palace
Francesco Bartholomeo Rastrelli said about his creation, the Winter Palace, that it was constructed "...for the glory of Russia solely" and was to become the embodiment of greatness and power of Russia that in the mid 18th century became one of the most significant countries. During the reign of Elizaveta Petrovna, joyfull and light-hearted Empress, who nevertheless managed to enlist the services of able
and energetic people, Russia was steadily following the path foreordained by Peter I. The energy of that time was realized in immense construction of Saint Petersburg that according to the aspirations of Elizaveta was to become one of the most brilliant capitals of the world. The city was adorned with magnificent buildings of the Anichkov Palace, the Naval Cathedral of St.Nicholas, the Church of St.Vladimir, the Smolny Cathedral, luxurious palaces of the Petersburg nobility - the Stroganovs, Vorontzovs, Shuvalovs.
One of the creators of the new image of Saint Petrsburg was Francesco Bartholomeo Rastrelli, the architect of great talent. It was he who was commissioned to construct the new winter residence. In 1754 the design of the palace was adopted. The construction lasted for eight long years that were the last years of Elizabethan reign and a few years of the reign of Peter III.

In autumn 1763 Catherine II returns to Saint Petersburg after her coronation in Moscow and becomes a sovereign mistress of the new palace. The construction of the Winter Palace needed a lot of money and a great number of workers. Nearly 4 thousand people worked at the construction site. The best masters from all over the country were gathered here. In the register of the Department for Construction there are "good masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, metal workers, joiners, masters in casting and chasing, carving and gilding of wood, plasterers and potters. The workers lived in the huts covering all the space of the modern Palace Square and Alexander's Garden. When the construction was completed General Nikolai Korff, the chief of the city police, offered Peter III to permit the citizens of Saint Petersburg to take construction debris and other wastes that surrounded the palace. This witty decision helped to clear the square in a few hours, which seemed impossible, and let the Emperor to enjoy himself looking through the window at people dragging everything they could find at hand.

The Winter Palace startles with grandeur scale, luxury and variety of ornamentation on the one hand and integrity and proportionality of the parts on the other. This building fully revealed all characteristic features of Rastrelli's style, the Russian Baroque style: majestic gala forms, abundance of decorative details, irrepressible strive for brilliancy, luxury and buoyancy. The architect designed the palace as part of the city landscape - a huge closed volume with an inner court and free facades secluded from any other buildings. The main facade facing the Palace Square has three grand projections. The widest of the projections in the middle of the building is cut by three arches leading into the big main court. Coaches of the Empress and her guests would pass a sentry and approach the main entrance in the northern wing. The facades of the palace are embellished in the manner typical of Rastrelli: various and imaginative decor stressed unusual for that time height of the building that dominated the city. Visually that effect was underlined by two tiers of columns arranged by the architect above each other. To crown the building on the roof there was a balustrade of decorative stone sculptures and vases that continued the vertical axis of the columns. Originally the palace was painted with pinkish yellow paint as drawings of the 18th - early 19th centuries demonstrate.
Arrangement of rooms inside the palace is clear and logical. In the four corner projections of the building the architect placed the main interiors of the palace: the Grand Staircase, the Throne room, the Church and the Theatre. Between them all other large and small halls, living rooms, galleries, store-rooms are arranged basing on a principle of suite of rooms. All in all there are more than 460 rooms as the architect himself testified. Official rooms on the first floor were designed in the Russian Baroque style of the mid 18th century. It is characterized by suite principle of arrangement of rooms, enormous halls full of light due to the double tiers of large windows and mirrors, splendid rocaille decor widely spread at that time in Europe. Presently only some interiors of the palace preserve ornamentation resembling the original decor of the halls of Rastrelli. Among them is the Grand Staircase called in the 18th century the Ambassadorial Staircase. When restoring the Staircase after the fire of 1837 the architect Vasily Stasov preserved the magnificent design of Rastrelli and repeated the whole composition of the interior almost without any alterations. As it was in the 18th century the large space of the brightly lit interior richly decorated with gilding was visually increased by the perspective painting on the ceiling. The first flight of the Staircase with ornamented walls was the basis of the whole composition, the second flight was decorated with allegoric statues of Mercury, Fidelity, Equity, Wisdom, Might, Abundance, Justice and Muse. Light pink pilasters of Rastrelli were replaced with monolith columns of grey Serdobol granite, carved gilded balusters were changed to the marble balustrade, white and golden colour started to dominate the interior. The ceiling was decorated with the 18th century plafond found in the store-rooms of the Hermitage and representing Olympus. One contemporary of the restoration works in the palace testified that the decor of the Staircase by Stasov "keeping the forms in line with the style of Rastrelli was beautifully ennobled with new understanding of art concerning purity, relief and rightness of the design".

The Big Church designed by Francesco Bartholomeo Rastrelli was one of the most grandeur halls in the Winter Palace devoid of any traditional cult features. Rastrelli embellished the walls of the Church as well as the walls in the gala rooms with curved intricate ornamentation and fluttering naked "putti". Everything was pierced with secular buoyancy and solemn elation. Carving and painting of the iconostasis merged with painting and stucco of the sides of the ceiling and walls. The composition was completed with the plafond "Resurrection of Christ". After the fire Stasov restored the interior of the Church according to scarce old drawings and designs which proves that he deeply penetrated into the specific style of the Baroque. Close to the original design but in a more reserved manner Stasov also restored the room leading to the Church.

Interiors of the official and private rooms, Theatre (Opera House) designed by Jean Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe, Yury Veldten and Antonio Rinaldi destroyed by the fire were not restored. Big Throne Hall (St.George Hall) designed by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1787 - 1795 despite its "eternal" decoration was also destroyed by the destructive fire of 1837. Designs, drawings and engravings made by the author give quite good idea about one of the best examples of the official interior of the Russian Classicism. The huge hall with two tiers of windows and doubled columns of Corinthian order was particularly impressive. Stasov preserved all architectural proportions of the Quarenghi's hall but still added absolutely new character to the interior. Instead of polished pink columns he introduced columns of white Carrara marble that also covered the walls of the hall. Stucco medallions in the second circle were replaced with double marble pilasters, painted plafonds representing flying figures against the blue sky background and allegoric scenes on antique subjects gave place to the caisson ceiling with bronze cast, chased, gilded control-rods and ornaments. The system of copper ceiling, instead of the traditional wooden one, suspended on the metal construction was an innovative engineering decision.

The Trone dias had been changed several times before the fire. The Throne of Catherine II made from the design of Quarenghi was decorated with gracefully falling draperies of crimson velvet. When Paul I came to power it was replaced with the gilded silver throne of Anna Ioannovna made by the famous London master Nicholas Klausen in 1730-s. Instead of allegoric figures supporting the shield with Catherine's monogram the wall behind the throne was decorated with the marble high relief representing St.George. After the fire the relief was restored in Paris from the design of Vasily Stasov. Austere and magnificent architecture of the St.George Hall was in tune with the solemn official ceremonies held here till the end of the reign of Romanovs dynasty.
The Winter Palace designed by Rastrelli is a real masterpiece of Russian architecture of the 18th century which formed the basis for the beautiful architectural ensemble on the Neva river banks. Every new reign became a new stage in the history of the official royal residence. The interiors of it designed by the most famous architects of the 18th - 19th centuries reflected changes in the styles and artistic tastes of different epochs.

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