Russia History Romanov History of Parquetry

History of Parquetry

Parquetry is inlaid woodwork for floors, composed of blocks of wood laid in geometrical regularity. The blocks are usually made of pine, reproducing patterns made from other strains of wood.

Medieval Russia

Before the reign of Peter the Great, parquet or “piecework” floors did not exist in Russia, in the modern understanding of the word. The “oak brickwork” popular in medieval Europe – rectangular or square blocks of oak laid out like a chessboard or fir tree – was the prototype of modern parquetry. While such floors were solid and practical, they were not distinguished for their beauty or aesthetic merits. In Old Russia, “oak brickwork” was mostly used in the floors of public buildings intended for large congregations of people – St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square or the reception rooms in the Terem Palace in the Kremlin. The natural beauty of the wood was not highlighted, but concealed beneath paintwork in imitation of marble or in green, black and other tones. The deal floors in the palaces of Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich at Kolomenskoe and Alexeyevskoe were more typical of pre-Petrine Russia. In many rooms, they were upholstered with fabric or covered in imported rugs and carpets. A whole series of circumstances were required for the development of parquetry in Russia, closely linked to the reforms of Peter I.

Early (Petrine) Baroque (1700s to 1730s)

Peter the Great wanted Russia to join the family of civilised western nations, following the common European path of political, economic and cultural development. Hoping to see the fruits of his work in his own lifetime, the emperor invited many famous West European architects, sculptors, painters and masters of applied art to his new capital of St Petersburg, founded by the tsar in 1703.

Early Russian or Petrine Baroque was a mixture of Italian Baroque, early French Neoclassicism and Rococo, Dutch civil architecture and several other styles and movements. Each architect working in St Petersburg introduced the traditions of his own country and school of architecture. In this sense, Petrine Baroque was not strictly Baroque and is purely a nominal term. This reflects the still unclear tendency of the period, explaining the subsequent evolution of Russian architecture into High Baroque in the mid-eighteenth century.

The foreign architects and masters invited to Russia by Peter the Great brought with them the latest artistic ideas and technologies. This concerned wooden patterned floors in particular, which were just coming into fashion. While the wooden Cabin of Peter the Great – the first building in the new capital – had deal floors, the following stone constructions (the Italian Palace and the Catherine Palace in Sarskaya Myza) had piecework parquetry. They were usually oak floors with simple geometric patterns, composed from wood of two or three tones. Such floors fully corresponded to the business-like, working atmosphere of interiors at that time. The examples include the original parquet floors of the Summer Palace, the Winter Palace of Peter I and Monplaisir in Peterhof (Naval and Lacquer Studies). The floors of Monplaisir were based on the emperor’s own design (now in the Russian State Archives of Historical Deeds), which copied schemes from European albums of popular designs printed for architects and builders.

Parquetry was also used to decorate the palaces of Prince Alexander Menshikov – the governor-general of St Petersburg famous for his lavish tastes. Menshikov’s palace in Oranienbaum even had its own workshop for the manufacture of piecework floors. The production of parquet floors was usually overseen by foreign masters, but carried out by Russian joiners sent to the new capital from central or northern Russia. In 1721, Peter I founded a special settlement for these workers on the bank of the River Okhta. The Okhta masters were officially employed by the Admiralty Shipyard, where their task was to help construct ships. They were also employed, however, to build the new palaces. The Okhta artisans were entrusted with such important joinery projects as the manufacture of parquet floors. In the eighteenth century, with rare exceptions, foreign masters enjoyed a clear advantage over their Russian counterparts. Throughout this period, Russian joiners acquired professional skills and knowledge, forming dynasties of parquet masters.

The manufacture of parquet floors required large sums of money and professional masters. Patterned floors initially fulfilled more than just a decorative function; they were also intended to reflect the wealth of the owner of the house. The first parquet floors were carefully treasured. Knowing the far from aristocratic habits of the participants of Peter’s riotous feasts and assemblies, the servants always covered the floors in a thick layer of straw.

