Empress Elizabeth's Winter Palace
The luxurious Winter Palace that FrancescoBartolomeo Rastrelli constructed in 1754-62 to a commission from Empress Elizabeth became known as the "New Masonry Palace" since several imperial winter palaces had existed in St Petersburg before it. The residence of the city's founder, Peter the Great, was constructed on the bank of the Neva close to the Admiralty (Architect: Georg Mattarnovi, 1716-22). Close by was the largest and most richly decorated palace in all the capital, belonging to Admiral General Fiodor Apraxin (architect: Jean-Baptiste Le Blond, 1717-19).
It was into this second building that Peter's niece, Empress Anna Ioannovna moved after her coronation. But the palace that became her residence in 1732 proved small for the imperial retinue and Anna Ioannovna ordered Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli and his son to enlarge and beautify the building. They added a great hall, gallery and theatre, and also a grand staircase adorned with sculpture and paintings.
This palace served as the imperial residence for twenty years, through the reign of Anna Ioannovna and the first ten year's of Elizabeth's. Over that period it was repeatedly reconstructed, enlarged and redecorated. All the work in the palace was supervised by the younger Rastrelli, Francesco Bartolomeo, chief architect of the imperial court.
In 1754 Elizabeth issued a decree instructing Rastrelli to construct a new building on the site of the palace, which no longer accorded with her conception of an imperial residence. "Since Our Winter Palace in St Petersburg cannot be satisfactory not only for the reception of foreign envoys and the performance of festive ceremonies on the appointed days in keeping with the majesty of Our Imperial Dignity, but even to accommodate Us with the servants and effects required," ran the decree, "We have resolved that Our said Winter Palace shall be rebuilt..."
Rastrelli gave the new masonry Winter Palace a simple, clear compositional structure. The main functional elements of the residence were placed in the projecting corner blocks - the Main Staircase (NE), the Throne Hall (NW), the Great Church (SE) and the Theatre or "Opera House" (SW) - and connected, on the north and east by suites of state rooms, on the south and west by living apartments. The first storey contained spacious vestibules and galleries linking all the staircases and entrances into the palace. Here too were the kitchens, the court apothecary's shop, service and store rooms and the rooms for the Guards on sentry duty. The third storey had rooms for the maids of honour and servants as well as apartments for members of the court.
In a description of his works, Rastrelli wrote about the decoration of the Winter Palace interiors: "There are more than 460 rooms in the palace, including four large Antechambers that are on the same floor as the large hall and lead directly to it. Besides those spacious rooms, there is also a large double-return state staircase of white Italian marble, with most wonderful architectural adornments and moulded ornaments, with a host of statues like a large gallery, of sumptuous architecture with moulded ornament, the whole of which is gilded and finished with Parisian mirrors; also a spacious church with a dome and a sanctuary richly decorated with painting and sculpture, with a ceiling painting too; everywhere, in all the state rooms and the apartments of the imperial family, the decoration is most sumptuous. In the corner of this palace that gives onto the large square, there has also been built a theatre with four tiers of boxes. They are all made of masonry and within this theatre is most wonderfully decorated with sculpture and painting."
The greater part of these magnificent interiors remained on the drawing-board, however. Empress Elizabeth pressed the architect to complete the work quickly, but did not live to see her palace in all its splendour. During the construction work, she moved to a wooden palace that Rastrelli had constructed on Nevsky Prospekt and there she died on 25 December 1761. At Easter 1762 the Winter Palace and its Great Church were consecrated and Emperor Peter III, Elizabeth's nephew, held a housewarming celebration. He occupied rooms in the south-eastern corner that had been intended for the late Empress. By the time he moved on the main, second storey the Great Church and Main Staircase were ready, as were the private apartments of Empress Catherine, Peter III's wife, in the western wing, opposite the Admiralty, and rooms for their young son, the heir to the throne Pavel (Paul) Petrovich, in the southern wing that overlooked Palace Square.