Topic: Country Estates
Kuskovo, the mid-18th century retreat of the Sheremetyev family near Moscow, has the expected neoclassical palace, gardens and pond. But among the white columns and gilded parlors is a more unusual bit of architecture: a fantastical grotto inspired by Neptune’s underwater kingdom.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, lavishly decorated grottos were a popular feature at the estates of European elites. Among the most famous was the grotto at Ludwig II’s Linderhof in Bavaria, a watery den inspired by Wagner’s “Tannhäuser.”
German architect Fyodor Afgounov built Kuskovo’s grotto between 1756 and 1761. It lost some of its treasures when the French ransacked the estate during the War of 1812, but most of the pavilion survived intact. Today, it’s the only one of its kind left in Russia. Here’s a look at the seashells, seaweed, dragons and other curiosities inside.
The lavish Baroque structure is composed of a main room (meant to be Neptune’s throne room) and two side wings, with marble laid over the walls and floors. The grotto’s cool temperature made it an inviting place for guests to seek respite during the summer months. The green-and-gold iron grilles on the windows and doors, intended to look like seaweed, were made by serf artisans in the town of Pavlovo.
The circular windows ringing the base of the cupola were once entirely open, which helped keep the temperature low. The pictures of whales and sea turtles that now cover them are remnants from a recent exhibition about sea creatures.
The fantastical flowers, birds and plants that ornament the grotto’s walls took 14 years to complete. To create them, artisan Johann Focht used seashells, moss, mother of pearl, glass shards and tuff (a rock made of volcanic ash). The seashells, which number 26 types in all, come from the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Black Sea, as well as bodies of water outside Moscow.
The central room holds three genre paintings that are heavily studded by shells; they depict a deer, a romantic meeting by a fountain and a comedic scene involving a noblewoman slaying a pheasant. Iron garden furniture next to the panels encouraged noble visitors to put up their feet.
Statues of Greek and Roman deities such as Juno once occupied the empty pedestals along the walls. Some statues fell prey to theft, while others have lost limbs. But a variety of sculptures remain to guard the grotto’s peripheries, including a dapper monkey in a hat and an armless noblewoman carrying a basket.
A number of animal figures are hiding amidst the swirling shell patterns on the walls. In the room to the right, a pelican perches above a window, while a gaping white seahorse bobs by the main window of the room to the left. Look up: in both side rooms, dragons writhe on the ceiling.
© Moscow News. 22 January, 2013
Khvalevskoye, former estate of Nikolai Kachalov
The Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky has begun a campaign to auction pre-revolutionary estates and mansions to save them from potential ruin. He said that architectural monuments in the worst condition would be a priority and would be offered for long-term rent or even sale to those who can demonstrate that they are committed to restoration.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia rejected the idea of property restitution to descendants of the noble families and wealthy merchants who owned such homes before the Bolshevik Revolution.
Medinsky said that the government had failed to follow through on previous plans to manage the properties and that the situation had reached a crisis point.
“There are 150,000 [architectural] monuments in the country,” said the minister according to the RIA Novosti state news agency. “Some of them are in private hands, a majority are in state hands and even more are in a state of ruin. About ten years ago there were instructions to hand over about 2,500 monuments to the monuments administration agency. [But] the government’s instruction was not carried out. Two hundred and forty-one monuments were handed over. The monuments are in [a] horrific condition.”
Medinsky said that the ministry had already proposed that Rosimushchestvo, the state property agency, auction the right to rent those sites that are in good condition at market rates, on the condition that they are properly maintained. Sites that are in a ruined state would be leased at a peppercorn rate. Olga Dergunova, Russia’s deputy economic development minister and the head of Rosimushchestvo, said firm plans were yet to be put in place, however.
Many of Russia’s historic properties were allowed to crumble in the post-Soviet bureaucracy of the 1990s and 2000s to make way for more lucrative residential and commercial buildings.
The city of Moscow is now actively employing the new scheme to auction monuments, which has already resulted in some positive examples of restoration. But in the regions the situation is more complicated for preservationists and potentially easier for those who want to purchase outright a monument.
Yevgeny Sosedov, the deputy chairman of the Moscow region branch of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments, is leading activists in a fight to save Arkhangelskoye, the Yusupov family estate, famous for its palace, grounds and art collection. Since the 1990s, a state museum has shared the grounds with the ministry of defence, which runs a convalescent hospital there. It is ironic, Sosedov said, that estates that survived the Revolution have suffered greater damage in the post-Soviet era because in Soviet times they were, at least, in use as pioneer camps, sanatoriums or collective farms. Local officials, he said, are not interested in dealing with the smalls sums of money needed to conserve estates that have fallen into ruin. “Everyone is waiting for big money,” he said.
