Topic: A Russian Moment
The Arabesque Hall in the Catherine Palace opened to the public in June 2010, it took four years to complete the restoration
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve
The Arabesque Hall in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo is one of the most exquisite gala rooms created by Charles Cameron for Empress Catherine II.
The staterooms and private quarters of Catherine II were situated in place of Rastrelli’s Formal Staircase, Forth and Fifth Antechambers in the south wing of the palace, and in the new wing built at the Empress’s behest in 1779–1780s and later named the Zubov Wing. The new rooms’ finishing to the design of Charles Cameron (1743–1812), a Scottish as passionate about antiquity as the empress was, took several years. Cameron supervised the decoration of the Arabesque, Lyons and Chinese Halls and Domed Dining-Room (staterooms), as well as the Bedchamber, Blue Study or Snuffbox, Silver and Mirror Studies, and Raphael Room (personal apartments). In those interiors Cameron realized his most original architectural ideas that enraptured the mistress of Tsarskoye Selo and amazed her contemporaries.
The rooms suffered severely during the Second World War. Rebuilt for a Navy school in the early 1950s, they later accommodated a resthouse and an art school, and then re-gained the historical layout after their reconstruction ended in 2005.
The re-creation of the Arabesque Hall was started by Resstroy Company in 2006 to Alexander Kedrinsky’s restoration plan of 1979 based on Cameron’s drafts from the State Hermitage Museum, pre- and post-war photographs, and Eduard Hau’s watercolour which reflected most truly the interior and the architect’s original design.
The Arabesque Hall became the first room re-created in Catherine II’s part of the place. Cameron built it in place of Rastrelli’s Forth Antechamber, a statehall building-wide and sun-lit from east and west, which was divided in two in the late 1700s. Like all the gala rooms in the palace, the Arabesque Hall faces the Main Courtyard.
Cameron worked on the design since his arrival at Tsarskoye Selo and until 1784, while the Empress started having receptions there a year earlier. On 1 May 1743, “noble persons of both genders of Russia and ministers of other countries” were invited to see the “Arabesque”, as Catherine called the interior. The first ball, with chess and card games, was held there on May 20th.
Charles Cameron embellished the hall with pilasters, oval framed mirrors, and rectangular vertical panels with painted arabesques (hence the name). Since it had two tiers of windows, Cameron created a two-tier composition, with painted medallions depicting allegoric figures in antique clothes in the upper tier separated from the lower one by the wide band of gilt frieze. The centerpiece of the east wall is a white Italian marble fireplace.
The ceiling paintings are based on the theme of praise to human virtues. The plafond’s circle-placed medallions depict allegories of peace, fortune, friendship, affability, generosity, confidence, clemency and inspiration. The central medallion resembles the well-known myth about the Judgment of Paris, with the three goddesses, from whom he had to select the most beautiful one, painted as allegories of beauty, modesty and patience. Re-viewed in the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, the ancient subject is seen as the triumph of virtue, with Beauty, Modesty and Patience surrounded by Peace, Fortune, Friendship, Affability, Generosity, Confidence, Clemency and Inspiration.
The Arabesque Hall’s re-creation became possible thanks to its surviving fragments, such as four painted inserts of the plafond, seven bronze three-candle sconces, the white marble fireplace, two oval mirror frames, an under-mirror console-table, and fragments of modelled and carved ornaments.
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve. 15 November, 2014