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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
The Changing Colour of the Winter Palace During the 18th - 20th Centuries
Topic: Winter Palace

This article was researched from Russian media sources and written by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2017

Throughout its history, the façade of the Winter Palace has undergone a range of colours. This was due to the need for periodic repairs, the tastes of various architects and changing tastes among its reigning emperors and empresses. 

When architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771), who conceived and carried out the construction of the palace in the 18th century, the original colour was a warm ochre colour. Prior to the fire, which occurred in 1837, there were no significant changes in the colour of the palace. The only change made was the colour of the roof, which went from white-grey to red. 

In the period between the 1850s - 1860s, during the era of Emperor Alexander II, the ochre colour of the palace facade became more dense. Shortly after Emperor Alexander III ascended the throne in 1881, the colour of the facade was changed to a rich red pigment.

Upon the accession of Emperor Nicholas II in 1894, the colour changed yet again: both the Winter Palace and the General Staff Building were repainted in a red brick colour, in which the palace was later depicted in Celebration on Uritsky Square, painted in 1921 by the famous Russian artist Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927). The terracotta reds, seemed to foretell a sign of a new era, when the palace met the revolution of 1917. The colour remained to the end of the 1920s, when a storm of experiments with colour began on the painting of its facades.
In 1927, the palace was painted grey, then in 1928-1930 it was repainted in a grey-brown hue. In 1934 an attempt to paint the façade in an orange oil based paint proved unsuccessful. The oil based paint proved to have a devastating effect on the walls and a decision on its removal was made in 1940. With the onset of World War II, the palace was painted in an adhesive reversible grey colour. 

After the war, a commission of architects and builders proposed to paint the grandiose palace in an emerald-blue colour, the standard Soviet colour scheme for Baroque buildings. The columns, cornices and window frames painted white, and the stucco decoration painted a golden ochre.

The former Winter Palace as it looks today, is part of the State Hermitage Museum 
Since then, the facades of the palace, though they have been regularly repainted, the colour has remain unchanged. Several generations of Russians and visitors to St Petersburg often perceive this colour as the historic original, and many are not even aware of how different the Winter Palace looked before the 1917 Revolution.
For years State Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky has talked of the need to re-paint the Winter Palace to the colour it was originally painted by Rastrelli in the middle of the 18th century. The idea was back on the agenda in 2009, however, nothing came of it due to overall cost of such a project. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 14 February, 2017


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:18 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2017 6:04 AM EST
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Tuesday, 12 January 2016
Restoration of the Facades in the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace Completed
Topic: Winter Palace

The beautifully restored facades and inner courtyard of the Winter Palace
The Winter Palace is a striking Russian Baroque edifice from the middle of the 18th century, constructed to the design of the architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. All the façades are decorated with a two-tier colonnade of the Composite order (based on the Ionic). The columns soar upwards, forming a complex rhythm of verticals, and this movement is taken up by the many statues and vases on the roof.  The plastered and painted façades are abundantly embellished with architectural details – a variety of cornices and window architraves, broken pediments, masks, cartouches and rocailles. Elements of the windows were made in softwood. Some of the windows in the basement and ground floor have wrought iron grilles. The basement part of the building was faced with limestone slabs. The bases for the columns are made of limestone and set on granite slabs. When creating the Winter Palace, Rastrelli devised a unique architectural and decorative composition for each of the façades.

Within the scope of the project, the façades were stripped of old layers of paint; ruined and damaged areas of plaster were removed. Losses in the brickwork were made good and it was strengthened and conserved with the use of anti-salt and biocidal treatments. The moulded décor was restored.

The façades of the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace were given a softer pastel colour. “We are trying to get away from the poisonous Soviet colouring,” Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, commented. The shades of paints were agreed with the Administration of the Federal Surveillance Service for Compliance with Legislation in the Protection of Cultural Heritage and the State Hermitage’s own Department of the History and Restoration of Architectural Monuments. The illumination of the façades and statues was refurbished, as was the lighting of the courtyard as a whole.

© State Hermitage Museum. 12 January, 2016


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:27 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 14 January 2016 9:06 AM EST
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Wednesday, 23 December 2015
Reopening Ceremony for the Peter the Great Hall in the Winter Palace
Topic: Winter Palace

On 9 December 2015, during the Hermitage Days, after completion of the restoration of the fabric decoration, a ceremony was held to reopen the Peter the Great Hall in the Winter Palace.
Click on the following link to read the article published in the Royal Russia News section of this web site:

Reopening Ceremony for the Peter the Great Hall in the Winter Palace

with 13 Beautiful Colour Photographs 

 © State Hermitage Museum. 23 December, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:07 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 23 December 2015 10:15 AM EST
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Saturday, 13 December 2014
Winter Palace Church Reopens After Restoration
Topic: Winter Palace

The State Hermitage Museum have completed the restoration of the Great Church in the former Winter Palace. The opening of the church took place on December 9th, as part of the celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the State Hermitage Museum.

