The Golden Gates to the Catherine Palace Return in Full Splendour

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© The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

The 18th-century Golden Gates to the Catherine Palace have been unveiled after eight-month restoration.

The central gates of the palace courtyard were designed by Savva Ivanovich Chevakinsky (1713-1780) and Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700-1771) and constructed between 1748-56. Severely damaged in World War Two and rebuilt in the 1960s, the gates have undergone their first major restoration in more than 50 years.

The restoration was organized by the Russian Ministry of Culture’s North West Administration for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration under the federal target program Culture of Russia (2012–2018) and completed by the Slaviansky Project Group.

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© The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

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© The Tsarskoe Selo State Museum

The restorers had to deal with 3,500 decorative elements and over 12,000 rivets on the wrought-iron openwork with gilded embellishments. The attachable details had to be removed, numbered and cleaned. After removing old gilt with a special tool, some of the 18th-century elements were found preserved. As well as later ones from the 1960s, those elements were straightened and their missing parts remade. Elements that did not survive were recreated by art blacksmiths.   

The most difficult was the process of coating the embellishments with the thinnest (0.1 micron) sheets of gold leaf using 19th-century technology and a special varnish Mordan. The overall gilding required more than 300 sixty-sheet gold leaf books containing 4 grams of gold each. The double-headed eagle on the gates was the largest element which required 6 gold leaf books.

Also restored were the gates’ brickwork, fence basements, stucco work decorations and natural stone details.

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. 17 April 2019

Russian President Visits Restored Catherine Palace Chapel

On 11th April, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Catherine Palace’s Church of the Resurrection and praised the quality of its restoration work, which became possible thanks to financial support from Gazprom.

The president was accompanied by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, and the permanent members of Russia’s Security Council.

The VIP guests of the Museum had a tour of the Chapel led by Director Olga Taratynova, who showed them the revived masterpiece of eighteenth century architecture designed by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli.

The Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Tsarskoye Selo was founded in August 1746. The palace chapel was designed by the Italian architect Francesco Rastrelli, (1700-1771)construction lasted 10 years. It was consecrated in the presence of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna and impressed her contemporaries by it’s unique beauty and splendour.

Specialists of the Amber Workshop of Tsarskoye Selo, who spent four years restoring the Palace Chapel, followed the Museum’s requirements of maximal conservation of extant details and minimal re-creation of lost ones.

The Chapel of the Catherine Palace will open to visitors on 13 April 2019.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 April 2019

Reconstruction of Tsarskoye Selo Monuments Destroyed During WWII will Take 25 years

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Restoring the Golden Gate and fence of the Catherine Palace

The complete restoration of the architectural monuments of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve (GMZ) destroyed during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), the main residence of the Russian emperors and empresses near St. Petersburg, will take at least another quarter of a century. This assessment was made last week by Deputy Director for Research and Education Iraida Bott, during a press conference marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Pushkin from Nazi occupation.

“I think that it will take least 25 years,” said Bott, when asked the question of how long it will take to recreate all the monuments of the museum-reserve that were damaged in wartime. Most of them were destroyed in the first year of occupation, which lasted a total of four years.

Recreation of the Catherine Palace

Two-thirds of the main monument of the museum-reserve – the Catherine Palace – have now been restored, its restoration has been going on for more than six decades, since 1957. Among the most significant objects that have been recreated in recent years is the Golden Enfilade. “it will soon be completely restored, and in March of this year we will open the Church of the Resurrection of Christ – the last interior created by the famous architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771). The Imperial Chapel was consecrated on 30th July 1756, and thus the entire Golden Enfilade will be brought back to life,” explained Bott.

One of the greatest achievements during the reconstruction of the monuments lost during the Great Patriotic War is the reconstruction of the Amber Room. The unique interior, presented to Tsar Peter I by the Prussian king Friedrich-Wilhelm I, disappeared without a trace during the war years; its fate remaining a mystery to this day. Work on the recreation of the “eighth wonder of the world” lasted twenty-four years and on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the foundation of St Petersburg the restored legendary Amber Room received its first visitors. 

