Stroganov Palace

A rare example of the Baroque style in the residential architecture of St Petersburg, the Stroganov Palace was built by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1752–54) on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the River Moika. The palace occupied the site of a two-storey house acquired by Baron Sergei Stroganov from a tailor called Johann Heinrich Neumann, which was redesigned by Mikhail Zemtsov in 1738. After living there for a over a decade, Baron Sergei Stroganov asked Rastrelli to build him a new mansion in 1752.

The facade facing Nevsky Prospekt is particularly elegant. The large arched entrance in the centre leads into the inner courtyard. Sturdy oak gates are decorated with carvings in the form of branches and two lion’s heads. A third lion’s head, modelled from clay, sits at the very top of the arch. Above the arch is a composition composed of a semi-circular and an oval window, in a deep vertical recess flanked by enormous paired columns. The two windows are framed by caryatids and cupids on ripped window casings in the centre. The two cornucopias encircling the oval window overflow with exotic fruits.

The entrance to the palace is guarded by two ornamental posts with animal masks – a rare example of mid-eighteenth century cast-iron artwork. In 1760, a whole row of masks with joining chains ran along the entire facade, separating the palace from the canal in front of the building, which was later filled in.

The palace’s first owner, Baron Sergei Stroganov (1707–1756), was the son of Grigory Stroganov – a wealthy industrialist, mine owner, patron of icon-painting, music, crafts and the only man in Russia to hold the title of “distinguished person.” His sons, grandsons and great-grandsons all inherited his talent, brains and love of the arts. Seven generations of Stroganovs lived in the palace between the mid-eighteenth century and 1918, each occupant making his own changes to the architecture and interior decor.

As a result of the numerous reconstructions, all that remains of the original Baroque building is the main wings running along Nevsky Prospekt and the River Moika and one state interior – the Large (Ball) Room. The Large (Ball) Room is decorated with a plafond entitled The Adventure of a Hero, painted by Venetian artist Giuseppe Valeriani. Mythological heroes soar through the azure sky, enclosed in a picture frame representing an open gallery on columns. The groups of characters include Telemachus and Mentor, Jupiter and Juno, Minerva pursuing the forces of evil and allegories of music, poetry, history and the arts.

The palace was substantially altered by the most famous member of the family – Count Alexander Stroganov. A privy councillor and gentleman of the emperor’s bedchamber, he was also president of the Imperial Academy of Arts, director of the Imperial Public Library and a prominent patron and collector of art. Alexander Stroganov redesigned many of the palace interiors in the Neoclassical style. He created such new rooms and studies as the State Dining Room (Corner Hall), Mineral Study, Picture Gallery, Dining Room, Small Library and the State Bedroom.

Many talented architects – Fyodor Demertsov, Andrei Voronikhin, Pyotr Sadovnikov and Ivan Kolodin – contributed to the interiors, while Carlo Rossi, Harold Bosse and Maximilian von Messmacher designed the decor. Fyodor Demertsov added two palace wings and redesigned several interiors (1787–91), creating the Picture Gallery for the famous family painting collection (awarded to the Hermitage after the revolution). Andrei Voronikhin was a serf of the Stroganov family until 1785 and he worked on the interior decor in the 1790s. The rooms were filled with period furniture, lamps, paintings, drawings, sculptures and display cabinets showcasing the family collections of old coins, rare fossils and minerals. The well-stocked library boasted works by ancient and modern writers from both Russia and abroad and books on art, history, archaeology, mining and many other branches of knowledge.

Count Alexander Stroganov entertained many famous composers, writers, artists and poets at the Stroganov Palace. Gavrila Derzhavin and Dmytro Bortniansky dedicated their poetry and music to him. Ivan Krylov read his fables and Denis Fonvizin premiered his comedy The Brigadier-General at the Stroganov Palace. Orest Kiprensky copied the old master paintings hanging in the Picture Gallery. The stone mason Samson Sukhanov carved the bust of Jupiter the Thunderer (still standing in the palace) from black graphite for the Egyptian Physics Laboratory. Ivan Prokofiev presented Alexander Stroganov with his sculptures, including the low reliefs on the walls of the interiors and two terracotta compositions – Volkhov and Neva and Neptune Abducting Amphitrite – now in the collection of the Russian Museum. For his services in helping to build the Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt, the workmen presented the count with an enormous cup of red granite, engraved with a dedicatory inscription. Alexander Stroganov spent hours in the Picture Gallery, compiling a detailed catalogue of his collection of paintings and engravings.

After Count Alexander Stroganov’s death in 1811, the palace was inherited by his son Pavel (1772–1817). Influenced in his youth by the French Revolution, Pavel was a prominent member of Tsar Alexander I’s Private Committee, which planned a number of important political reforms. After serving as a senator and diplomat, Pavel Stroganov joined the army. He displayed many acts of heroism during the Napoleonic Wars, reaching the rank of general-lieutenant at the time of his death in 1817. Pavel created such new interiors as the Small Dining Room, with ten elegant low reliefs on ancient military subjects sculpted by Semyon Teglev in 1810, and the Small Library. Alluding to the count’s military career, the low-relief ancient warriors in the semi-circular lunette above the entrance to the Small Library are believed to have been carved by Alexei Voronikhin, nephew of the architect Andrei Voronikhin.

