Catherine Wing of Monplaisir Palace. Guide to the exhibition of Peterhof's treasures in Tsaritsyno

July 1

Over 750 exhibits dating back to the era of the Emperor Alexander I, with furniture, porcelain, paintings among them, have been transferred from the Baltic coast to the Tsaritsyno Grand Palace. They will be available for viewing until 2021, while the building of the Catherine Wing is being restored. and Mosgortur Agency will tell you why Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve has been chosen to host the exhibition and which exhibits are worth viewing the most. 

About Catherine Wing of Monplaisir Palace

Catherine Wing of Monplaisir Palace and Tsaritsyno used to be the most important sites for Catherine the Great. The first site, called those times Kamenny (Stone) Wing, was the  symbol of her ascension to the throne, and the second one is associated with the end of her life. Construction of the residence near Moscow was the last major architectural design of Catherine the Great, but she never saw it.

Fates of several Russian monarchs are associated with Kamenny Wing, rather small facility by Petergof standards. This Baroque style one-storey building erected to host social functions, dinners and balls was ordered in the middle of the 18th century by Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna. Soon, a wooden outbuilding was occupied by unloved wife of her nephew, future Pyotr III, nee Sophie Friederike Auguste Anhalt-Zerbst, who took an Orthodox name Yekaterina Alekseyevna. It was the place she fled to St. Petersburg from on 28 June 1762, to take charge of a plot resulting in her husband's overthrow six months after his accession to the throne. A fugitive that successfully came out on top became Catherine the Great, and from now on Kamenny Wing was called Catherine Wing.

During the reign of the new Empress, the outmoded Baroque style in the future Museum's interior was replaced by classicism. Interior renovation was completed by Alexander I, under whose reign the Empire style flourished in Russia. It is Russian or Alexander Empire style the exhibition is dedicated to.

About classicism and Empire style

Classicism, a style inspired by the antique art, had replaced the Baroque in enlightened Europe of the 17th century and dominated until the 19th century. Large-scale excavations of ancient cities were underway that time, during which many previously unknown household details were discovered. Architectural order and symmetry were trendy again, with mythological paintings, antiquized ornaments established in decorative and applied art.

As a late form of classicism, Empire style was most clearly manifested in two countries that had known the taste of great military victories — Napoleonic France and Russia of Alexander I. This style is imbued with military heroic spirit and triumph. Even the appeal to the ancient Egyptian motives as its peculiar feature was influenced by Bonaparte's campaign, due to which  Europe acquired many antiquities of pharaohs' times.

Tsaritsyno exhibition recreates decoration of five interiors of the Peterhof Palace conveying the atmosphere of the court style of the first half of the 19th century: Great Hall and a bedchamber, a study, small and green rooms. Their furniture, art metal and small statuary, porcelain and glass, painting and graphic works perfectly reflect the basic trends of the Russian interiors' development of Alexander I’s era.

About furniture

Furniture was the most important thing to create an Empire style interior. Adopting ancient samples was typical of this style. Slightly curved, crescent-shaped legs, just as in the ancient Greek klismos chairs, couches looking like antique beds were growing popular. And the shape of chairs with their solid semi-circular trough-like back often found in the Empire style was a replica of ancient Roman archetypes.

Decorative bronze or brass plates shaped like stars, palmettes, wreaths, Zodiac signs, weapons and trophies were also applied. Legs, handles and other furniture pieces used to be stylised to look like ancient or Egyptian gods, and decorated with zoomorphic elements inspired by ancient myths.

Empire style couches and tables, not as richly decorated and heavy as Baroque and Rococo furniture, were now easily moved around the rooms. Strict furnishing rules gradually vanished with some rooms already furnished according to owner's taste. While two capitals enjoyed the achievements of European furniture art, the Russian province fantasised over the albums with furniture samples and patterns. Thanks to this, plywood furniture in the Russian Jacob style, named after the French furniture producer Georges Jacob, became very popular.

Yet the most remarkable furniture sets of that era had been created by high-profile architects who along with construction were engaged in palace interior decoration. The exhibition displays furniture made after designs of architects Carlo Rossi, Andrei Voronikhin and Vasily Stasov. We should also note the renowned St. Petersburg's furniture master Heinrich Gambs mentioned in Pushkin's and Ilf and Petrov’s works. Some of his works are also displayed at the exhibition.