Restoration work on the interiors and objects of arts and crafts took about one year to complete. Restorers have tried to reproduce the interior and the individual elements of the church’s historic original, an area of some 525 square meters. 

Specialists repaired the walls, windows and doors, parquet floor, restored stucco elements on the walls and ceiling, gilded sculptures made of papier-mache, and recreated the ceiling paintings. The iconostasis has also been beautifully restored. Some of the icons have been preserved, while black canvas covers those still missing. Restorers will create copies of the missing icons based on historic photographs and watercolours.

The Great Church was constructed by the famous architect, Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli in 1753-1762 in the style of a magnificent Elizabethan Baroque. The church was destroyed during a fire in the Winter Palace in 1837 and was rebuilt in 1838-1839 by the architect Vasily Stasov.

For many years the church served as the home church of the Russian Imperial family. Archpriest Alexander Vasiliev served as the last priest and confessor of the Imperial family in 1914-1918. The church was closed in 1918, and transferred to the State Hermitage Museum in 1922. From 1917 the cathedral was used for museum purposes, it was during this period that many elements of the decoration of the cathedral were lost. In 1938-1939, it was decided to dismantle all the design elements of the church, including the iconostasis. Several fragments survived and stored in the collections of the Hermitage. 

The main source for the restoration of the Great Church was the collection of photographs, taken in 1938-1939, just before and during the disassembly of the iconostasis. The monumental task of specialists, including the reconstruction of the interior of the Great Church to its original historic form, was only possible thanks to the surviving original parts of the iconostasis and photographs held in the collections and archives of the State Hermitage Museum.

The Great Church will host a permanent exhibition of Russian religious art from the State Hermitage Museum collections.
For more information on the restoration of the Great Church in the Winter Palace, please refer to the following article:

Restoration of the Winter Palace Church 

© Paul Gilbert. 13 December, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:31 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 13 December 2014 10:44 AM EST
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Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Double Headed Eagle Returns to Telegraph Tower of the Winter Palace
Topic: Winter Palace

State Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky unveils the sculpture during a press conference on December 1st 
A golden double headed eagle, a symbol of Tsarist Russia will be installed on top of the Telegraph Tower of the Winter Palace later this week in St. Petersburg.

The three-sided sculpture, cast in bronze by Russian experts, is gilded with gold leaf, is more than 2.5 m high, 2 m wide, and weighs 600 kg. The recreation of the sculpture took seven months to complete.

The double-headed eagle was removed from the Telegraph Tower of the Winter Palace in 1930, after which the original sculpture disappeared.

One of the symbols of state power of the Russian Empire, it was decided to recreate the sculpture for the 250th anniversary of the State Hermitage Museum, which is celebrated at the end of the year. 

The hexagonal tower over the pediment of the Winter Palace facing the Admiralty served as the initial optical telegraph station in Russia, the first line of which - between St. Petersburg and Shlisselburg - appeared in 1824. It later linked the Winter Palace with Stelna, Oranienbaum and Kronstadt. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 02 December, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 9:50 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 2 December 2014 9:59 AM EST
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Monday, 26 May 2014
Chandeliers Restored to the Library of Nicholas II in the Winter Palace
Topic: Winter Palace

The official transfer of two chandeliers to the Library of Nicholas II in the State Hermitage Museum (the former Winter Palace) took place on May 19th, 2014.

The chandeliers were recreated from historical photographs by T. Karginoj of the Russian Interior Company. The project was headed by I.O. Sychev, Senior Researcher, Department of Russian Culture of the State Hermitage Museum.

This project is dedicated to the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage (2014) and the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty (2013).

The Library of Nicholas II in the Winter Palace (room number 176) is part of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, created in 1894 - 1896 by the architect A.F. Krasowski in the English Gothic style. The interiors were entrusted to two famous St. Petersburg furniture companies - the N.F. Svirsky Factory and the Meltzer Firm. Characteristic Gothic motifs were reproduced for the decoration of the ceiling, walls and furniture. The monumental fireplace is embellished with griffons and lions, heraldic figures from the arms of the Romanov House and the Hesse-Darmstadt House, to which the Empress belonged. Enormous bookcases in dark wood, a Gothic staircase which led to the upper gallery and high windows with openwork sashes provide the romantic atmosphere of the Middle Ages. Karasowski added two electrified bronze chandeliers in order to conform with the Gothic interior decoration found throughout the hall.

