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 – resolved wide town-construction tasks. The majestic ensembles that they created, including triumphal arches and columns, churches and wide forum-like squares, likened St Petersburg to ancient Rome during the period of its greatest power. The masters of Russian Empire working in Moscow and the provinces more often addressed more intimate forms – a small private manorhouse or a park pavilion. Their works were also characterised by high taste, perfect harmony of forms and proportions and the absence of the deliberate pomp often marking 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 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.

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