The history of the parquet floors of the first third of the eighteenth century can only be recreated in its general outlines. Wars, floods, the passage of time, reconstructions and redecoration mean that virtually all that remains from this period is part of the parquetry from the Walnut Study of the Menshikov Palace on Vasilyevsky Island. The other floors in museums of the art and way of life of Russia under Peter I are merely later restorations and reconstructions, often created from materials dating from a later period. One thing, however, is clear. During the reign of Peter the Great, Russian parquetry emerged as an important branch of the decorative arts and an essential element of the interior decor of Russian palaces.

High (Mature) Baroque (1740s to early 1760s)

The period of High Baroque was an important stage in the history of parquetry in Russia. The central figure of this period was Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli – an Italian born in Paris who worked in Russia. Rastrelli began his career under Anna Ioannovna, the first in a line of Russian empresses who transformed the imperial court into a centre of sumptuous grandeur.

Rastrelli built the “Winter House of Anna Ioannovna next to the Admiralty” between 1732 and 1735. The third Winter Palace surpassed all previous palaces built in St Petersburg. The state apartments were decorated with a splendour befitting an imperial court, including “rhomboid piecework floors with stars.” The interior decor in the palaces of the empress’s favourite, Ernst Johann von Biron, at Rundala and Mitawa were equally splendid. Their parquet floors were designed by Rastrelli in 1742 and 1743. After Biron’s downfall, they were sent to St Petersburg and used to decorate the Anichkov Palace and the Summer Palace of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna in the Third Summer Garden. Many of these magnificent buildings were surrounded by regular parks and gardens, in which the parterres echoed the patterned floors in the state apartments. Nature and palace apartments thus came together under the hand of man.

The construction of palaces continued to accelerate during the reign of Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. Rastrelli built the Peterhof Palace (1747–55) and the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo (1752–56). The parquet floors of the state apartments, which were richly decorated with paintings and gilt fretwork, were also designed by the architect. In many rooms, the compositions were formed from stars, diamonds, zigzags, fir trees and other simple elements made from local strains of wood – oak, maple and birch. The contrast between the plain and simple floors and the whimsical decor of the walls and ceilings created an interesting decorative effect, underlining the wealth of the Baroque interiors.

Rastrelli did not confine himself to the patterns of the preceding period. In large interiors, he combined them with his own original decorative elements – enormous stars, circles and friezes. Such other Baroque architects as Mikhail Rastorguyev decorated interiors with similar parquetry. In the reception room of the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Rastorguyev laid floors of alternating circles and stars from maple, light and fumed oak.

Rastrelli eventually rejected the functionality and minimalism of Petrine Baroque. The architect’s parquet designs for the fourth Winter Palace, created between 1759 and 1761, are as compositionally complex as the other Baroque interior decor. They proved too difficult to implement, however, remaining only on paper (the designs are now in the National Library in Warsaw).

There are clear compositional and stylistic similarities between Rastrelli’s designs for the fourth Winter Palace and the parquetry in the Amber Room, Portrait Room and Picture Gallery at the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. These floors were created between 1763 and 1765, after the Italian architect left Russia. Although Rastrelli was responsible for the design of these interiors, the parquetry is traditionally attributed to Vasily Neyelov, who oversaw the building and park work at Tsarskoe Selo. It is logical to assume that Neyelov employed several of Rastrelli’s own designs. Whatever the case, the Amber Room, Portrait Room and the Picture Gallery offer the only surviving examples of the stylistics of Rastrelli’s later parquet floors.

Savva Chevakinsky was another outstanding and talented Baroque architect. He played an important administrative role, contributing to the national school of parquet masters.