“The greatest sadness and the greatest hope of my generation is to see the state rooms and private quarters of the Empress Catherine II restored. It is hard to imagine when these rooms will be realized,” said Bott. In the meantime, there are plans to recreate the rooms of Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace.

Later this year, noted Bott, one of the most grand palace halls of the 18th century – the Lyon Hall will be opened. “This is the ceremonial hall, located next to the Arabesque Hall, which was also created in Catherine’s times, and underwent significant changes in the middle of the 19th century. We will restore it to its pre-war look,” she added.

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The Alexander Palace was closed for restoration in August 2015

Alexander Palace and the lost exhibits

“Besides the Catherine Palace, we still have the Alexander Palace and a large number of pavilions to restore and recreate in the Alexander Park, all of which require a lot of work,” said Bott. In recent years, the Martial Chamber, the Arsenal and Chapelle pavilions were opened to visitors. In 2019, the first eight rooms of the Alexander Palace are scheduled to be opened.

The museum is working hard to return the lost exhibits to the collection.

“Before the war, our entire museum collection was catalogued, so we have the exact numbers — about 110 thousand pieces. Of course, not all of them could be evacuated, only the finest items were evacuated – about 19 thousand items. Today we have in our collection more than 50 thousand items: these include items that we acquired at auctions, and those that we received from donors and sponsors. Descendants of soldiers and civilians who stole items as a souvenir from the palaces during the war years have returned more than a hundred items,” said Bott.

It is interesting to note that when the Alexander Palace was handed over to the Ministry of Defence in 1951, a total of 5,615 items that were still among the evacuated items in the Central Repository of Museum Stocks from the Suburban Palace-Museums, were transferred to the Pavlovsk Palace State Museum. Of these, nearly 200 pieces were from the Alexander Palace ceremonial halls. These included 39 pieces of porcelain, 41 paintings, 73 decorative bronze pieces, and 28 pieces of furniture. Let us hope that as a gesture of goodwill, that the Pavlovsk Palace-Museum administration will do the right thing, and return all of these items back to the Alexander Palace – PG

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 29 January 2019

Third lazurite portal to be installed in the Lyons Hall of the Catherine Palace

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Boris Iğdalov, Head of the Lyons Hall restoration project

The reconstruction of the third lazurite portal has been completed, and will soon be installed in the Lyons Hall of the Catherine Palace. For its construction, it took more than 200 kilograms of lapis lazuli, and dozens of people, eight months to complete. The portal was made in the famous Amber Workshop at Tsarskoye Selo, where the Amber and Agate rooms were recreated by a team of experts and artists.

The Lyons Hall was created by the architect Charles Cameron in 1781 – 1783 and was named after the elegant walls, which were made with silk, manufactured in Lyon, France. The room was one of the private apartments of the Empress Catherine II, along with the Arabesque and Chinese halls, the Silver and the Blue rooms.

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The reconstruction of the third lazurite portal is presented at a press conference 

The Lyons Hall featured bright Lyon gold silk, and rich blue lapis lazuli – creating a combination of luxury and impeccable taste. The blue lapis lazuli is mined in the Baikal region of Siberia, as well as from the north-east provinces of Afghanistan.

The Lyons Hall was lost during the Second World War. The legendary art historian Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov (1912-1993) was here on April 27, 1944. He wandered among the ruins of the Catherine Palace and found pieces of charred lapis lazuli on the floor of the former Lyons Hall. He recovered 25 pieces of lapis lazuli and a chandelier. Three gilded bronze and lapis lazuli portals, as well as the Lyons silk, perished in the shelling and subsequent fire.

