Tsarskoye Selo Marks 15th Anniversary of Reconstructed Amber Room

The VIDEO (in Russian) presents stunning photographs of the details and elements of the reconstructed Amber Room

Fifteen years ago today, the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo celebrated a landmark event – the opening of the replicated Amber Room in the majestic Catherine Palace.

The original Amber Room was made in Germany under the guidance of Andreas Schluter, Gottfried Wolfram, Ernst Schacht, and Gottfried Turau from 1701 through 1715. The customer was Friedrich I of Prussia who initially planned installing it in Charlottenburg Palace. Eventually, the amber panels were installed at Berlin City Palace.

The masters used amber in the facing panels, ornamental boards and decorations.

Friedrich Wilhelm I who ascended the throne in 1716 presented the Amber Room to Tsar Peter I of Russia. In response, he received from Peter a group of 55 Russian grenadier soldiers and a cup carved out of ivory by the Russian Tsar himself. 

The disassembled room was delivered to St Petersburg in 1717 and reassembled in the lower lounge of the Visiting Chambers [dismantled in 1801] in the Summer Garden where Peter I also kept his collections and the library.

Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth ordered ‘ameliorations’ in the composition of the room by adding more decorations to it. She also moved it to the Winter Palace. Master Alessandro Martelli ‘ameliorated’ the room under the supervision of arch-architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

Since the amber parlor of the Winter Palace had a much larger space than the similar parlors in German palaces, Rastrelli added new details – he separated the panels and put pilasters with mirrors in gilded frames between them.

The Amber Room was moved to the newly built Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo in 1755. It was here that Rastrelli had it assembled in a hall larger than the one used in the Winter Palace. It had a floor space of 96 square meters. The height of the wall measured 7.5 meters while the height of the amber boards did not exceed 4.75 meters.

Rastrelli added another six pilasters with mirrors to the composition and filled the remaining spaces with painted imitations of amber. He further decorated the upper tier with gilded woodcarving.

Maria Theresia, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, presented Empress Elizabeth with Florentine mosaics by Giuseppe Zocchi showing the allegories of human senses Taste, Eyesight, Hearing, Touching and Scenting – which Rastrelli placed in the center of the four largest boards.

In 1763, the next Russian ruler, Catherine II ordered to replace the paintings with amber mosaics. The masters invited from Konigsberg and their Russian apprentices produced the supplementary details by 1770, using 450 kg of amber for the purpose. These elements united all the fragments of the decor into a single composition.

The decorative parquet in the room was made of fine woods. To make the premise still more impressive, the architects added plated commodes, also made of primary woods.

Amber proved to be a rather fragile material that responded erratically to the fluctuations of temperatures, stove heating and drafts. Its sensitiveness to these and other factors demanded small restoration works that took place in 1833, 1865, from 1893 through 1897, and in the post-revolutionary times from 1933 through 1935.

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The original Amber Room in a photo taken in 1931

The directorate of the museum, which the Catherine Palace reported to after the Revolution of 1917, scheduled a major restoration for 1941. They had to scrap the plans, however, because of Nazi Germany’s invasion and the beginning of armed operations on the Soviet front that the Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War.

The fragility of the material made it impossible to evacuate the Amber Room from the Catherine Palace in the first months of the war. The directorate decided to conserve the amber panels on the spot – by covering them up with paper and then with cheesecloth.

German troops seized the town of Pushkin on September 17, 1941. A commission for arts [Kunstkomission] which commanded the removal of the works of art to Germany was particularly active in the occupied territories. It worked in compliance with the lists drawn up back at home in advance.

Nazi experts apparently were not overburdened by the problem of the amber’s fragility. On October 14, 1941, they took the panels down and transported them to the Castle of Konigsberg [nowadays Kaliningrad, Russia] where these amber masterpieces remained until 1944.

When the Nazi troops were pulling out of East Prussia, the Amber Room was disassembled once again. Bombing raids turned the Castle of Konigsberg into ruins. The subsequent place of keeping of the panels remains unclear to this day.

The Central Commission for the Storage of Exhibits at Leningrad’s Suburban Palaces said in 1951 that the Nazi occupation had led to a loss of 30,151 museum items from the Catherine Palace.

The search for the Amber Room that was in progress from 1967 through 1984 did not produce any results. One of the versions suggested that the Germans had packed the panels into wooden boxes and had taken them out of the Castle of Konigsberg to an unknown destination. The other version held it that the panels had vanished in a fire.

Dozens of various suppositions regarding the whereabouts of the amber treasure were made over years but none of them received confirmation.

The Council of Ministers of the then Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic passed a decision in July 1979 to start works for replicating the Amber Room – a project which took 24 years to complete.

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Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop

Architect Alexander Kedrinsky designed the reconstruction project. Experts from the specially organized Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop recreated the room’s composition on the basis of photos taken at the end of 1939.

Efforts taken by various organizations made it possible for the return of two original elements of the decorations – the Touching and Scenting mosaic and a plated commode – to the palace in 2000. They had been found in Germany.

The workshop received 6 tonnes of amber from the largest deposit on the Baltic Sea, which is located in the Kaliningrad region of Russia.

The works cost $ 11.35 mln. The German corporation Ruhrgas provided $ 3.5 million of that amount.

On May 31, 2003, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Federal Chancellor Gerhardt Schroder led the ceremony of the first public presentation of the reconstructed Amber Room. 

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The Amber Room as it looks today

Click HERE to read more articles, photos and videos on the history, reconstruction, and search for the original Amber Room

© TASS News Agency / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 31 May 2018