Biographies Russian Architects 18th Century Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli

Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli

Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700–1771)
Born: 1700, Florence
Died: 1771, Courland

Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli was an Italian Baroque architect. He was born in Florence in 1700 in the family of the Italian sculptor Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli, who worked at the court of King Louis XIV in Paris. At the age of sixteen, he accompanied his father to Russia at the invitation of Peter the Great.

During his time in Russia, Rastrelli helped to create statues for the Peterhof fountains. Between 1725 and 1730, he studied architecture in Italy and France, 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.

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.

Rastrelli had a major influence on Russian culture and trained many famous Russian architects, including Ivan Michurin, Karl Blank, Vasily Bazhenov and Savva Chevakinsky. He left St Petersburg in 1764 following the accession of Catherine the Great and died in an unknown place in Courland in 1771.

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