On passing from the Audience Hall with its luxury and glamour to the next interior in the suite of state rooms, the White Banqueting Hall, visitors are struck by its atmosphere of unusual calm and harmony. Light shades are predominant in its decor, and there are no paintings - the architect preferred to use here high-relief compositions in a variety of motifs. Only the parquet floor with its zigzag pattern reminds visitors of Rastrelli's interior.
In its original form the apartment had lavish gilt carved decorations, executed from designs of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli in 1750s in a style fully corresponding to the Baroque splendour of the other state rooms. Twenty-one years later Velten, while retaining the proportions of Rastrelli's interior, gave to the decor an entirely different character, replacing the rich and exquisite rocaille adornments with Classical-style reliefs and mouldings in white stucco.
The White Banqueting Hall has two tiers of windows. It is rectangular in plan, 13.8 m long, 10.68 m wide, and 8 m high. The six arched windows of the lower tier and the square windows over them provide double lighting which enhances the play of light and shade in the stucco mouldings.
The elegant sculptural decor of the room, executed from designs of Velten in 1775 by Antonio Bernasconi (?), consists of decorative compositions and medallions in low relief, mouldings of various kinds, garlands of fruit, and figured brackets. The four doors are accentuated by monumental cornices and sculptured overdoors in high relief, depicting cupids filling vases with fruit. Rich pendant garlands and a series of panels with reliefs of subjects corresponding to the function of the room adorn the surfaces of the blank walls and the piers between the windows. There are attributes of hunting, fishing, fowling, and gardening, and various musical instruments. The oval medallions contain reliefs illustrating the myth of Bacchus and Ariadne. The two large reliefs with cupids frolicking with garlands of fruit suspended from bows are executed with perfect mastery. The vertical composition of the groups, at once bold and elegant, emphasizes the great height of the hall; and the subtle gradations in the height of the relief are skilfully used to link the sculptural decoration to the wall surface.
Each individual relief is confined within a frame, thus accentuating its compositional unity. All the subjects on a wall are in their turn enclosed in a frame, and thus included in the common scheme. This device permits the viewer to take in at a glance both the decor of the room as a whole and its individual elements. The arrangement of the five chandeliers of Russian work, made in the 1760s or 1770s, conforms to the general decorative design. The table is set with faїence dinner things, some of them executed at the Etruria potteries of Josiah Wedgwood (they arrived in St Petersburg in 1768), and others at the Gunther factory in St Petersburg. (Wedgwood made a dinner service specially for Peterhof, the famous Chesme set, which never left Peterhof until 1941.) Some of articles on display are replicas, made at Moscow and St Petersburg porcelain factories. The glassware, cut, engraved, and painted in gold, was manufactured at the St Petersburg and Nazya Glass Factories between the 1760s and 1780s.
The tall porcelain perfume vase with two medallions, one reproducing a self-portrait by Pieter Paul Rubens, and the other a Bacchanalian scene by an unknown artist, was made at the Copenhagen Porcelain Factory in the 1790s.
The architecture and decor of the White Banqueting Hall, restored in 1965, are marked by that harmonious clarity and elegance which distinguish the best among the Russian interiors decorated in the Classical style.
The White Banqueting Hall.
The White Banqueting Hall. Piecies of the Husk-service. Staffordshir. England. 18th century.