The Winter Palace is one of the most solemn and magnificent buildings in St. Petersburg. Its elegant facades are associated with the best views of the Northern capital, turning events in Russian history and the greatest museum in the country and the world - the Hermitage. But if the facades have largely retained their original appearance, then with the interiors the situation is completely different.
The palace was built by order of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna as a winter royal residence. The Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli erected the building in the Baroque style. Particularly elegant, magnificent and majestic, this style in Russia in the middle of the 18th century was called the Elizabethan Baroque. The palace was under construction for more than ten years, from 1754 to 1762, and Peter's daughter never had a chance to live there. Catherine II immediately ordered to redo the interiors in accordance with the new fashion. At the end of the 18th century - the first quarter of the 19th century, all premises, with a few exceptions, began to acquire a new look in the style of classicism, which then dominated the architecture of Russia. But even these ensembles are currently known only from visual and documentary materials.
In December 1837, a fire broke out in the palace. The hardwood building was on fire for thirty hours. On the second and third floors, almost everything was destroyed by fire. The commission for the restoration of the palace was created the very next day, it was headed by architects Vasily Stasov and Alexander Bryullov.
It was decided to change some of the interiors, but others of particular importance needed to be restored. Among such interiors is the Main Staircase. It was created as Ambassadorial, because the ambassadors of foreign powers were supposed to rise along it. Therefore, Rastrelli made the staircase unusually solemn and magnificent. From the first steps along it, the power and greatness of the Russian state should have been felt. The royal family went down this staircase to the Neva during the celebration of the Epiphany. In memory of the baptism of Christ in the waters of the Jordan River, the staircase began to be called Jordan.
Rastrelli's staircase turned out to be really magnificent. A huge space is suddenly opened to the incoming person - more than twenty meters high. The architect allocated the entire northeastern projection of the building for the placement of this staircase. The white walls with gold ornaments give the impression of exquisite luxury. On the north side, huge windows are cut, on the opposite side, the wall is blank and there are window sashes, into which mirrors are inserted. This makes the space seem even brighter and more spacious. At the level of the second floor, the space is increased by a gallery with columns. Rastrelli placed wooden columns faced with pink artificial marble. Stasov replaced them with granite ones. The ceiling is decorated with paintings, this is a canvas by the Italian artist Gradizzi, depicting the Olympic gods. The painting that Stasov found in the Hermitage storerooms in order to replace the burnt one turned out to be smaller in size. And then the remaining space was painted, this painting creates the illusion of continuation of architectural elements, this technique was also often used in the Baroque era.
From the upper platform, two doors lead to the enfilades of the ceremonial halls. Rastrelli made the Nevsky suite the main one, it was through it that one could get into the throne room. Now the main enfilade has become, it is located perpendicular to the Nevskaya and occupies the entire eastern side of the building. The interiors of this suite have lost their original appearance even before the fire.
In 1833, Auguste Montferrand was entrusted with the design of the hall dedicated to the memory of Peter I. The main meaningful element of the hall was painting, as was customary in the era of classicism. In the memorial hall, paintings appeared glorifying the exploits of Peter. The main canvas by the artist Amikoni was placed in a deep niche. It depicts the Russian autocrat with the goddess of wisdom Minerva. The walls of the hall were covered with crimson velvet, the ceiling was gilded, and the floors were decorated with inlaid parquet made of nine types of wood. Unfortunately, the Petrovsky Hall was in the very heart of the fire. But Stasov managed to recreate it almost in its original form. The main decorative elements have been retained. But gilded pilasters are added along the walls, and a bronze double-headed eagle is placed in the center of each pillar, all this gives the hall even greater solemnity.
It so happened that for some time there was no large ceremonial throne room in the Winter Palace. In 1781 it was decided to attach a new building for it. It is located on the eastern side between the northern and eastern projections. The work was supervised by Giacomo Quarenghi, who came from Italy. The second name of the hall is Georgievsky, in honor of the patron saint of Russia. Before the fire, the huge two-story hall was decorated with white, gray, light red and blue marble. The decoration was complemented by gilded bronze, painted ceiling and inlaid parquet.
The name of Vasily Petrovich Stasov is not accidentally named among the main architects - the creators of the Winter Palace. His talent was applied to the restoration of many ceremonial premises. For the new design of the Throne Room, he used only white marble. All parts were made according to Stasov's drawings in Carrara, Italy. The main colors of the renovated interior are white - the color of marble and gold - 18 thousand gilded bronze details. Even Stasov decided not to paint the ceiling, but to break it into deep caissons decorated with gilded ornaments. The lush decoration was complemented by multi-tiered chandeliers.
No less important is Stasov's merit in giving the Gallery of 1812 the present look. This memorial hall is dedicated to the glorious victory in the Patriotic War. Its design was entrusted to Karl Ivanovich Rossi. The architect was faced with a difficult task, the portraits of the heroes had to be placed in a rather narrow room more than 50 meters long. To avoid monotony, Rossi divided it into three parts with paired columns and embossed arches on the vaults. Fortunately, during the fire, the portraits were saved, but Stasov could no longer restore the interior in its former form due to the fact that neighboring rooms were rebuilt. As a result, the gallery has become longer. Stasov did not divide the space, but on the contrary emphasized its unity with a smooth cylindrical vault. The decorative effect of the ceiling is given by grisaille painting, in addition, the hall is decorated with bas-reliefs above the doorways and figured candlesticks. As a result, the hall, the main element of which is the portraits located on all the walls, became more solemn, which corresponded to the spirit of the new era.
The memory of the victory of 1812 in a figurative and allegorical form also perpetuates the Alexander Hall by Bryullov. The idea to create an interior in the palace dedicated to the victorious emperor arose in the early 1830s, but it turned out to be possible only when the building was restored after a fire. In turn, it was this circumstance that allowed Alexander Bryullov to fully realize his decorative project, bold in a decorative sense. The architect divided the space of the double-height hall with pylons protruding from the walls. The most spectacular part is the ceiling. The four central parts are covered with fan-shaped vaults bearing gentle domes, and the two lateral parts are covered with cylindrical vaults. From the middle of the 19th century, historicism reigned in the architecture of Russia - a special style that turned to the architecture of the past. In the decor and construction of the Alexander Hall, Bryullov used elements of Gothic architecture. Paintings, molded fittings with military symbols and 24 relief medallions on the themes of the war of 1812 by the sculptor Tolstoy give a memorial sound to the interior.
Bryullov also worked on the design of the personal chambers of the members of the imperial family. Half of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas I, began with three drawing rooms, the most famous of which is Malachite. There are few interiors equal to this in refined luxury and elegant solemnity. The walls of the living room are finished with white marble, the white ceiling is densely decorated with gilded stucco molding, gilded doors and other details are only an accompaniment to the noble greenery of the Ural malachite. The discovery at the Ural mines of the Demidov deposits of this material made it possible to decorate the whole interior with a rare stone before.