I have always been interested in other people’s homes. Interested, in a sense of how one decides to decorate their space. Do they have pictures of themselves and loved ones hanging from the wall? Are there posters of people they admire? Is there any art or sculpture on display? What furniture they chose and the function it serves? Is there a color palette? Is the space neat or disorganized? Did they make the space a home or did they do nothing to it because they see it as a just a space they inhabit? I have always believed someone’s space is the best way to know who someone is. Throughout this past semester I learned about Russia’s numerous monarchs; and the different laws, ideologies and methods of governing they brought to their country. The one thing that all of them had in common was their home- The Winter Palace. I thought the best way to understand who these monarchs were as people, was to learn about how they chose to decorate their home when they lived there.
The Winter Palace is located in St. Petersburg, Russia, and between the years of 1732 and 1917, has been called the home of the Russian monarchy. The Palace had been rebuilt four times since its creation in 1712, and the palace has seen 14 different monarchs. The palace is known for its western inspired architecture, instead of Naryshkin Baroque architecture that was popular at the time throughout Russia. The idea for the palace was thought of by the Tsar Peter I.
Peter I, or Peter the Great, as what he is known as today, was leader of the Russian Empire from 1682 to 1725. He is named Peter the Great for the substantial reforms he brought onto Russia, in an effort to try and make Russia a great and powerful nation based on Western standards. Led by Peter the Great, Russia victoriously fought a number of wars which expanded the empire greatly, in order for it to be considered a great European power. Peter also guided Russia into a cultural and intellectual revolution, making the state more modern and westernized, and rejected the traditional ways and customs of old Russia. This revolution began on a trip of Peter’s to Western Europe.
In 1697, Peter set off on a 18 month voyage to Western Europe known as the, “Grand Embassy.” The main point of Peter’s Grand Embassy was to meet with monarchs of different European nations and gain them as allies for his fight against the Ottoman Empire for control over the northern coastline of the Black Sea. One of Peter’s dreams for Russia was to establish a successful waterway, in order to strengthen Russia’s navy, increase trade with Western Europe, and to be able to partake in other maritime affairs. Unfortunately, hopes for allies were quashed due to some countries already being allies with the Ottomans, and other events occurring in the west. Peter’s Great Embassy besides this was still fruitful, as he learned more about Western culture, shipbuilding, art, and city-building. Peter returned home with his new ideas and decided to build a city that would encompass the modern customs of the west. This city is called Saint Petersburg.
Saint Petersburg was founded on May 7, 1703 and was situated along the Neva river, in order for Russia to conduct maritime affairs and trade. Peter named the new city the capital of Russia, which used to be the title of Moscow. To ensure that Saint Petersburg would reflect Western influences, he hired Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond, of France, to be chief architect of the city. The city was to reflect Petrine Baroque, a style of architecture that was seen as the opposite of Russia’s traditional Naryshkin baroque. The city was built from the labor of serfs and Swedish prisoners, and it is estimated that some thousands of serfs died during its construction. Peter ordered the nobles of court to build houses for themselves in his new city, and had them dress in European fashion, and had men cut off their beards, shedding any old Russian tradition from his new modern city.
The first Saint Petersburg residency of Peter the Great was called the Domik Petra I. The Domik Petra I was a log cabin that Peter resided in from 1703-1708, so he could manage the construction of his developing city. The structure was only three rooms- a bedroom, a living room, and a study. This cabin displayed the humility of the Tsar, who didn’t mind occupying a shack as his palace and city were being built.
The first Winter Palace was more of a large house than a palace, and finished its construction in 1712. The house was designed by Swiss Italian architect, Domenico Trezzini, who is associated with developing the architect style Petrine Baroque. The palace was considered humble, by Western standards as it was only a two story building with a slanted roof.
After a number of years, Peter became unhappy with its lack of power and elaborateness, and ordered the construction of a new palace. In 1721, the 2nd Winter Palace was constructed, this time by German architect Georg Mattarnovy. This new palace was a little larger than the first, and again was only two stories. It was in this palace that in 1725, Peter the Great died in, and his wife Catherine I became ruler of his empire.
In 1727 Catherine I died, and Peter I’s grandson, Peter II, became the new Tsar of the Russian Empire. Under his command, he had the second Winter Palace expanded but this time by the first Winter Palace’s architect, Trezzini. Trezzini continued to build it out in the Petrine baroque style, and by the end of the expansion the palace was known as the third Winter Palace. After the new palace’s completion in 1728, Peter II decided to move the capital and court back to Moscow, and Saint Petersburg was abandoned and began to lose its social position.
In 1730, Peter II died and reign was passed to Peter the Great’s niece Anna Ivanova. Empress Anna was said to be an unpopular ruler due to her harsh personality and cruel treatment to her subjects and serfs. One of the only positives of her reign was that she wanted to continue Peter the Great’s aspirations of the westernization for Russia.