Some of the descendants of the pre-revolutionary elite have bought back family properties. Yury Voicehovsky-Kachaloff and his wife, Vera, spent around $100,000 to buy the remains of the mansion and grounds of Khvalevskoye, an estate in the Vologda region, which was used as a government office and school in the Soviet era. Vera Voicehovsky-Kachaloff is a descendant of Nikolai Kachalov, an official who was close to the future Tsar Alexander III. The family rediscovered the estate after being sought out and invited to the local village’s anniversary celebration in 2006. The cost at auction was high, said her husband, because a local hunting organisation was eager to purchase the territory to develop as a hunting grounds.
It cost the Voicehovsky-Kachaloffs around ten times more to restore the mansion. Financiers now based in Moscow who spent ten years living in London, they were inspired by the UK's National Trust. They plan turn the mansion into a local museum, cultural centre, Sunday school, a base for their family gatherings, and possibly as a small hotel for those interested in the culture and lifestyle of pre-revolutionary estates.
© The Art Newspaper and RIA Novosti. 22 December, 2012
The Golitsyn Palace at Bol'shiye Vyazemy has reopened as a museum after an extensive restoration. Situated near Moscow, the palace of Prince Boris Vladimirovich Golitsyn has a rich history
A portrait of the Emperor Paul I maintains a place of honour in the main hall of the palace, who visited the palace. The palace includes two floors, and each room includes portraits of famous nobles associated with Golitsyn.
Funding for the restoration of the 228-year-old palace was provided from the budgets of both the federal and Moscow region. Parquet floors, similar to that at Pavlovsk Palace were painstakingly restored.
The estate, which is situated on the old road to Smolensk offered the shortest route to Western Europe, and thus played a remarkable role in the events of the War of 1812. Both Kutuzov and Napoleon slept in the palace. It was here that General Kutuzov stopped after the Battle of Borodino, and on the first floor of the palace in which he made crucial decisions. He and his army fled the palace with Napoleon and his troops in pursuit.
Napoleon was visited by his French generals, all of whom were impressed with the palace and its luxurious interiors. Ironically, the palace was spared major looting by the French invaders. Sadly, the palace suffered a much worse fate under the Soviets.
These historic events are commemorated in a unique exhibit dedicated to Russia’s victory in the Patriotic War of 1812. The restorations of the palace are expected to be completed by the end of 2012.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 10 September, 2012
Citizens of the Moscow Region are appealing to local authorities to rescue Grebnevo Estate, the security zone of which, though a monument of architecture, culture and history, is being sold out piece by piece.
They have forwarded a request to draw attention to the situation and to undertake appropriate measures for prevention of destruction of the estate to the regional culture minister A. Gubankov.
In order to avoid repetition of the situations in Borodino, Arkhangelskoye Estate, and now in Veshki, we request to stop urgently the sale and surveying of sites in the security zone of the Grebnevo Estate and seize all transactions with these lands”- the letter reads.
Local authorities have transferred a part of lands of Grebnevo from the status of a security zone to the status of summer cottage sites.
The historical and cultural monument Grebnevo Estate is located 30 km to the northeast from MKAD (Moscow Circle Road) in the vicinity of Fryazino town. The estate was built in 1780-1790 and its main building with two churches has survived to this day.
© Russia Info-Centre. 22 August, 2012
The Kuskovo Estate-Museum is currently undergoing a large scale restoration. The restoration of the facades of the historic buildings is expected to be completed by October.
There are further plans to reconstruct the pond and garden, which, when completed will reflect an 18th century formal French garden, complete with alleys of lime trees, flower beds and marble statues.
Further restoration will be carried out on the historic interiors of the main house itself. However, special care must be taken by craftsmen due to the fact that the building was originally constructed out of wood.
Restoration of the ballroom will begin shortly and include the chandeliers, mirrors and parquet floors with a complex pattern, originally made using three different types of rare woods.
