Mikhail Zemtsov

Born: 1686 or 1688, Moscow
Died: 1743, St Petersburg

Mikhail Zemtsov is an important name in the history of Russian culture. A true “fledgling” of the nest of Peter the Great, he was greatly indebted to the tsar for his professional career and fame.

Mikhail Zemtsov was born in a relatively poor and undistinguished family in Moscow in 1686 or 1688. He is first mentioned in 1709, among a group of students of the Italian language. After completing this course, he was employed as a translator by Domenico Trezzini (principal constructor of St Petersburg and head of the Chancellery of Urban Affairs).

Zemtsov lived at Trezzini’s house and learnt much from the Swiss architect, who was working on the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral. He later studied under Nicola Michetti, who highly rated his talent. In 1723, Peter sent Zemtsov to Stockholm to study Swedish architecture and to learn how “the plaster holds up in chambers” (a perennial problem in the damp climate of St Petersburg).

After he returned to Russia, Zemtsov replaced Michetti, who wanted to retire to Italy. He completed the Summer Garden and worked at Peterhof Park, where he built the Grand Cascade. In 1723 and 1724, Zemtsov was more or less the head of construction at Peterhof. He founded a school of architecture and his talent and fame flourished. He was praised by the tsar and all his colleagues – Domenico Trezzini, Gaetano Chiaveri, Stefan van Zwieten and Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli.

Zemtsov was the first Russian to be acknowledged a “full architect.” This was a very important development for the country – its first ever certified and recognised architect. Zemtsov was the principal architect of Empress Anna Ioannovna and continued working right up until his death in St Petersburg in 1743.

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