Anna decided to move court and the capital back to Saint Petersburg. When she returned to the city, she chose not to live in the original Winter Palaces, because of their lack of extravagance. Instead she hired Italian architect, Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, to completely redesign and renovate an existing structure, the Apraksin Palace, also located in Saint Petersburg. The palace also used neighboring houses in its construction and was built to the grandeur of Peter I’s original vision for the city. Anna had the fourth and final palace elaborately decorated, with furniture made of gold and silver and encrusted with gemstones. The creation of the palace was an ongoing project for Rastrelli and continued on throughout Anna’s entire reign. Anna gave the throne to her baby son, Ivan Vi, but was peacefully overthrown by Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth of Russia, was known to be an intelligent, lively woman. She too wanted to continue in modernizing Russia into a powerful empire. She gave most of the governing duties to her advisors, so that she could fill her time doing court and Church events. She encouraged members of court to become better educated in Western art and culture. Elizabeth had expensive taste the later would cause problems for the citizens of Russia.
Elizabeth continued on with Anna’s fourth Winter Palace, and still had Rastrelli as chief architect and decorator. In 1753, Rastrelli came up with an entirely new plan for the palace, which is what it currently looks like today. The new plan was very expensive, and an impatient Elizabeth had serfs work on it all year round for just 1 ruble a month. The empire’s funds were shrinking due to the palace and the Seven Year’s War Russia was currently fighting. Elizabeth decided to raise taxes on multiple things in order to pay for her luxurious home. In 1959 the palace began to encompass what Elizabeth had envisioned, at the expense of 2,500,000 rubles.
Elizabeth died in 1962, and the throne was given to Peter the Great’s grandson, Peter III. Peter only held the title of Tsar for 6 short months before, he was overthrown and assassinated, and his wife, Catherine II took the throne. It is said that under Catherine II ,or Catherine the Great, Russia finally was seen as a great European power. The empire expanded, and introduced many new reforms. She wanted Russia to embrace the Enlightenment, which was an intellectual progression that spread throughout Europe in the 18th century. She was a very smart woman who educated herself in Western arts, literature, and ideologies, and set up programs for noble women to do the same. She was very interested in France, and had the members of court dress in French fashions, and changed the official language of court changed to French. She was so inspired by France, that she hired French architect, Jean-Baptiste Michel Vallin de la Mothe, to design a new wing of the Winter Palace.
Catherine the Great named the new wing, The Hermitage, and was to contain rooms that the Tsarist could withdraw herself to, and decompress from the elaborate and stressful duties of court. The Hermitage wing was supposed to be simple in design , but became another elaborate palace as construction went on. Catherine filled her new wing with an elaborate art collection from artists like Rembrandt, Raphael, and Tiepolo. Her collection grew to be too big, that she called on architect, Yury Velten, to build her a second wing, that would be large enough to fit her art, that became known as the “Old Hermitage.” After its completion, Catherine hired Italian architect, Giacomo Quarenghi, to build her an auditorium called, “The Hermitage Theater”, which was built over Peter the Great’s third Winter Palace. The theater was built with colored marbled and statues of Apollo were placed throughout the space. The Winter Palace continued to increase in luxuriousness and size, throughout Catherine’s reign, and even continued on past her death in 1796.
The exterior of the Winter Palace has remained the same since the reign of Empress Elizabeth. The structure was purposely made a “town palace” rather than a private palace, because they wanted the citizens of Russia to feel connected to their leader. The palace is known for its exterior baroque designs that are embellished with statues and grand stucco decorations, especially seen over the windows that were located on the front of the palace. The windows located on the piano noble, or second floor, were much larger than the windows above and below them, and were separated by opulent pilasters and statues. This theme carried on into all of the additions, in order to make it look concurrent. One of the only things to change over time, was the color of the exterior. During the 18th century, the palace was painted a straw-like yellow, in 1837 Nicholas I had the exterior painted red, which continued to be the Palace’s color until after WWII, when it was painted green, and the ornamentation was painted white to look like many of the baroque buildings in Saint Petersburg.
It is estimated that the Winter Palace holds around 1,500 rooms. The first floor of the palace was where the government offices. The second floor was a series of apartments that were given to the high-ranking members of court. The imperial family’s servants’ living quarters were placed throughout the palace, and were usually just as elaborate as any other room, but were decorated with silver and bronze, instead of gold to indicate the social class difference. The royal family’s living space was located throughout the piano nobles of the different wings. The “apartments” of the imperial family contained around 230 rooms, which included bedrooms, libraries, studies, parlors, and bathhouses. Unfortunately many of these rooms were destroyed in a large fire.
