A chest of drawers from Versailles and a "special" arbor. Learn the secrets of the Kuskovo Estate

July 18

A museum's chief curator knows everything about each item under their care, including its origin, its value and why it is interesting. Ksenia Nemova, curator of the Kuskovo Museum Estate's collection, has picked seven museum gems to show what curious stories they can offer.

Kseniya Nemova, curator of the Kuskovo Estate art collection.

Plafond Glory of the Sheremetev Dynasty

Completed in 1761-1762 by French artist Louis Jean-Francois Lagrenet the 110-square-metre mural occupies almost the entirety of the ceiling in the palace's dance hall, and is Kuskovo's largest painting. It was popular to decorate large rooms like this in 18th century Russia. While seemingly expanding indoor space, plafonds were also a way to glorify those who lived there.

The upper part of the dance hall’s plafond depicts Cybele, the mother of the gods in Ancient Greek mythology, who is seen riding on clouds in a chariot pulled by lions. Sitting on the clouds surrounded by putti, or cupids, are arts patron Apollo, and history’s muse Clio with an open book. The central lower part shows an obelisk as a symbol of permanence that, along with the goddess of wisdom Athena, supports the coat-of-arms of the Sheremetev dynasty. The winged goddess of glory Nika is ready to bestow the crown of a count on the coat-of-arms, the goddess of renown Pheme with two trumpets is next to Themis, the goddess of justice, who is seen trumping the gods of envy and discord.

Under the allegory that was to be deciphered by guests, the Sheremetev dynasty would remain in history as patrons of the arts, as would their wisdom, a virtue that would overcome all vice, while people would never cease to talk about them.

Special gazebo

Kustkovo's historical buildings include a palace, a formal French garden and park pavilions. Apart from the buildings that have survived to this day, the 18th century estate grounds featured some architectural 'eccentricities' that we only know from paintings, engravings and design drawings. One such engraving entitled 'Draft of a Special Round Gazebo on the Canal at the End of Kuskovo Garden' was created by French artist Pierre François Laurent between 1771 and 1774. It shows a now lost belvedere (from the Italian bella videre or beautiful view).

A light decorated pavilion was meant as a place to enjoy Kuskovo's vistas. Its facades were divided by double pilasters, with the arched pediment above the entrance featuring a cartouche with the monogram of count Pyotr Borisovich Sheremetev, PS. With two rows of window, the space inside was always full of light, while the dome rested on a complex octagonal tholobate with round windows. Another feature was the balustrade with vases and sculptures installed on the edge of the cornice.

Field Marshal Sheremetev's Portrait

Completed by Pyotr Krasovsky in 1748, 'Field Marshal Count Boris Petrovich Sheremetev's Portrait' is a most interesting work in the Kuskovo collection. Krasovsky, who appears in 18th century documents as the 'painter of plafonds and dead-ends,’ or in other words, as an artist who does ceiling painting and draws graphic illusions to mask dead-end alleys in the formal garden, was an unusual artist. His portrait of the count was a little bit off as Krasovsky clearly struggled with correct anatomical proportions, especially at a complicated angle. As was customary in his time, the artist just copied the composition from an engraving at his disposal and simply drew Sheremetev's head. It is hard to say who was the original figure, but the engraving was a copy of one of the paintings by the French master of ceremonial portraiture Hyacinthe Rigaud.

The portrait is stored at Stockholm’s National Museum which shows Charles XII of Sweden. The king has the same pose, the same background, the same gesture, and the same armour with a mascaron in the shape of a lion. The son of the field marshal, Pyotr Sheremetev, clearly did not know of the painting's existence or he probably would not have allowed his father depicted wearing the same armour as his chief adversary in the Great Northern War.

Bust of Charles XII

The plaster bust of Charles XII of Sweden was made in 1747 by the French sculptor and decorator Jacques-Philippe Bouchardon, who worked in Sweden. Its first mention in the Kuskovo inventory dates back to 1774 when it was said to sit on a red cloth-covered table in the palace armoury.

Count Pyotr Sheremetev's interest in Charles XII was about preserving the memory of the events that took place during the Great Northern War and the battle that his father waged against his regal foe. There was also the trophy saddle of the king's horse, and his watercolour and oil portraits.

Buchardon's sculpture is a true show of the warrior king's strength of spirit. The raised head acts as a counterpoint to the body and the gaze continuing the motion add to the whole movement filling the likeness with the energy inherent in the character of the young king. Those qualities that are only hinted at through associations and innuendos in the figure are fully represented in the king's face. The sculpture impressed the 17th century Swiss writer, theologian and poet Johann Lavater so much that he even mentioned it in his Essay on Physiognomy:

'It is so much unlike him to show a hint of timidity... His lower face is a true display of royal spirit.  To make his work perfect, however, the master deemed it necessary to soften this sharp and unbending nature; but it still shows, especially in the eyebrows... he is open, courageous, fast and decisive in action, and doesn't waste time on words.

Table to Store Sheets and Engravings

A masterpiece of the museum collection is the table designed to store sheet music and engravings. It was completed by Nikifor Vasiliev in the 1770s-1780s and is the only work of his to bear his signature. The table-top shows a panorama of the estate copied from an engraving by Pierre Laurent. Kuskovo's original two-storey palace was replaced by the one still standing.

Vasiliev used the marquetry mosaic technique, putting together different wood types to make an image of not only the Palace, but also the park pavilions and buildings of the main courtyard, with the exception of the bell tower, which was built later in 1792.

French Queen's Chest of Drawers

Another rare item from the museum's furniture collection is the chest of drawers from the Petit Trianon, a small palace at the French Royal residence in Versailles. Completed by master Ferdinand Schwerdfeger under orders from Queen Marie Antoinette in 1788 its handles are in the shape of dog heads with braided rings in accordance with the fashion of the day and the personal taste of the queen.

In 1793, the Trianon furniture was sold in Paris and then moved to Hamburg.  It is not known how the chest of drawers ended up in the Moscow Museum of Porcelain, and then it came to Kuskovo together with all the collections in 1932.

Cascade at Saint-Cloud

A View of the Cascade at Saint-Cloud is one of the six engravings showing views of French royal residences that were made by the 18th century Augsburg master Martin Engelbrecht in 1730-1750. An example of finesse, the engraving is also a masterfully executed fake.

From the 1730s the French landscape graphic artist of the first half of the 18th century, Jacques Rigaud, worked on a series of 130 engravings 'Royal Palaces, Castles and Houses of Paris and its Environs.'  These works were very popular among more educated Europeans. Copying engravings from the series was probably considered a profitable business at Engelbrecht's workshop, and there is was no ethical question of keeping the name of the original author.

Rigaud, who lost income from the unofficial activities of his fellow artists, was left to fume and warn his customers on the pages of the popular magazine Mercure de France:

Monsieur Rigaud just added two new views of the Castle of Saint-Maur, belonging to his Highness Monseigneur the Prince of Condi, to the Album of the Views and Perspectives of the Royal Residences. All of these images, numbering over 120, are a perfect for decoration as well as for careful and detailed study. Print sellers will try and pass fake copies of these engravings as originals. Contact Monsieur Rigaud directly to avoid being cheated. He currently resides on Saint-Jacques Street opposite College du Plessis.
Source: mos.ru

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