The Marble Hall of the
Marble Palace ReOpens

The Marble Hall of the Marble Palace is once again open to visitors after undergoing two years of painstaking restoration work.
Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

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St. Petersburg’s reputation as a center of Baroque art and architecture received a notable boost last Friday with the official opening of the newly renovated Marble Hall in the Marble Palace.

Sergei Lyubimov, director of two of the Russian Museum’s properties, revealed a spectacular room restored to its 18th-century glory after two years of painstaking work by specialized teams of local restorers. Lyubimov presented the artisans with awards and bouquets of flowers for their work on the room’s parquet floors, marble surfaces, plafond paintings, chandeliers and fireplaces.

The Marble Palace was built at the behest of Catherine the Great for her then-favorite, Grigory Orlov, but the count never occupied the elegant residence; he died two years before work was completed in 1785. The palace remained the property of the imperial family until the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Marble Palace impressed contemporaries with its magnificent decoration, particularly the Marble Hall, which from the day of its creation was declared to be one of the most beautiful rooms in the city. The architect was Antonio Rinaldi, an Italian master of the baroque style who spent the last 40 years of his life working in Russia.

For the decoration of the Marble Hall, Rinaldi made extensive use of marble brought from different parts of Russia, Greece and Italy in the pilasters, fireplaces and walls. Such lavish application was unusual, even in royal palaces. Other natural stones such as lapis lazuli were also used. The ceiling was adorned with Torelli’s canvas of “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche,” while crystal and bronze chandeliers illuminated the room and richly ornamented furniture and wall reliefs enhanced the beauty of the interior. But the most impressive feature was the combination of marble walls and magnificently designed parquet floor, for which exotic wood was purchased from as far away as Central America.

The Marble Hall completes the northeast suite of rooms and is adjacent to the main dining room. Rows of windows running the full width of the hall offer magnificent views onto the River Neva.

During the 225 years it has existed, the palace and Marble Hall have twice undergone substantial reconstruction. In the middle of the 19th century when it became obvious that the palace needed renovation work, Nicholas I invited the eminent architect and adherent of Classicism Alexander Brullov to undertake the work.

Brullov preserved many features, but eliminated the partition between the two floors in the Marble Hall, thereby doubling its height. This added substantially to the feeling of space and airiness of the hall.

The second period of renovation took place in 1992, when the building was turned over to the Russian Museum for management and the decision was taken to undo a great many changes introduced during the decades of Soviet rule.

The restoration of the Marble Hall was carried out on the basis of watercolors, late 19th-century photos and other extant original materials. The parquet floors were assembled on the spot to recreate the intricate 18th-century design.

Now that the Marble Hall is open, the restorers will continue working on the other halls of the suite in which it is framed. Visitors can see parts of open walls where beneath the stucco, wooden panes, arches and other 18th-century elements are exposed. According to Lyubimov, there is a chance that the entire suite will be ready and open to the public in time for the 120th anniversary of the Russian Museum in 2015.

Source: St. Petersburg Times
by Larisa Doctorow
28 May, 2010