High Baroque

Period: 1740s–early 1760s
List of representatives:
Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli
Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, Jordan Staircase, Winter Palace, St Petersburg, 1754–62 (recreated by Vasily Stasov after fire of 1837)

Although the style had first appeared as Muscovite or Naryshkin Baroque back in the late seventeenth century, the Baroque only really flourished in Russia between the 1740s and early 1760s. The central figure of this period of High Baroque was an Italian architect called Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli.

Rastrelli was born in Florence in 1700 and accompanied his father to Russia in 1716 at the invitation of Peter the Great. Between 1725 and 1730, he studied architecture in Italy, where he was influenced by the Baroque style. He returned to Russia in 1730, remaining there right up until his death in 1771.

Rastrelli began his career in the 1730s under Empress Anna Ioannovna – the first in a line of Russian empresses who transformed the imperial court into a centre of sumptuous grandeur. Between 1732 and 1735, he built the third Winter Palace, which surpassed all previous palaces built in St Petersburg.

Rastrelli’s talent truly flourished in the 1740s and 1750s, when he was the court architect of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. During this period, he designed the Grand Palace at Peterhof (1747–55), the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (1752–56) and the fourth Winter Palace in St Petersburg (1754–62).

The Italian architect rejected the functionality and minimalism of Petrine Baroque and gave full reign to his fantasy in Russia. He enjoyed unlimited creative freedom thanks to the goodwill and personal ambitions of Elizabeth Petrovna, who placed the vast wealth of the Russian state at his disposal.

The Baroque was the perfect style for the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna, reflecting the empress’s flamboyant lifestyle and notions of beauty. Rastrelli transferred and incorporated these notions into all his creations, taking the concept of the Baroque to new heights unseen in any other country in Europe.

Rastrelli masterly combined European style and elegance with Russian national traditions. The Cathedral of the Resurrection at the Smolny Convent in St Petersburg, for example, echoes the composition of the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. The belfry pays tribute to the Belltower of Ivan the Great.

Although Elizabeth Petrovna could be a capricious customer, Rastrelli had a subtle knowledge of the empress’s tastes, whims and desires and was grateful for the scope that the Russian Empire gave to his talent. Nowhere else in the world were works of Baroque created on such a vast scale as in Russia.

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