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The Winter Palace. Ages and Styles

The Fire of 1837
In the evening of December 17, 1837 a small stream of smoke was noticed from the warm-hole in the Field Marshals' Hall. The alarmed servants on duty summoned the fire brigade. Having examined the warm-hole, the attic and the cellar the firemen found the steaming bast mat and extinguished it with plenty of water from the fire-engine. But the fire that only some minutes later broke from behind the destroyed wooden wall was caused by another reason.
It is obvious today that the architect Montferrand made a construction mistake when he placed the warm-hole in the narrow space separated by a partition. Apart from that the tragic event was brought about by usage of wood for the construction. A.Bashutsky, a witness of this event, vividly described the final stage of the great fire that lasted for more than 30 hours. "The last hours of the phoenix-building were solemnly grievous... dumb and motionless with hearts full of deep sorrow watched it the crowds of people that filled the square, the adjacent streets and some of the roofs of the houses... We saw through broken windows as the fire triumphantly moved in the empty space illuminating wide passages, splitting and crushing marble columns, impudently blackening precious gilding, throwing down in ugly heaps crystal and bronze artistically made chandeliers, cutting off luxurious brocade and damask draperies from the walls..." As soon as having returned from the theatre Nicholas I realised that it was impossible to stop the raging elements, it was decided to take out of the palace all that was possible and to destroy the passages leading to the Hermitage. Piles of different objects appeared on the dirty snow. Funiture, plates and dishes, marble statues, stone and porcelain vases, crystal objects, paintings, chests, clothing, chandeliers and floor-lamps - the luxurious and valuable property of the royal family and modest possessions of the palace servants. The unprecedented firetotally destroyed splendid decorations of the imperial residence and bloted out the whole epoch in the history of the palace.
Immediatly after the fire died away and in the place of the magnificent building only sullen burnt debris were left the Commission on restoration of the palace was formed with the Most Serene Prince Volkonsky, the minister of the court, at the head. The architects Vasily Stasov and Alexander Briullov were charged with the task of restoration of the palace.
Vasily Stasov was assigned to "restore the palace building in general outside and inside decoration of both churches and all the halls". The reputation of Stasov as a competent specialist devoted to the fundamentals of Classicism was a guarantee that the official part of the Winter Palace would be accurately revived in its "original appearance". The architect properly treated the designs of his predecessors when he restored the Main Staicase and the Grand Church (Rastrelli), St.George Hall (Quarenghi). Field Marshals' Hall and Memorial Throne Room of Peter I (Montferrand). In a strict Classical manner Stasov designed the decor of the suite of rooms facing the Neva river.
The Antehall opening the suite of rooms is notable for simple design, clear lines and noble beauty of marble walls, that are almost completely devoid of plastic decor. Though this hall is a non-order hall it is still an example of truly Classical interior. The painted plafond and gilding in its decor make visual contrast between the Baroque Staircase and the following after it purely Classical interiors less striking. The Grand and Concert Halls designed by Stasov on the basis
The Grand and Concert Halls designed by Stasov on the basis of architectural ideas of his predecessor Giacomo Quarenghi produce a harmonic ensemble with common rythms of Corinthian columns, arranged along the four walls, white marble and monochrome grisaille painting . The largest hall in the palace - the Grand Hall - is 1103 square metres large and surprises with huge architectural composition and harmonic proportions. Architectural articulation of the Concert Hall, following the Grand Hall, - double Corinthian columns and sculptures, as if coming out of them, arranged on the cornice in the upper part of the walls - are in tune with the rythms of the Grand Hall.
The second largest hall in the palace is the Armorial Hall (the Main suite of rooms). The architect here also used the composition of the hall with columns. The double gilded fluted columns, stucco decoration and chandeliers with the emblems of the Russian provinces, executed at the wish of Nicholas I, corresponded to the tastes of that time. The halls designed by Vasily Stasov completely preserved their decor and became a brilliant embodiment of the architecture of the Late Classicism in Russia. These halls, where the most important official events of the Russian Empire took place, where receptions, ceremonies, balls and Court processions were held, help us feel the atmosphere of magnificent court life of the 19th century.


The Winter palace on fire in 1837
Drawing by B. Grin
Larger view


Grand Antehall
Konstantin Ukhtomskii
Water-color

Larger view


Georgievsky Hall
Konstantin Ukhtomskii.
Water-color

Larger view


Small Antehall Konstantin Ukhtomskii
Water-color
Larger view


Heraldic Hall
Edward Hau
Water-colour
Larger view


Grand Church
Edward Hau
Water-colour
Larger view

 
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