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The Winter Palace. Ages and Styles

The Age of Classicism. First Half of the 19th Century
The architecture of the Winter Palace combines the power and energy of the Baroque style with the solemn grandeur of Classical interiors. Classicism, which was in tune with the social attitudes of the early 19th century, defined the motifs predominating in St Petersburg architecture of that time. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan designed by Voronikhin, the architectural ensembles of Carlo Rossi and the huge St Isaac's Cathedral designed by Montferrand adorned the capital of the Russian Empire. The Winter Palace also became a monument of this age. Constant reconstructions and alterations to its interiors reflected the spirit of the time and the aesthetic tastes of the Romanovs.

The 19th century commenced in Russia with the reign of the favourite grandson of Catherine the Great, Alexander I, who ascended the throne in 1801 following the murder of his father, Emperor Paul I. The main event during his reign was the war with France that required tough policies and resoluteness from the monarch who had been brought up in the spirit of liberal ideas. Russia won the greatest and most bloody campaign of the 19th century and Alexander I went down in history as the victorious Emperor.

He restored to the Winter Palace its status as royal residence and retained there the atmosphere which he was used to since his childhood. Only necessary repairs were done during his reign and the private quarters of the Emperor and Empress in the north-western projecting part of the building were decorated anew. The imperial apartments had been designed by Luigi Rusca and were notable for their Classical restraint.

At the beginning of 1817, life in the Winter Palace was marked with preparations for the wedding of Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich (the future Emperor Nicholas I) and Princess of Prussia Charlotte (known as Alexandra Feodorovna following her conversion to Orthodoxy). For her arrival one of the leading architects of Russian Classicism, Carlo Rossi, designed the living rooms in the southern part of the building in a refined and noble manner characteristic of his works.

In commemoration of the victory of Russia over Napoleonic France, Alexander I commissioned Carlo Rossi to design a gallery in the official part of the palace. The English portraitist George Dawe was appointed to supply portraits of the heroes of the Patriotic War. Construction of the War Gallery of 1812 was completed in the reign of Nicholas I and it remains a monument to Russian military glory to this day.

Nicholas I ascended the throne in 1825 after the sudden death of his elder brother, Alexander I. He thought it his duty to continue creating memorials in honour of a military victory that brought glory not only to Russia but to his predecessor as well. The reign of Nicholas himself was devoid of such glory. It started on the tragic day of the Decembrists’ uprising and finished in 1855, during the heroic defence of Sebastopol in the Crimean War.

The opening ceremony of the Winter Palace's War Gallery of 1812 was officially held on 25 December 1826 to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the French expulsion from Russia. Some 332 portraits of the generals who participated in the campaign of 1812-15 and four major portraits of the Field Marshals are on display in the gallery. The equestrian portraits of Alexander I and his allies - King of Prussia Frederick William III and Emperor of Austria Francis I - were installed later.

In 1827 Nicholas I invited Auguste Montferrand to take part in the decoration of the Winter Palace. This architect, who designed St Isaac's Cathedral, replaced Carlo Rossi, who was relieved of his post. Montferrand began his work with decoration of the rooms of the Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna.

Having demonstrated his mastership in the sphere of architecture and his free interpretation of Classical motifs, Montferrand now created handsome palace interiors. One of his beautifully designed interiors which is still preserved is the staircase leading to the living quarters of the Empress. Today it is called the October Staircase.

Montferrand's brilliant talent as a master of interior design was highly esteemed by the Emperor and the architect was commissioned to decorate the imperial couple's private rooms. Between the official and living suites of rooms, he constructed "Rotunda" - a round room giving access to the other rooms and resembling in its architectural composition an antique temple.

In April 1833 Montferrand was commissioned to redecorate the main ceremonial suite of rooms. The architect designed the Field Marshals' Room and the Memorial Throne Room of Peter the Great. The Emperor required that all the works be done in a short period of time during the summer, which forced the architect to use wooden constructions extensively.

The Field Marshals' Room was intended to display the portraits of the Russian Field Marshals and was designed in a severe style, with four-columned porticos by the doors on either side. The room was decorated with artificial white marble, inlaid parquet floor, a ceiling-painting with a geometrical pattern and stucco elements representing military attributes.

The decor of the other room, the memorial to Peter I, was notable for its solemn splendour. On the crimson velvet-covered walls were a thousand gilded bronze eagles, arranged in rhythmical pattern. Later they were replaced by eagles embroidered with silver thread. Two battle paintings The Battle at Poltava and The Battle at Lesnaya and the picture Peter the Great with Minerva (Amiconi) glorified Peter the Great as the founder of a powerful empire. The silver throne executed by the English master Nicholas Clausen (1731) and silver floor and wall lamps were installed after the fire of 1837, which nearly destroyed the palace and left nothing but a burnt framework.

   


View of the Winter Palace from the West
Vasily Sadovnikov
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The study of Empress Elizabeth Alexeyevna
V. Goloviną

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The War Gallery of 1812
Grigory Chernetsov

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The Rotunda
Edward Hau
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The Peter the Great Memorial Room
Edward Hau
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