In 1833, French neoclassical architect, Auguste de Montferran, was hired to create a number of rooms within the palace including the Small Throne Room. Montferran had already been working in the Winter Palace since 1816, and designed a number of grand neoclassical spaces within it. Nicholas I, the Tsar of Russia at the time, was an impatient man and wanted his spaces to be done as quickly as possible. In order to do so, Montferran used a lot of wooden elements in the spaces he created, because they were easier to build with than stone. In 1837 a fire had erupted within the Winter Palace, for reasons till this day are still unknown. The fire spread quickly throughout to the palace due to the wooden rooms created by Montferran. Servants and workers within the palace dragged as many pieces of furniture out of the burning palace as they could. Tsar Nicholas had 3 different passages to the Hermitage destroyed, so that it would stop the fire and protect the art located in the wing. The reconstruction of the palace began immediately, for the Tsar ordered that it be finished within a year. New industrial elements were brought in, like iron, and metal framework. Many of the rooms were restored back to how they looked before the fire, and many new rooms were created as well.
The most elaborate and important room within the Winter Palace is the Grand Church, which is located on the piano noble of the eastern wing of the palace. The Church’s construction began in 1753, and was completed in 1763. Italian designers Francesco Martini, Giovanni Antonio Veneroni, and Carlo Zucci were called upon to create the interior of the structure. G.B. Giani was in charge of the sculpture that would adorn the church, while Ivan Ivanovich Belsky and Francesco Fontebasso created the paintings for it. The church was first decorated by Rastrelli, who had it be done in a rococo style of architecture, with gilded stuccos, pillars and dome and tall windows. The ceiling of the Church portrays the Ascension of Christ. Unfortunately the Grand Church fell victim to the fire of 1873, but was restored by Russian architect, Vasily Petrovich Stasov, who made it look like it had before, but was careful to replace the wooden elements in the space with a paper mache, in case another fire ensued.
Another important room of the Winter Palace was St. George Hall, which is the largest room for government affairs in the palace. It connects to the Hermitage wing, through a smaller space known as the Apollo Room. St. George Hall was created by the architect, Quarenghi, who had done other rooms in the palace. The space was created during the reign of Catherine the Great, and was decorated in the neoclassical style of architecture. The room was meant to reflect the power of the Tsar or Trsarest that was presiding in the throne room, so it was built to be impressively large. It contained two tiered windows, and large pink marble columns on either side of the space. The ceiling was heavily decorated with gold accents and chandeliers. The throne was placed at the far end of the court, and was adorned with the ruler’s monogram. The throne room also fell victim to the great fire, and was reconstructed by Vasily Stasov as well.
The Gold Drawing Room was created after the fire of 1837. It is know for its heavy gilded ceiling molds, and tall ceiling, and was meant to reflect the traditional Russian Byzantine style of architecture. The space was created by the Russian architect, Alexander Brullov.
Another room that was created after the fire, was the Malachite Room, which was also designed by Alexander Brullov. The room is named for the large amount of malachite used in the rooms columns. The Malachite room was created to replace the Jasper room, which was another space that fell victim to the fire. The space was used primarily by the royal family as a place to assemble before large events and ceremonies. It was also used by Romanov women, as they prepared and dressed for their wedding since the a hallway connected the room to the Grand Church.
Due to its lavish decorations and large rooms, one of the main functions of the Winter Palace was entertainment. Balls, masquerades, and parties were often held at the palace. The dining table was able to sit 1000 people. Many of the large state and public rooms were accustomed to fit as many as 10,000 people.
In 1917, there has been no Russian monarchy inhabiting the Winter Palace. Today it is currently the Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage museum is the second largest museum in the world, and holds a large display of art and Russian culture. Many of art pieces on display come from Catherine the Great’s original collections.
The Winter Palace to this day still is the symbol for many events in Russia’s past. It is a symbol of westernization and power for city that was once a swamp and became the magnificent dream Peter the Great had hoped for. It is a symbol of rebellion, due to the Bloody Sunday massacre that occurred on its front steps. It is the symbol of Russia’s great and long last monarchy that continued to leave their mark in world history.
As I wrote my paper, and learned more and more about the monarch’s contribution to their Winter Palace, I realized that the questions I ask myself upon entering a home for the first time, are the same questions the monarchs asked themselves during the construction of their home. Each of them wanted Russia to have this magnificent and powerful reputation, and all of them thought that it started in their own home and how they decided to decorate it to impress others. I learned more about who each ruler was as a person based upon how they chose to construct their palace and the means they used to do so. Peter the Great had a humble side to him, and envisioned his palace as a large house. Anna was a cruel woman and opulent and wanted her palace to reflect her elaborate riches. Elizabeth was a selfish woman who paid little to her workers, but enforced harsh taxes so she could have her dream palace. And Catherine the Great was an intellectual woman who wanted her palace to be filled with art instead of gems. In the end my hypothesis was proven true, I really did learn who these people were by the way they decorated their home.