Russian masters lacked the skills and ability needed to make parquet floors. They required constant control and the creation of detailed designs, as the general sketches of the architects were often not enough. Rastrelli was overloaded with commissions and so gave much freedom and responsibility to the parquet masters working under him. Many free masters came to Russia from Germany and other European countries to earn money. They generally possessed far greater knowledge than the local joiners, who were often serfs. Rastrelli understood this and usually collaborated with foreign masters – Bernhard Egg, Christian Jaeger, Johann Hirsfelder and Johann Rothaus.

Savva Chevakinsky was the principal architect at the Admiralty for more than a quarter of a century (1740–67). The Admiralty employed many joiners and carpenters from the Okhta district to build ships. Initially working under foreign guidance, the Okhta masters quickly acquired experience in the manufacture of parquet floors and were hired by Savva Chevakinsky. In the 1750s and 1760s, Mikhail Sukhoi, Gavrila Ryzhy and Grigory Kuritsyn headed the large teams of Okhta joiners who created Chevakinsky’s parquet floors at Tsarskoe Selo. Chevakinsky also invited Okhta masters to make parquetry for the Winter Palace based on simplified versions of Rastrelli’s designs. This gradual tendency to entrust the production of parquet floors to Russian joiners was interrupted during the reign of Catherine the Great, when foreign masters were once again invited to create many remarkable masterpieces in and around St Petersburg.

Rococo and Early Neoclassicism (1760s to 1770s)

The Baroque style was followed by Rococo, which emerged in France and was also known as the Louis XV style. Rococo was not widely popular in Russia, where its intimate nature failed to correspond to the historical realities of the young and rapidly expanding empire. The Chinese Palace and Sliding Hill at Oranienbaum, designed in the Rococo style in the 1760s, nevertheless reflected the gradual rejection of the brutal elegance of Baroque and the growing interest in the personality, feelings and intellect. It was only a short step from there to the sublime and rational constructions of Neoclassicism. In Russia, Rococo formed a bridge between Baroque and early Neoclassicism (which successfully adapted many Rococo elements).

Rococo was the style of refined luxury. The uniqueness and singularity of an object took precedence over its functional value. The interiors of the Chinese Palace in Oranienbaum were intended for intimate meetings, rather than grand receptions. The parquet floors were only meant for the owners and a few close friends, rather than large and noisy crowds of courtiers.

The floors of the Chinese Palace were made by foreign and Russian parquetry and marquetry experts after designs by Antonio Rinaldi. Several dozen Russian and exotic strains of wood of various tones and colours were employed in the intricate ornamental compositions, based on floral and representational motifs. The masters employed engraving, etching and curing to add an additional picturesque touch to the surfaces. The parquetry at the Chinese Palace is, in this way, as complex and artistically perfect as the finest works of Rococo furniture.

Russian architecture evolved from Baroque to Neoclassicism during the reign of Catherine the Great, who adhered to the principles of the European Enlightenment. This transition was not an instant process. Many palaces and churches built in the 1760s and 1770s betrayed features of the preceding Baroque period. They had light silhouettes and Baroque elements in their exterior decor. The interior decor, however, rejected the overwrought forms of Baroque.

Antonio Rinaldi’s architecture developed from Rococo to early Neoclassicism. He continued to employ Rococo stylistics when designing the parquet floors for Gatchina Palace and the Marble Palace, built for Count Grigory Orlov, the lover of Catherine the Great. The same applies to such other prominent representatives of early Neoclassicism as Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe and Georg Friedrich von Veldten. Vallin de la Mothe designed the parquet floors of the Eastern and Western Chinese Studies of the Peterhof Palace in the chinoiserie style, which was one of the versions of Rococo. Veldten employed such typical Rococo elements as representational motifs and floral ornamentation in the parquetry for the house of Catherine’s other favourite, Alexander Lanskoi (now in the Agate Rooms in Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk Palace).

Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe and Georg Friedrich von Veldten frequently used floors made by their predecessors when decorating interiors. Decorating Catherine the Great’s apartments at the Winter Palace, Vallin de la Mothe employed Rastrelli’s Baroque parquet floors. Veldten followed suit when reconstructing Rastrelli’s interiors in the Throne Room and Çesme Room of the Peterhof Palace. It was only the masters of the following generation who created genuine Neoclassical parquet floors. This was Charles Cameron and Giacomo Quarenghi, whose oeuvres reflected the principles of “Austere Neoclassicism.”