Pavel Stroganov’s widow, Princess Sofia Golitsyna (1775–1845), lived in the Stroganov Palace until 1845. When she died, the building was inherited by her eldest daughter Natalia (their only son, Alexander, was killed in battle in 1814). In compliance with the law on primogeniture, Natalia Stroganova (1796–1872) married a distant relative from another branch of the family, Baron Sergei Stroganov. Her husband inherited the title of count and all the Stroganov estates, mines and factories.

Baron Sergei Stroganov spent the greater part of his life in Moscow, contributing to the cultural and scholarly life of the former capital. Besides heading Moscow University and the Moscow Archaeological Society, he also founded a school of technical drawing, known today as the Stroganov School of Art and Industry. The decor in the count’s study in the Stroganov Palace was extremely modest, compared to the bright picture panels on the walls of the nearby Arabesque Drawing Room – copies of Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican – and the intricate space of the Mineral Room, where he kept his rare collection of old coins.

The last member of the family to live at the palace was Count Alexander Stroganov (1852–1923). Alexander Stroganov created the garden in the palace courtyard, decorated with sculptures from his estate on the Black River. A fountain surrounded by trees was installed in 1908. White marble statues of Neptune and Flora shone amid the greenery. A stone plate with an embossed head of Pan peeped through the shrubbery, near an ancient sarcophagus dating from the third century AD and popularly known as Homer’s tomb (now in the Hermitage collection).

The Stroganov Palace was nationalised in 1918 and renamed the National Stroganov House-Museum. The building was presented to the State Hermitage in 1925 and, later, to the Institute of Plant Growing. A special commission was formed to redistribute the collection of art in December 1929. Many priceless works were scattered across different museums and institutions; others were sold at international auctions. In 1937, the Stroganov Palace housed the People’s Commissariat of Shipbuilding, which occupied the building, under a variety of names, for the next half-century.

In December 1988, the Stroganov Palace was awarded to the Russian Museum, signalling the start of a major restoration programme, still going on to this day. The original decor is gradually being restored in the state apartments, as it was created by Andrei Voronikhin at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The upper landing of the Main Staircase leads to the state enfilade. The “linchpin” of this line of halls is the State Dining Room, alternatively known as the Corner Room. The State Dining Room occupies an advantageous position on the first floor, looking out onto both the River Moika and Nevsky Prospekt. In the 1790s, Fyodor Demertsov and Andrei Voronikhin replaced the original decor designed by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The architects came up with the unusual idea of installing enormous mirrors opposite the windows, creating the illusion of a double space. The room was decorated with a painted ceiling, half-chandeliers and marble statues in recesses in the wooden walls. Affixed to the mirrors, the half-chandeliers looked like real, circular works. This is how the State Dining Room appears in a small watercolour painted by Andrei Voronikhin for Countess Sofia Stroganova in 1811. In the early 1990s, however, the interior was unrecognisable. The mirrors had vanished, the walls were dull in colour, the ceiling had lost its lustre and the recesses were empty. The State Dining Room has now been restored to its former glory, enchanting visitors with its stunning effects.

The most important interior in the enfilade of rooms running along the River Moika is the Large (Ball) Room. The surviving decor dating from Rastrelli’s time – plafond, stucco moulding, patterned balcony railings with gilt volutes and parquet floor composed of a dozen strains of exotic wood, including box, sandal, lemon and plane – has been brilliantly restored. The additional interior elements introduced by Andrei Voronikhin – chandeliers and mantelpieces – have also been recreated.

The final interior in the enfilade is the Large Drawing Room, restored with the help of a photograph from the Stroganov family album. The decor was originally designed by one of the leading architects of the eclectic period – Harold Bosse.

The state enfilade running along Nevsky Prospekt is equally interesting. The final room is the Mineral Study, boasting a rich library of books on minerals and diverse specimens of ores and minerals. Although awarded to the Mining Institute Museum in St Petersburg and the Alexander Fersman Museum of Mineralogy in Moscow during the Soviet period, several specimens have now been restored to the Stroganov Palace.

The facades of the Stroganov Palace have also been transformed. In different periods, the outside walls were painted light-blue, green and dark-red. The current salmon-pink tones and white architectural volumes reflect the original colour scheme of the palace, identified following painstaking cleaning of the surfaces and a study of early paintings. The heraldic reliefs and Stroganov family crowns have been restored to the pediments. The gilt monogram of the former owners shines again on the restored balcony railings. A durable roof of sheet copper replaces the old, rusted iron roof.

The permanent and temporary exhibitions of art from the collection of the Russian Museum now on display in the palace interiors have been carefully planned to bring out the individual styles of each room, replacing the lost masterpieces of applied art originally belonging to the Stroganov Palace.

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