Swiss Rossica

The cultural ties between Russia and Switzerland enjoy a long history, stretching back over three hundred years. In the early eighteenth century, Peter the Great invited Swiss engineers, architects and artists to come to Russia to build and decorate his new capital of St Petersburg. The Summer Palace in the Summer Garden, the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Twelve Colleges – one of the first administrative buildings in the city – were all designed by Swiss architect Domenico Trezzini. The interiors of many churches and palaces were painted by Swiss artists.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was a prominent Swiss diaspora living and working in Russia. Architects, engineers and painters were joined by jewellers, who were awarded many imperial commissions. Dynasties of Swiss watchmakers, goldsmiths and silversmiths worked in St Petersburg and Moscow. Employed by such famous firms as Carl Fabergé, they made an important contribution to the history of Russian art right up until the revolution of 1917.

The cultural exchange between Russia and Switzerland was not a one-way process. Russian artists studying in Italy often visited Switzerland, painting landscapes, portraits of locals and genre scenes of Swiss life. Some excellent examples are the portraits of Swiss families painted by Orest Kiprensky, one of which now belongs to the Bibliothèque de Genève. Many famous Russian writers and artists settled in Switzerland in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Vladimir Nabokov, Maria Yakunchikova, Alexei von Jawlensky and El Lissitzky.

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