Antonio Rinaldi

Born: 1709, Italy
Died: 1794, Rome

Antonio Rinaldi was born in Italy in 1710 and studied under Luigi Vanvitelli in Naples. He was first invited to Russia by Kirill Razumovsky, the last hetman of the Ukraine, to build at his capital in Baturyn. In 1754, he was appointed principal architect to the “young court” of the future Peter III and Catherine II, explaining his presence at Oranienbaum. After coming to power, Catherine made the Italian her principal architect, awarding him a house next door to the Winter Palace.

Rinaldi spent three decades in Russia. He first worked at Oranienbaum, before moving to St Petersburg, where he created his greatest masterpiece, the Marble Palace, in 1768. He also built the first St Isaac’s Cathedral, designed the original Hempen Warehouses on the Lesser Neva, and created the palace and park ensemble at Gatchina.

Blessed with great inventiveness and the remarkable ability to work in all materials, forms and spaces, Rinaldi could build anything. In the early 1760s, when there was a movement away from Baroque towards Neoclassicism in Russia, the venerable master did not find it easy to throw off the past. Seeking a compromise, he managed to reconcile the exuberance of Baroque with the severity of Neoclassicism, creating an unlikely marriage between the capricious whims of Rococo and the postulates of antiquity, now enjoying a revival following the rediscovery of the classical heritage.

The best example of this unique blend of two different styles is the Marble Palace – decorated with the very material that seems to combine the austerity of Neoclassicism and the opulence of Baroque. The Gatchina Palace is also a successful fusion of forbidding, medieval exteriors and elegant, refined interiors.

Rinaldi’s talent was highly rated by Catherine, so it is hard to say why he suddenly decided to resign his posts and leave Russia in 1784. Once, when working on the Bolshoi (Stone) Theatre in St Petersburg, he fell from the scaffolding and injured himself. Soon afterwards, he returned to Rome forever. Rinaldi spent his remaining years putting his archives in order, and publishing his designs and blueprints. He died in Rome in 1794.

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