Austere Neoclassicism (1780s to 1800s)

Russian architecture evolved from Baroque to Austere Neoclassicism during the age of Enlightened Absolutism, partially under the influence of the personal tastes of Catherine the Great. The interest in the artistic heritage of antiquity and the Renaissance was reflected in the clear and distinct forms of geometric ornamentation, corresponding to the rationalist spirit of order architecture and the simplicity and grandeur of classicist interiors.

Two main forms of Neoclassical parquetry emerged in the 1780s and 1790s. The first was a centric composition with a rosette in the middle, surrounded by other elements. The second was a plane decorated with a repetitive geometric pattern. In both cases, an ornamented frieze ran along the perimeter.

Charles Cameron particularly liked the first type of composition, creating a series of outstanding floors in this style at the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. These floors employed foreign strains of wood and inlays of mother-of-pearl (Lyon Room).

Giacomo Quarenghi preferred the second type of parquetry, which generally consisted of a grid of cells with a multi-petal rosette in the centre of each compartment. Among the exceptions in his art were the parquet floors of the Small Entrance Room in the Winter Palace (with a rosette at the centre of the composition) and the Raphael Loggia (enormous squares stretched out in a line, bordered by a meander and divided into narrow rectangles).

As in the preceding Rococo and early Neoclassical periods, the compositions of parquet floors frequently corresponded to the architectural structures of the rooms and the patterns on the ceilings, combining harmoniously with the other elements of the interior decor. This principle often resulted in extremely original and interesting parquetry, such as in the Birch House at Gatchina, where Henri-François-Gabriel Viollier designed a floor imitating the coffered cupola.

Despite the laconic nature of the artistic forms, Neoclassical parquet floors employed diverse strains of foreign and Russian wood in comparison with Rococo. The multi-coloured compositions underlined the elegance of the palace decor. It is hard to employ the term “Austere Neoclassicism” to the parquet floors of Charles Cameron or Ivan Starov (Rotunda of the Ostankino Palace). The term is wholly justified, however, in relation to Giacomo Quarenghi, Andrei Voronikhin and Vincenzo Brenna.

In the 1790s, Andrei Voronikhin redecorated a series of rooms in the Neoclassical style at the Stroganov Palace in St Petersburg. In the Picture Gallery and the Dining Room, the architect created parquet floors with a very simple pattern, composed of diagonally orientated squares divided by a light lath, with rosettes in the corners. The floors of the Mineral Study and the Greek Room were more complicated, with circles and four-rayed stars inside combinations of squares and diamonds. These austere and elegant floors were later repeated in different versions by the masters of High Neoclassicism (Empire).

Like his predecessors and contemporaries, Andrei Voronikhin was not averse to employing already existing parquet floors, whenever they slotted naturally into the concept of the interior decor. In the Lantern Study in the Pavlovsk Palace, he used the parquetry from the dismantled Krasnoe Selo Park, creating an extremely harmonious interior.

Like Andrei Voronikhin, Vincenzo Brenna represented the transition from Austere to High Neoclassicism. When redesigning the state apartments of the Gatchina Palace between 1796 and 1800, he retained Antonio Rinaldi’s parquet floors in the Throne Room of Paul I, Entrance Room and the White Room, which corresponded to the Empire tendencies towards luxury and splendour. When designing his own parquet floors, however, he adhered to other principles, creating austere and simple classicist compositions. The dual approach towards parquetry as an essential element of interior decor, yet also an expensive extravagance not justified by the function of the room, led to simple schemes in the art of such Empire architects as Carlo Rossi, Vasily Starov and Andrei Mikhailov II in the first third of the nineteenth century.