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The Lyons Hall as it looked at the end of the Great Patriotic War

The Nazis had stolen the parquet floor of the Lyons Hall “made from twelve varieties of rare woods”, inlaid with mother of pearl. It was discovered in 1947 in Berlin and returned to Tsarskoye Selo. The original parquet floors are currently being restored, and once completed, will be reinstalled in the hall. 

The Lyons Hall was recreated when the Catherine Palace was rebuilt after the Great Patriotic War. The interior restoration project of the Lyon Hall was prepared in 1983 under the guidance of the unique architect-restorer, the chief architect of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve Alexander Kedrinsky, who also initiated the project for the reconstruction of the Amber Room. Sadly, however, the restoration of the Lyons Hall sat idle for many years. The museum required three and a half tons of lapis lazuli, and genuine Lyon silk – made be the same manufacturer, using the same technology, in order to recreate the golden shining, weaving garlands and branches, pheasants, peacocks and swans. In 2013, the Trans-soyuz Charitable Foundation provided the museum with the necessary funding. 

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A gilded element of the lazurite portal

The walls of the hall will once again be decorated with Lyons silk. “It is made for us as a gift in Lyon. According to the texture and color, the material fully corresponds to the historical one. We still have fragments of the original. Now we are waiting for delivery, then we will start cutting and sewing,” said artist and restorer Alexander Soloviev.

In the Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop panels and elements of the portal are spread on a large table. Boris Iğdalov, the head of the restoration workshop, says that the reconstruction of the portals: “Is complicated, each element went through a long process of creation and coordinating.” First you need to draw, then sculpt, then create a cast, then consult with the museum experts advice, and finally, we can create the finished element from metal and then gild. When asked about the complexities and peculiarities of the work, Igdalov notes that the most difficult is keeping the workshop together. The average age of restorers – who became famous throughout the world, for the recreation of the Amber Room – are now approaching their sixties.

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Panels and elements of the lazurite portal are spread on a large table in the Amber Worshop

“Lapis lazuli is a complex material with many inclusions. You need to first select the raw materials, and then also cut it correctly to reveal the most beautiful areas. All work is done manually, using only a small mechanization. Architects, art historians, metalworkers, jewelers, stone cutters work on the portals – our teamwork, “said Igdalov.

The Lyons Hall is scheduled to open to visitors in June 2019.

Click HERE (includes VIDEO) to read more about the restoration of the Lyons Hall, and HERE to read about the installation of another lazurite portal in the in the Lyons Hall in March 2017.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 31 August 2018

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

Restoration of the Lyons Hall in the Catherine Palace to be Completed in 2019

The above VIDEO shows the Lyons Hall as it looked in 1878, 1944 and 2018. The end of the video shows the recreation of the luxurious silk, and what the former Imperial hall will look after the restoration is complete – thanks to state of the art computer artistry. Once complete, the Lyons Hall will most certainly rank among one of the most beautiful interiors in the Catherine Palace – PG

During their occupation of Tsarskoye Selo during the Great Patriotic War (1941-44), the Nazis used the Catherine Palace as a barracks and later for target practice. When the Nazi forces retreated after the Siege of Leningrad in 1944, the former Imperial palace was plundered, and intentionally set ablaze, leaving only the hollow shell of the palace behind. 

After the Soviets retook Tsarskoye Selo, “the Catherine Palace presented a terrible scene. The great hall, the picture gallery and the gala staircase had all collapsed… The Amber Room had been stripped and the gala rooms gutted by a fire… A most terrible sight was Ratsrelli’s vista of golden doorways, now reduced to raw bricks laden with snow. Cameron’s classic suite of rooms was not destroyed but had been much vandalised,” notes Christopher Morgan and Irina Orlova in their book Saving the Tsar’s Palaces (2005).

Prior to World War II, Soviet archivists managed to document a fair amount of the interior, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace.

Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the Tercentenary of St. Petersburg in 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory.

