Russia Peterhof Oranienbaum Chinese Palace

Chinese Palace

The Chinese Palace at Oranienbaum was designed by Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi in the Rococo style and built between 1762 and 1768 as a summer residence of Catherine the Great. The empress did not live at the palace, which she preferred to show to guests as an expensive toy.

Originally known as the Dutch House, this outwardly modest building saved all its surprises for the inside, from the stunning plafonds on the ceilings right down to the matching motifs on the parquet floors. Four rooms were designed in the Chinoiserie style, which is what gave the palace its name.

Between 1764 and 1768, Antonio Rinaldi designed floors from artificial marble and smalt (Glass Beads Study) in sixteen rooms of the Chinese Palace. The girders beneath them quickly rotted, causing them to sink under their own weight. In 1770, it was decided to create the parquet floors now surviving in fifteen of the palace rooms.

The wooden floors of the Chinese Palace were made between 1771 and 1782 by foreign joiners – Jacob Lang, Johann Petersen, Johann Schultz and Witte – assisted by Russian marquetry masters. The parquetry was largely based on the previous patterns of the artificial marble floors.

The Chinese Palace perfectly captures the tastes of Catherine the Great. This was the first and only residence built, from start to finish, for the empress herself. In all the other imperial palaces at St Petersburg, Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo and elsewhere, she entered apartments that had already been created before her arrival in Russia. Although these palaces were reconstructed, that was not enough to make them her own.

The Chinese Palace was surrounded by a kitchen and premises for the members of the court. A pond was dug in front of the palace, next to an ivy-entwined pergola. Antonio Rinaldi surrounded the palace with an extremely original park, which was neither completely symmetrical (French), nor completely landscape (English). Rinaldi created – or, rather, combined – two parks, showing that Baroque and Neoclassicism could co-exist in landscape gardening.

Despite the regular layout of the park, Antonio Rinaldi does not repeat Versailles. The allées do not create the same perspectives as in Peterhof. The main building – the Chinese Palace – is hidden away in an intimate corner. The high windowed doors make the palace look more like a park pavilion – with the riot of a Rococo fantasy behind the glass.

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