Situated several miles east of Moscow, Kuskovo was the former summer country house and estate of the Sheremetev family. Built in the 18th century, it was one of the first great summer country estates of the Russian nobility, and one of the few still preserved in the Moscow region.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 10 August, 2012
Yasnaya Polyana was the home of Russian writer and thinker Leo Tolstoy, where he was born and spent nearly 60 years of his life. During the distribution of inheritance between the Tolstoy brothers in 1847 Leo Tolstoy inherited the Yasnaya Polyana estate and several villages. Soon afterwards he sold the villages and the more than 1,000-hectare Yasnaya Polyana estate became his only property. The spacious three-storey house with 32 rooms where Leo Tolstoy was born on August 28th 1828 was later demolished. Upon his return from St.Petersburg in 1856, Leo Tolstoy and his family had to occupy one of the two wings which had been built by his grandfather. As Tolstoy’s family became larger, the wing was extended to provide more room. Members of the Tolstoy family referred to the Yasnaya Polyana house as “the big house”. Leo Tolstoy wrote many of his novels at Yasnaya Polyana and the estate bore witness to all the twists and turns of his more than eventful life.
The largest room, “the parlor” as the Tolstoys used to call it in those days, has preserved the interior of the old mansion. Director of the Yasnaya Polyana Museum Yekaterina Tolstaya comments.
"Many heirlooms were passed on from generation to generation. Portraits, mahogany furniture, and the comfy old chairs from the old mansion – all moved together with the family. The writing desk which belonged to Leo Tolstoy’s father is now in the writer’s study. Tolstoy wrote his most significant works at this desk."
Leo Tolstoy preferred to do a large share of work around the house himself and was on good terms with peasants for whom he had infinite respect. Even in his younger years Tolstoy believed that the landlord owed a lot to his peasants. When he was 21, Tolstoy opened a school for peasant children in Yasnaya Polyana and often gave classes himself. The student-teacher relations were built on the basis of equality. Yekaterina Tolstaya comments.
"Tolstoy deemed the ABC book he wrote to be nearly the most important of all his works. While teaching high school, he practiced an individual approach. He knew what the kids’ interests were and read and discussed things with them. His classes were held in a friendly atmosphere so each pupil found them interesting and benefited from them."
In addition to “the big house”, the Yasnaya Polyana estate consists of a huge park with alleys and ponds. One of the most remote alleys has Leo Tolstoy’s favorite bench from which opens a marvelous view on the local landscape. The Tree of Love is another attraction. As the legend goes, if you go around the tree several times and wish for something, your wish will come true.
Despite Tolstoy's views on politics and the church (the latter of which led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901) it is interesting to note that the novels and short stories of Leo Tolstoy were a favourite of Tsar Nicholas II, who used to read them aloud to his wife and children on cold winter nights while in residence at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.
© The Voice of Russia and Paul Gilbert. 23 June, 2012
Dubrovitsy is an ancient Russian village located 20 kilometres south of Moscow. Besides, Dubrovitsy is one of the most beautiful country estates in Russia, where the Church of the Sign of the Holy Mother of God is situated. The latter was consecrated in the presence of Emperor Peter the Great. The baroque-style church in Dubrovitsy resembles an exotic flower and has nothing to do with the traditional Russian churches. The name of its architect has not been established yet, Director of the Podolsk Museum of Local Lore Lyubov Slashchova says.
"We carefully studied the materials of Priest Romadanovsky who lived in the 19th century and who remembered all the events of the past. However, no evidence that would enable us to establish the authorship has been found yet."
As we have mentioned before, the Dubrovitsy church resembles an exotic flower – a quatrefoil, which is an element of Western art. That is why it is doubtful that it is an example of Russian baroque architecture, Lyubov Slashchova says.
"Baroque came to Russia from Western Europe – from Italy, to be more precise – and splendour is its key feature. And as regards the Church of the Sign of the Holy Mother of God, its splendour is proof of this. All the elements of Baroque are represented there. But I wouldn’t say that this is a Moscow or a Russian baroque style."
The church that dominates the panorama of the Dubrovitsy country estate is also its centre and focal point. The second centre of the Dubrovitsy country estate is the palace that most likely was built in baroque style but that was later reconstructed in classical style. At the end of the 19th century Prince Sergei Golitsyn brought luxurious wooden furniture dating back to the 17th century to the Dubrovitsy country estate from a palace in Rome. There is an old lime-tree park not far from the Dubrovitsy Palace. As legend goes, some of the lime-trees were planted there by Peter the Great. Among the owners of the Dubrovitsy country estate were famous of landed nobility, including Golitsyn, Dmitriyev-Mamonov, and Potyomkin. Representatives of the Romanov House as well as foreign ambassadors visited the Dubrovitsy country estate on many occasions.
© The Voice of Russia. 06 May, 2012
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