Russia History Romanov Architecture Differences between Neoclassical Revival and Neoclassicism

Differences between Neoclassical Revival and Neoclassicism

Neoclassical Revival architecture was popular among the builders of Russian tenements, appealing to a broad range of wealthy investors, renters and buyers. This style allowed the occupants to feel like the previous aristocratic owners of the country and urban estates built in a Neoclassical style a century earlier.

But there were major differences between the Neoclassical Revival of the 1910s and the pure Neoclassicism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Neoclassical Revival tenements were not so much a continuation of the traditional classical style and more a retrospective form of Art Nouveau.

Mansions were now built right on the frontage line of the street, while the main house in a Neoclassical urban estates was placed deep inside the courtyard. The reason was because the horse-driven carriages which drove into courtyards back in the early nineteenth century required large spaces for turning around.

But automobiles had already appeared on the roads of Moscow when the Gribov Mansion was being constructed a hundred years later. This new form of transport was more manoeuvrable and allowed the large open courtyards to be replaced by gardens with flowerbeds.

The interiors of the new mansions also differed from their Neoclassical precedents. There was less emphasis on symmetry and the architects rejected the obligatory principle of formally aligning rooms in enfilades.

In the Neoclassical period, an avant-corps would have been matched by a symmetrically placed avant-corps on the opposite side. The asymmetric layout was clearly inspired by the other famous mansions created at that time for the wealthy bourgeoisie by such masters as Fyodor (Franz Albert) Schechtel, Lev Kekushev and Illarion Ivanov-Schits.
The moulded decor consists of bas-reliefs in the ancient spirit and is exaggeratedly large. This serves to both underline the small scale of the mansion and to draw attention to these Neoclassical elements. The same applies to the two lions guarding the entrance to the house and even the ornamentation on the iron railings.
The interior decor is particularly well preserved and includes oval medallions with female figures, garlands and coffers in the cupola. While these are all features of Neoclassicism, the asymmetry of the general composition and the haphazard combination of various rooms are much closer to Art Nouveau. The supple lines of the window casing, which recall stylised tree branches, also correspond to the new stylistics. Even the large semi-circular window is interpreted in the spirit of Art Nouveau (Neoclassical masters would have employed more austere and fan-shaped casing). The same applies to the modern forms of the columns inside the house and the winding details of the wooden staircase bannister, which transform the classical-order system in the style of Art Nouveau.

Firstly, the ancient order system was not copied literally. On the contrary, it grew less tectonic and less regular during the Art Nouveau period. Architects freely interpreted not only the columns, pilasters, architrave beams, friezes and cornices, but even the stucco moulding. Architects approached the order system analytically, detached from ancient analogues. Pilasters appeared on the upper floors of six-storey houses or on reinforced-concrete bay windows. Such decorative elements as wreaths and garlands, which had previously been confined to friezes on single-storey buildings, were now encountered on the attics of six-storey buildings (meaning at a height of over twenty metres). Intertwined or extending along the vertical or horizontal, such wreaths and garlands were transformed as much as the columns and pilasters. All this dynamism contrasted with the use of such decor by the Ancient Greeks and Romans to, on the contrary, underscore the stability and staticness of their buildings.

Secondly, the configuration of the different components of the buildings was now much freer and more inventive. Entire apartments or individual rooms were gathered together in separate blocks and positioned with a slight shift in relation to one another. The axis of symmetry was disrupted and the dynamism of all the components grew clearly discernable -- particularly on the level of the plans and partially on the facades, which still retained their symmetric structure. Staircases were no longer placed strictly in line with the axes or in the corners, but in any convenient spot. This tendency was a result of both the development of new construction systems (such as the use of reinforced concrete, which allowed high houses to be built) and the desire of customers to utilise the plot of land as efficiently as possible. So Neoclassical Revival architects working in the Art Nouveau period filled almost the entire territory under construction with one or several multi-storey blocks, rounding any protruding corners to create a convenient passageway for cars or to improve the lighting in the premises located in any inverted sections of the building.

The often haphazard layout of these tenements was a direct result of the attempt to squeeze as many residential premises as possible onto each floor. The street facades and arched entranceways concealed “well-courtyards” which had, rather than the austere geometric forms of the Neoclassical period, complex configurations far removed from the possibilities provided by the rectangular elements of the post-and-beam constructions.

In general, Russian -- and, in particular, Moscow -- Neoclassical Revival architecture did not contain any exact “quotations”. Rather, it was a free interpretation of the classical heritage, combined with the use of relatively innovative structural elements. The architectural details were not the overriding factor. The spatial designs of the apartments were far more important than what was happening on the facades (beyond which many historians are unable to see).

It is widely believed that Neoclassical Revival architecture was a purely Russian phenomenon and that Art Nouveau (known as “Style Moderne” in Russia) represented the Western influence. In fact, it was the exact opposite, as seen by the fact that foreign customers living in Russia mainly preferred the Neoclassical Revival style. Many of them lived in the areas of Moscow where Velikovsky designed tenements -- the districts near Myasnitskaya, Maroseika and Pokrovka Streets and the Basmanny Lanes. Such property investors wanted to both avoid risk and correspond to fashion -- and this Neoclassical version of Art Nouveau offered the best option, particularly as it seemed so close to the common European heritage.

Like the masters of Art Nouveau, Neoclassical Revival artists did not slavishly copy old specimens. They operated freely with order architecture, deliberately seeking sharp and expressive plastic forms. Employing traditional classicist schemes for the parquet floors in the Prince Abamelek-Lazarev Mansion in St Petersburg, Ivan Fomin introduced an element of the grotesque by greatly increasing the scale of the pattern. Working on the same project, Yevgraf Vorotilov did the exact opposite, closely correlating the parquet compositions to the rest of the interior decor and the general architectural space of the rooms.

Several parquet floors by Neoclassical Revival masters reflected their interest in ancient art. Nikolai Lanceray created a unique floor at the Novinskaya and Zasetskaya Mansion on the Sandy Embankment in St Petersburg, placing a medallion with the figure of a dancer in an ancient tunic in the middle of the Corridor Rotunda on the first floor. This motif recalled Léon Bakst’s costume designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

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