Only two original photographs of the library, dating from 1917 survive. They depict that each chandelier was a metal hoop with a relief ornament, hanging on a decorative banner, the bottom hoop connected with a central faceted rod by rod bent in the form of stylized plant branches. On the outside of the hoop were assigned eight brackets with three candlesticks on each. Presumably the chandeliers were made by one of the Parisian bronze casting firms in 1895-1896.

After 1917, the library chandeliers were dismantled and their ultimate fate remains unknown. In the early 1980s, in the preparation of the permanent exhibition Russian Residential Interiors 19th - Early 20th Century, hung two stained glass electrified chandeliers created in Bohemia in the early 20th century. In 2007, in connection with the repair work in the Library, these chandeliers were removed and transferred for restoration, they were replaced with modern electrical lighting. 
Sadly, the majority of the interiors of the private apartments of Nicholas and Alexandra in the Winter Palace have not survived and today we only have a few photographs, architect's drawings and archive documents. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 26 May, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:21 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 26 May 2014 9:12 AM EDT
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Saturday, 8 June 2013
Restoration of the Winter Palace Church
Topic: Winter Palace

Next year marks the 250th anniversary of the State Hermitage Museum, an occasion which will be marked by some very exciting exhibitions and events. Among them is the long-awaited restoration of the former Grand Church of the Winter Palace.

The restoration of the church will also include a reconstruction of the three-tier iconostasis (the original iconstasis was destroyed by the Soviets in 1938) at the cost of 128.8 million Rubles (more than 4 million USD).  Specialists will reconstruct the framework of the iconostasis, manufacture the lost ornamental gilded stucco carvings, restore icons which survived, and reproduce those destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The State Hermitage will also pay 70 million Rubles for repairs to the church dome and the cross.

The Grand Church of the Winter Palace was originally built by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771)  in the Baroque style in 1763. It was considered "one of the most splendid rooms" in the palace. After a devastating fire in 1837, the church was rebuilt by Vasily Stasov (1769-1848) who recreated its original look.

The space of the church is divided into three architectural volumes; two of them - the one closest to the entrance and the altar portion - are provided with double rows of windows. The central volume is crowned with a dome and accentuated by pylons with double fluted Corinthian columns. The walls are decorated with the Corinthian pilasters alternating with the arched windows that give light to the church on two sides. The lower row of the windows is separated from the upper one with the highly projected and fractured cornice. The gilded stucco ornament made of papier-mache is the principal artistic decoration of the church along with the ceiling painting The Ascension of Christ by Pyotr Basin and the images of the four evangelists by Fiodor Bruni on the vault sides under the dome. The crimson draperies and gilded chandeliers complete the impressive décor of the interior.

The new church was consecrated by Metropolitan Filaret on May 25th, 1839 in the presence of the Imperial family. At the end of the 19th century a belfry was added with five bells.

The wedding of Emperor Nicholas II and Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt took place in the church on 26 November [O.S. 14 November], 1895. Artist: Laurits Tuxen (1853-1927) 

The Cathedral was the repository of multiple relics and memorabilia related to the Romanovs. It was used as the imperial family's private place of worship, with the imperial family's members usually praying in a special room beyond the sanctuary. This was the place where Nicholas II prayed at the liturgy before exiting onto the balcony to face the crowd on the day of declaring war on Germany in 1914. In May 1918, the church was officially closed for worship.

For decades the church has served as an unconsecrated exhibition hall of the State Hermitage Museum. The newly restored church will be part of a new permanent exhibit dedicated to Russian religious art. The newly restored Grand Church of the Winter Palace is scheduled to open in 2014.

Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 08 June, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:39 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 8 June 2013 2:25 PM EDT
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Sunday, 27 January 2013
State Hermitage Museum - No Celebrations Planned to Mark 250th Anniversary
Topic: Winter Palace

The staff of the State Hermitage Museum will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the museum in a modest way, the director of the Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky said at the meeting with the residents of St. Petersburg.

The Hermitage will celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2014. As it had been previously reported by Piotrovsky, by its anniversary the museum plans to significantly expand its exhibition space and to open the new storages to the public. The activities related to the anniversary of the Hermitage, including the depository construction and the renovation of buildings, the publication of catalogs and updates of the website, will cost 13.03 billion rubles, of which 12.96 billion will come from the federal budget. "We are not planning any big celebrations: we will not have any special formal meetings, there will be no exhibitions gathered from around the world", - Piotrovsky reported.

© 27 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:30 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 27 January 2013 7:04 AM EST
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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Dizzy Heights: Cleaning the Winter Palace Chandeliers
Topic: Winter Palace



Cleaners dust the giant chandeliers in one of the halls of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg earlier this week.