Among the projects is the Lyons Hall, which has been undergoing a costly restoration for many years now. Up until recently, the Lyons Hall only offered visitors surviving items from its pre-war furnishings and a copy of Luigi Premazzi’s watercolour of 1878 titled The Lyons Hall (Yellow Drawing-Room) in the Great Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, which demonstrates its mid-nineteenth century splendour.

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The Lyons Hall (Yellow Drawing-Room) Artist: Luigi Premazzi (1878)

The interior is the creation of two architects: Charles Cameron (1745-1812) and later Ippolito Monighetti (1819-1878). Decorated with lapis lazuli and a luxury silk wall lining from Lyons (hence the name), the hall was finished by Cameron in the 18th-century Classical style in 1781-83. It was reworked in 1848-61 by Monighetti who treated Cameron’s work with great delicacy, intensifying the visual impact of the room by adding new furnishings: mirrors above the fireplaces, flanked by white marble cupids, and lapis-lazuli sconces on the walls. The room was filled with tables, jardinières, cachepots, screens, pedestals and desks.

Monighetti designed the gorgeous chandelier for 84 candles made of lapis lazuli and gilded bronze, which beautifully completed the now-lost exquisite ceiling décor.

The architect’s highlight for the Lyons Hall is the gilt-bronze and lapis-lazuli furniture set with such a unique feature as the monogram of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, spouse of Alexander II. The initials are an indication of the owner for whom these pieces were specially commissioned in 1856 from the Peterhof Lapidary Works to spruce up the empress’s favourite interior of the palace. Its Afghan lapis lazuli of rich deep colour with golden speckles is superbly set off by the gilded bronze surroundings.

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Newly upholstered chair, made with unique silk for the Lyons Hall
© Государственный музей-заповедник Царское Cело

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve are committed to completing the restoration of the Lyons Hall, with plans to open it to the public by the summer of 2019. The first stage of the restoration has already been completed by the upholstery of the three original armchairs with unique silk made from old samples and sketches. The next stage – the production of this material for walls and curtains, as well as the restoration and installation of the ceiling and floors.

Click HERE to read more about the restoration of the Lyons Hall in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 24 May 2018

Angels Return to the Catherine Palace Chapel

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Original 18th century angels discovered in the Catherine Palace Chapel
Photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve

This article has been edited from its original by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2018

The ongoing restoration of the Catherine Palace Chapel (Church of the Resurrection) is full of some interesting finds and discoveries.

A few months ago the restorers uncovered 182 fragments of carved gilt décor carefully hidden in the altar section of the chapel. It is believed that this was probably done by museum workers during the Soviet years, in hopes that the 18th century architectural masterpiece would be revived someday.

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Angel figures fitting with details of Altar Canopy in the Catherine Palace Chapel
Photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve

Painstaking work was carried out to identify the fragments and find out their original places in the church interior. One wing of the Tsar’s Gate was assembled from 54 of the fragments.

The hidden treasure also contained some joyful gems: two angel figures from the altar canopy, with their hands and feet detached and preserved. These crippled victims of World War II have been waiting to see the light for decades. Restorers note that the angel figures fit perfectly into the surviving details on the canopy, allowing the restorers from the Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop a wonderful opportunity to restore what was destroyed during the war.

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A sample of the 182 fragments of carved gilt décor found hidden in the Altar
Photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve

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The Palace Chapel was looted during the Nazi occupation of Tsarskoye Selo in the 1940s. Its frescoes and icons were almost completely lost and its gilt carvings scattered throughout the park.

The interior underwent conservation during the Soviet period. Back then the primary task was to restore the Golden Enfilade of the palace. Alexander Kedrinsky, the museum’s head architect was dreaming of the day when he could begin to revive the Chapel. He initiated the restoration project, but full-scale works did not begin until 2015 with financial assistance by Gazprom.

Click HERE (13 September 2017) and HERE (5 June 2015) to read more about the history and restoration of the Catherine Palace Church, and HERE (5 September 2017)to watch a video (in Russian). 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 April, 2018