High (Late) Neoclassicism or Empire (1810s to 1830s)

During the reign of Tsar Alexander I (1801–25), Russia repulsed the Napoleonic invasion, defeated the Grand Armée and achieved the height of its influence in Europe. Napoleon’s crown passed to the Russian emperor, who stood at the head of the anti-French coalition. The accompanying upsurge of patriotism engulfing Russian society was expressed in works of literature, painting and architecture.

The dominant style during the reign of Tsar Alexander I was Empire – a late form of Neoclassicism corresponding to the Regency style in Britain and orientated on the artistic heritage of imperial Rome. Empire emerged in Paris after the French Revolution, lasting until the defeat of Napoleon. The style found the most fertile soil in Russia, where the ground had already been laid by Alexander’s father Paul.

For almost a quarter of a century, the Empire style dominated Russian architecture. A new generation of architects – Andrei Voronikhin, Andreyan Zakharov, Auguste de Montferrand, Vasily Stasov, Jean-François Thomas de Thomon and, above all, Carlo Rossi – created a vast array of majestic ensembles, which included triumphal arches and columns, churches and wide squares, likening St Petersburg to Ancient Rome at the pinnacle of its power. The masters of Russian Empire working in Moscow and the provinces usually addressed more intimate forms – small private manorhouses or park pavilions. Their works were also distinguished for their great taste, harmonious forms and proportions, and the absence of the overbearing pomp so often encountered in the works of Western architects.

Like their predecessors, the leading Empire architects of St Petersburg – Carlo Rossi, Vasily Stasov and Andrei Mikhailov II – continued to assign an important role to parquetry in the general decorative and artistic design of the interior. Like the architects of the Petrine period, they mostly employed standard patterns inspired by Carlo Rossi’s first two major projects – the interiors of the Anichkov Palace (1816–20) and the Yelagin Palace (1818–22). Vasily Stasov set the tone when he designed the State Study of Alexander I in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo in 1817, creating a standard model of a coloured floor.

Between 1820 and 1823, Vasily Stasov restored Charles Cameron’s interiors at Tsarskoe Selo following a fire and decorated new rooms. He laid a series of parquet floors comparable to Rossi’s creations, even repeating the Scottish architect’s patterns in the Painting Study, Sculpture Study, Pre-Choral Room and the Bedchamber of Maria Fyodorovna. The similar creative styles of the two leading representatives of Russian Empire may be explained by their use of standard patterns from an unknown Western book on architecture. This theory is supported by the international architecture practice of that time.

Empire parquet schemes were not set templates brought to life in a mechanical fashion. Each architect interpreted the standard schemes in his own way, varying the composition, the width and pattern of the friezes, the correlations and scales of the details and the composition of the wood. Such supplementary technical devices as engraving were employed to achieve greater artistic expressiveness. The classical gridwork continued to be widely used, offering many different interpretations. Domenico Gilliardi, an Empire architect working in Moscow, employed this scheme, along with standard patterns, when designing the parquet floors for the manorhouse at Count Sergei Uvarov’s Porechye estate near Mozhaisk in the 1830s.

Working for the Imperial court and leading statesmen, Empire architects continued to employ expensive foreign strains of wood. Other customers ordered parquet floors made of local strains of wood – pine, birch and oak. Although such creations were less decorative, they nevertheless evoked an air of cosiness, solidity and natural beauty. This reflected the movement towards the Biedermeier style popular with the bourgeois middle classes.

One important feature of the Empire period was the final formation of the national school of parquet masters. The members of the Tarasov dynasty from Okhta, Vasily Bobkov and other Russian joiners successfully completed with foreigners in the battle for contracts. Their position was further entrenched during the Eclectic period.

Eclecticism or Historism (1830s to 1890s)

The reign of Tsar Nicholas I was one of the most brilliant in the history of Russian culture, giving the world a glittering galaxy of famous names, including Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Glinka and Karl Brullov. An important role in this was played by the emperor himself, who had high aesthetic tastes and a deep realisation of the colossal role which can be played in state life by literature, architecture, music and fine art.