© St. Petersburg Times. 01 November, 2012


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 2:58 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2012 3:02 PM EDT
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"Mechanical Orchestra" Gets New Lease of Life at Winter Palace
Topic: Winter Palace


The State Hermitage Museum’s legendary Johann Strasser clock, also known as “the mechanical orchestra,” is to be restored by 2014 as part of the celebrations of the museum’s 250th anniversary.

The elaborate 18th-century clock has been silent for at least 150 years.

“This clock is outstanding in so many ways: It is a fascinating example of decorative and applied art, it is a technical marvel, it is a fine musical instrument in which there are recordings of masterpieces of 18th-century classical music, and it is an artifact that has a most romantic and dramatic story behind it,” said Igor Sychev, the Hermitage curator responsible for the maintenance of the exhibit.

The celebrated craftsman Johann Georg Strasser originally designed the Mechanical Orchestra for the Mikhailovsky Castle, the residence built by Tsar Paul I that already housed two of Strasser’s less sophisticated clocks. It took the master eight years — from 1793 to 1801 — to finish the technically challenging piece.

The tsar, however, never had a chance to enjoy the commission: He was murdered in the spring of 1801, before the order was complete. After the tsar’s death, the master craftsman, whom the project had saddled with losses as he invested most of his fortune into making the unique item, decided to organize a lottery and make the clock the main prize. It took Strasser more than two years to sell enough tickets to make the lottery financially viable. To promote the lottery, he traveled across the country and arranged performances of “the mechanical orchestra.”

The draw was held on May 4 1804, yet the lucky winner would not show up for almost a year. The winner, a young officer who, en route to his detachment, was staying with a Latvian widow, gave the lottery ticket to his landlady as a parting gift before the winning ticket was announced. When she discovered her luck, the widow decided not to keep the clock, and arrived in St. Petersburg in 1805 with the intention of setting up another lottery to dispose of it, but Tsar Alexander I instead agreed to buy it from her for 20,000 rubles plus a lifetime pension.

According to some sources, Alexander I also had a plan for the unlucky clock. He allegedly intended to include it among the gifts that were being sent to China with a diplomatic mission. However, the Chinese emperor refused to receive the Russian ambassadors, and the clock was instead installed in one of the halls of the Winter Palace.

The Mechanical Orchestra is shaped like a temple. It is about four meters high, and has a portico and paired mahogany columns embellished with gilded bronze.

The organ is driven by four weights, each weighing nearly 200 kilograms. The music is recorded on 14 removable wooden barrels, with each of them playing an eight-minute classical composition.

The original thirteen barrels contained pieces by Haydn and Mozart, including the overture from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” One of the pieces, composed by the then-popular Viennese pianist and composer Anton Eberl, was written especially for Strasser’s “mechanical orchestra.” In 1861, a fourteenth barrel was added, but even at that time the clock was barely functional, and it has been broken ever since.

“Like any experimental piece, and like any unique piece, the ‘mechanical orchestra’ has a rather long list of sensitive issues,” said restorer Mikhail Guriyev, head of the department of restoration of clocks and musical instruments of the State Hermitage Museum.

“Despite its massive size and imposing looks, the Strasser clock is a very fragile creature. The coil springs that make the barrels roll can be compared with those of a steam train. The poises would often drop, destroying the mechanics, and the instrument needed to be fixed. The trick is that the instrument needs to produce a smooth, light, graceful sound, despite the rather mighty machinery that is involved in making it run.”

The grand-scale restoration project is being funded by JTI tobacco company, which signed an agreement with the Hermitage in 2011. Such charitable activities are at great risk of being banned for tobacco companies in early 2013: A draft law that would ban tobacco companies from taking part in philanthropic activities is currently awaiting review at the State Duma. If passed, the law, which has stirred a nationwide debate, would prohibit tobacco companies from donating to charities and taking part in any other philanthropic activities.

The bill’s critics have branded the initiative as hypocritical: After all, the Russian state is comfortable with harvesting high tax revenues from tobacco companies, yet is willing to impose a ban on charity for them, thus ostracizing their business.

In these challenging circumstances, Anatoly Vereshchagin, JTI’s director of charitable projects, has promised that the company will deliver on all its obligations that have been made to date, regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming Duma vote.

“There is still time for the State Duma to decide against the law; however, if the ban does get introduced, we will transfer all the money required for the restoration of the clock before the law comes into force,” Vereshchagin said. “All calculations of the costs have been made, and we can assure you that the money will suffice.”

© St. Petersburg Times. 01 November, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 2:36 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2012 2:48 PM EDT
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