St. Petersburg, Russia
The Great Palace is the focal point of the palace and park ensemble of Peterhof.
The majestic panorama of the Great Palace with the Great Cascade, the Sea Canal and the Water Avenue is the finest achievement of the eighteenth-century Russian Baroque in the synthesis of architecture, sculpture and landscape gardening.
The construction of the Palace was begun in 1714 on a decree of Peter the Great and carried out under the supervision of the architects Johann Braunstein and Jean-Baptiste Le Blond. Ten years later its interior decoration was completed. The Great Palace of the time of Peter the Great was but a modest building matching in its width the Great Cascade. Most of the upper floor was occupied by a large hall, lighted by two tiers of windows and intended for ceremonial occasions. The hall was adjoined by the Study of Peter the Great and the Oak Staircase richly adorned with carved ornamentation.
Oak panels in the Study were executed by Russian carves from Nicholas Pineau’s designs.
In the middle of the eighteenth century the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli redesigned the Palace. He extended the central portion of the building, added the third floor, created wings facing the Upper Gardens and built galleries and side pavilions crowned by gilt cupolas. All this lent the Palace a sense of spaciousness and further emphasized its stately grandeur.
Of all the interiors he left intact only the Study of Peter Great and the Oak Staircase, creating five new state rooms and a suite of living apartaments.
To embellish the interiors, Rastrelli used carved and gilt wood, mirrors, painted ceilings and inlaid parquet floors. The subtle combination of the various decorative elements and their buoyant colour schemes created an effect of unusual magnificence and splendour.
In the 1770s the architect Yuri Velten, Rasstrelli’s pupil, designed the Throne, Chesme and Dining Rooms in the style of Early Classicism. These were characterized by an austere look of flat panelled walls decorated with moulded scenes, wreaths and garlands in keeping with the use of each of the rooms.
Of particular interest is the décor of the Chesme Room devoted to the victory of the Russian navy over the Turkish fleet off Chesme in 1770. The room was adorned with paintings by Jacob Philippe Hackaert representing episodes of the celebrated battle.
During the War of 1941 – 45 the Great Palace, this masterpiece of Russian architecture, which over the years of Soviet power had become one of the country’s major museums of history and culture, was reduced to a pile of ruins by Nazi invaders.
It seemed that the outstanding architectural monument had perished for ever.
But due to the dedicated toil of talented Soviet restorers the Palace has been resurrected.
The reconstruction of the Great Palace has been carried out according to a plan prepared by the architects Vasily Savkov and Yevgeniya Kazanskaya. In 1958 the majestic silhouette of the Palace again soared over the Lower Park, and in 1964 the Palace welcomed its first visitors.
Today, most of the interiors, such as the Portrait, Throne, Chesme and Presence Rooms, the White Banqueting Hall, the Crown, Divan and Partridge Rooms, the Study of Peter the Great, the Chinese Lobbies and the Oak Staircase, have regained their beauty, while in some other interiors restoration work is still under way. The precious collections of painting and other museum exhibits dispatched to the hinterland during the War have been brought back and occupied their former places. Risen from the ashes, the Great Peterhof Palace is again a very interesting museum housing a valuable and representative collection of the Russian and Western European paintings, sculptures, furniture and objects of decorative and applied arts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.