The age of Nicholas I was the golden age of Romanticism, in the bowels of which gradually matured positivist and realist tendencies. In architecture, Romanticism expressed itself in Historicism or Eclecticism (from Greek eklektikos – selective) – an artistic style proclaiming freedom in the choice of historical prototypes for interpretation.

One of the most romantic, alongside oriental ones, was considered Gothic Revival motifs, to which the Russian architects often turned before then. The Cottage at Peterhof is a work of early Romantic architecture, designed by Adam Menelaws as a summer residence for the imperial family. The modest patterned floors of this small and intimate palace were partially covered by carpets, corresponding to the aesthetics of Biedermeier. The floors in the Cottage anticipated the not-so-distant future, when the simple patterns of factory-made parquetry were widely used in private houses and apartments.

The leading achievements in early Eclectic parquetry are synonymous with the names of Auguste de Montferrand, Alexander Brullov and Nikolai Yefimov. While the ornamental motifs of their rich parquet floors in the Winter Palace veered towards classicist traditions, there was no attempt to make the patterns normative. Each architect freely combined his favourite elements in correspondence with his own fantasy.

Heinrich Stackenschneider, Harald Julius von Bosse, Ludwig Bonstedt and several other Eclectic architects were inspired by Baroque and Rococo motifs between the 1840s and 1860s. The compositions and ornamentation of their architectonic parquet designs corresponded closely to the general interior decor. The most popular form of patterned floor in the Rococo spirit was a main ground of simple oak riveting, with a large and ornate rosette in the centre and an ornamental frieze running around the perimeter of the room.

The theoretical foundations of historicism changed over time and the style entered a positivist stage in the second half of the nineteenth century. Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom and reformed many other aspects of Russian life, evoking a fresh wave of interest in Russian history in the context of European and world history. Technological breakthroughs and the publication of works of research on architecture and archaeology contributed to a more intricate artistic style, inspired by greater knowledge of the cultures of the past.

The reign of Tsar Alexander III signalled a return to conservatism and nationalism, when the preservation and study of the national heritage became an important tenet of government policy. The emperor oversaw the restoration of the parquet floors in such historical buildings as the Peterhof Palace, Gatchina Palace, Winter Palace and the Menshikov Palace. Many floors were completely relaid after the old designs with the original compositions of wood. This policy was continued in the early reign of Tsar Nicholas II.

Like their Romantic predecessors, the architects of the last third of the nineteenth century employed Baroque and Rococo stylistics. Although the patterns of their parquet floors were as diverse and complex as ever, the wide usage of exotic strains of wood made the colour schemes brighter and more picturesque. The complexity, colourfulness and abundance of representational motifs in the compositions of Maximilian Messmacher and Alexander Krasovsky echoed the creations of Antonio Rinaldi in the 1760s and 1770s.

Besides Renaissance and Neoclassical motifs, Gothic elements remained popular. In the Gothic (Musical) Drawing Room of the Marble Palace, Dmitry Zaitsev followed the minimalist traditions of Adam Menelaws and employed simple oak riveting. Alexander Krasovsky created a similar floor in the Gothic Revival style for the Library of Nicholas II in the Winter Palace. Such functional rooms were generally intended to be carpeted; more original designs were encountered in the interiors of state apartments. In the Gothic Study of the Pavel von Dervis Mansion, Krasovsky created an intricate parquet composition including Gothic architectural motifs. The unknown designer of the parquetry in the Gothic Dining Room of the Kelch Mansion went even further, introducing heraldic figures and knights’ attributes into the pattern.

