Russia St Petersburg Architecture Palace Menshikov Palace on Vasilyevsky Island

Menshikov Palace on Vasilyevsky Island

The Menshikov Palace was the residence of Prince Alexander Menshikov, a close friend and ally of Peter the Great. The first stone building in St Petersburg, it stood at the centre of a large urban estate on Vasilyevsky Island, presented to the prince by the emperor.

In 1710, Francesco Fontana and Johann Gottfried Schädel started building a stone palace in place of the original “wooden chambers” designed by an unknown architect (before 1710). They added the Chapel of the Resurrection of Christ (1712–14) and the house of the estate manager Prince Fyodor Solovyov (1714). The building was decorated by Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond, Andreas Schlüter and Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli.

The Menshikov Palace consisted of a four-floor main building with three wings and an open gallery on columns, surrounded by an inner courtyard. The outside walls were decorated with pilasters and carved stone capitals. The northern facade facing the inner courtyard was crowned with an attic, while the side risaltos were crowned with figured frontons.

The first round of building work was completed in 1710, when Prince Menshikov moved into the new palace. The building continued to be expanded right up until his fall from power in 1727.

The original outer appearance of the Menshikov Palace can be seen in the engravings of Alexei Zubov and Alexei Rostovtsev and the drawings of Christopher Marselius. The facade was decorated with crowns and sculptures on the attic.

Alexander Menshikov was a hero of the Great Northern War (1700–21) and the theme of the Russian campaign to win an exit to the Baltic Sea was reflected in the decor and fittings of his palace. The interiors contained paintings depicting episodes from the war. The theme of the Russian military victories was also reflected in the monumental paintings.

The Menshikov Palace contained a magnificent library and many outstanding works of decorative and applied art.

Alexander Menshikov governed St Petersburg and oversaw construction of the new Russian capital from his palace. Every morning, he received the deputy governor, the head of police, the commander of the Peter and Paul Fortress and other important functionaries. Such famous architects as Domenico Trezzini, Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond, Nicola Michetti and Bartolomeo Carlo Rossi also came to discuss questions of town planning.

Peter the Great was a frequent visitor to the Menshikov Palace. The festivities celebrating Russian military victories and his famous assemblées were held at the palace – the largest and most opulent building in St Petersburg at that time. For a long time, the Menshikov Palace was the largest building in St Petersburg and the centre of social life in the capital. Receptions, parties and celebrations were often held there. One such event was the festivities marking the first major victory of the new Russian navy over the Swedish fleet at the Battle of Hangö on 27 July 1714.

After the death of Peter the Great in 1725, the Menshikov Palace became the political centre of Russia. The building remained the official residence of Prince Menshikov until September 1727, when his brilliant career came to an abrupt end. On 8 September, Alexander Menshikov was placed under house arrest. The following day, he was stripped of his awards and titles and sentenced to exile in Siberia. He set out for Siberia from the very house in which he had made such an important contribution to the construction and development of St Petersburg. Alexander Menshikov died and was buried in Beryozovo in 1729.

The Menshikov Palace was acquired by the crown and awarded to the Szlachectwo Military Academy (1732–1918), which reconstructed and redecorated the building in line with the prevailing architectural styles and its own needs and requirements. Domenico Trezzini built a two-storey wing and a residential block on the Congress Line (1730s–40s), while a new eastern wing was added on the waterfront (1758–60). Although the facades and much of the interior decor from the reign of Peter the Great were altered, the original interiors survive in the rooms used for council meetings and the academy museum.

The palace was awarded to the Hermitage Museum in 1967 and restored to its original form by 1981. Over the years of restoration work, the original outer appearance was gradually returned to the facades. The crowns and vases were restored to the risalitas in late 2002. Work is currently underway on the study and manufacture of the attic sculptures.

In 1981, the Hermitage Museum opened a permanent exhibition of works of art from the reign of Peter the Great at the Menshikov Palace. Twenty-one rooms are currently open to the public. Visitors can see chambers decorated with Dutch faïence tiles, Chinese silk wall hangings and patterned walnut panels. Many halls contain such original personal belongings of Prince Menshikov as a grandfather clock, watch, cupboard and trunk. The architecture and interior decor of the rooms are complemented by works of fine and applied art from the Hermitage collection.

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