About porcelain

The Grand Hall is the only exhibition space with the furniture being not the only centrepiece. During the reign of Alexander I, a new gastronomic daily regimen was introduced into upper class' everyday life: in contrast to the Catherine's era, a dinner party became more important than lunch, and the number of meal courses decreased from eight to four. The first course included soups with hot and cold appetisers, the second course offered meat or fish concluded with salads and vegetable dishes. Dessert was served on exquisite porcelain tableware and glassware. The exhibition displays perhaps the best porcelain dinnerware set in the Alexander Empire style, produced at the Imperial porcelain factory in the first third of the 19th century.

Initially, this masterpiece was known as 'Dessert service decorated with the images of Russian folk garments', but over time the cumbersome name was reduced to 'Guryevsky' after the name of its direct customer, Head of His Imperial Majesty's Office count Guryev.

This tableware set to serve 50 people was made in a unique copy. In a sense, it was a paraphrase of the French 'Olympic Dinner Service' presented to Alexander I by Napoleon to commemorate the Treaties of Tilsit. While the Sèvres Manufactory's masters depicted Olympic gods on their tableware, the Guryevsky services told about Russian people's life.

Plates, cups and saucers have genre pictures with working people of St. Petersburg reflecting various professions, and also ethnographically verified images of nationalities living in Russia. Dish stands, small statues of young men and women in folk costumes, made by the famous sculptor Stepan Pimenov are another tableware's highlight.

Also, the Grand Hall's table features a crystal 'Faceted' service ordered in 1800 by Paul I at the Waterford glass factory (Ireland), but it got to Russia only after the Emperor's assassination. In addition, the exhibition presents items from six ceremonial tableware sets made in the late 18th — early 19th century — 'Study', 'Babigonsky', 'Ropshinsky', 'Hunter's' services, and individual items from the dowry of the Alexander I's sisters, Grand duchesses Alexandra Pavlovna and Yelena Pavlovna. 

About painting

In addition to porcelain and glass, the Grand Hall features two majestic full-height images from the historical Peterhof collection. These portraits, placed opposite each other, depict Royal grandmother and grandson — Catherine the Great and Alexander I.

'Portrait of Empress Catherine the Great with Allegorical Figures of Fortress and Truth' is a copy of an unknown artist, which at the time of painting was close to the original of 1793 made by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder. The Austrian painter depicted Catherine in a golden robe with an ermine trim over a cornflower dress with a lace collar. She has a small crown and a tiara on. Her outfit is decorated with three ribbons: blue St. Andrew ribbon, black-and-orange St. George ribbon and a red-and-black St. Vladimir ribbon.

The portrait has a great variety of details to decipher: there are two ancient figures in the background, and Peter the Great's profile next to the griffin Catherine points her hand at, a bronze lion at the Royal throne's foot, and architectural elements.

'Portrait of Emperor Alexander I' by the English artist George Dawe, painted in 1823, manifests modifications that have occurred to a traditional ceremonial portrait since Catherine's time. There are no more details to take a closer look at, except the Emperor's figure, dressed in a dark green uniform of Chevalier Guards. There are no heavy draperies and allegories, and the only detail that emphasizes the monarch's contribution to the history is awards on his chest. The portrait depicts the order of St. Andrew's star, connected with the English Order of the Garter and the Swedish Order of the Sword, and a block of seven medals and crosses of Russia, Austria, Prussia and Sweden the Russian Tsar was awarded with after winning the war of 1812 and his successful foreign campaign of 1813-1814.

In total, 18 paintings have been brought from Peterhof.  In addition to several imperial portraits, the exhibition showcases a couple of paintings based on mythological subjects and several landscapes.  

About Fyodor Tolstoy's medallions

Hierarchy of interiors of the Empire era attaches a special role to a study, a room where every self-respecting aristocrat was to engage in his personal growth. Writing utensils and a table, a bookcase, busts of great people were indispensable attributes of a study. The exhibition features bronze busts of Napoleon and Alexander I, a paperweight made of cannon balls picked up on the Borodino field, reminiscent of the 'storm of 1812', statues of a rebel and a cossack.

There are two copper medallions above the table: on the left you may see 'The Battle at the Katzbach Heights' with 'Napoleon's Escape over the Neman River' on the right. They belonged to the count Fyodor Tolstoy, who preferred art to the military career. Tolstoy created a series of two dozen medallions dedicated to the most significant events of the Patriotic War and the foreign campaigns of the Russian Army. As an allegory of the Russian Army, he used the image of a medieval warrior hero. The count had worked on the bas-reliefs for more than 20 years, and further they brought him international appreciation. These medal art masterpieces were repeatedly replicated with the use of various materials and techniques. The exhibition also features eight plaster Tolstoy medallions and several medal images.


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