The floor of the Moorish Drawing Room in Sergei von Dervis’s mansion on Galernaya Street in St Petersburg is particularly interesting. Employing the decorative features of Arabic script, Pyotr Schreiber incised a quotation from the Koran directly into the parquet. This semi-sacrilegious action betrayed the shortcomings of the Eclectic method, which was orientated less on meaning and more on the purely external features of each historical style. When Eclecticism gave way to Art Nouveau at the turn of the century, the new wave of architects attempted to overcome this contradiction, returning architecture to its previous role as a vehicle expressing the main tendencies of modernity.

Russian parquet masters scaled new heights during the Eclectic period. The Tarasov dynasty of joiners from the Okhta district amassed vast fortunes working for the imperial court. Russian joiners dominated the market for the production of parquet floors, ousting foreign masters and subcontractors.

Such parquet factories as George Muller successfully competed with the Okhta masters. George Muller manufactured the floors in St George’s Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace after the designs of Fyodor Solntsev and the Military Painting Hall in the Winter Palace after the designs of Alexander Brullov. The number of parquet factories producing high-quality floors to individual order increased over time, virtually supplanting joiners by the end of the nineteenth century.

Art Nouveau and Neoclassical Revival (1900s to 1910s)

The reign of the last Russian emperor, Tsar Nicholas II, coincided with a period of glittering achievement known as the Silver Age of Russian culture. In architecture and fine art, the dominant style at the turn of the century was Art Nouveau or, as it is known in Russia, Style Moderne.

In contrast to Eclecticism, Art Nouveau developed stylised principles of form-creation. Masters did not employ combinations of ready-made forms; they strove towards artistic creativity, inspired by their own personalities and the task in hand. In the age of capitalism and rapid industrialisation, a quest for originality, uniqueness, frivolity and artistic beauty combined, paradoxically, with standardisation, utilitarianism and mass production. The art of parquetry was no exception.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the development of factory-made production caused a fall in the price of parquet floors, making them accessible to wider sections of the population. Such functional aspects as durability, longevity and hygiene were rated above the aesthetic qualities of parquetry. Simple patterned floors made from national strains of wood became part of the everyday life of the middle classes, university professors and creative intelligentsia. Combined with rugs or carpets, they evoked a sense of convenience, warmth and comfort. An expensive patterned floor would only detract from this atmosphere of intimacy. The masters of Art Nouveau preferred simple planed boards or factory-made riveting arranged in a fir tree or chessboard pattern. The only known example of a parquet composition in the Art Nouveau style is the floor designed by Franz Schechtel in the lower vestibule of the Ryabushinsky Mansion in Moscow.

Parquetry experienced a short-lived golden age in the 1910s, when the reaction against styleless (or multi-style) modern culture led to the Neoclassical Revival. Cultivating individualism, Art Nouveau could never be a universal style. This was understood by many Russian architects, who looked instead to the normative and stylistic integrity of the past.

The interest in the Neoclassical architectural heritage of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reflected the quests in pre-revolutionary Russian art for a form of universal beauty capable of adorning and transforming the world. Like the masters of Art Nouveau, Neoclassical Revival artists did not slavishly copy old specimens. They operated freely with order architecture, deliberately seeking sharp and expressive plastic forms. Employing traditional classicist schemes for the parquet floors in the Prince Abamelik-Lazarev Mansion in St Petersburg, Ivan Fomin introduced an element of the grotesque by greatly increasing the scale of the pattern. Working on the same project, Yevgraf Vorotilov did the exact opposite, closely correlating the parquet compositions to the rest of the interior decor and the general architectural space of the rooms.

Several parquet floors by Neoclassical Revival masters reflected their interest in ancient art. Nikolai Lanceray created a unique floor at the Novinskaya and Zasetskaya Mansion on the Sandy Embankment in St Petersburg, placing a medallion with the figure of a dancer in an ancient tunic in the middle of the Corridor Rotunda on the first floor. This motif recalled Léon Bakst’s costume designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s Saisons Russes.

Neoclassical Revival was the last great architectural style in imperial Russia. Passing into history along with the empire, it brought the curtain down on two centuries of Russian parquetry – a unique phenomenon in both national and international artistic culture.

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