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Encyclopedia > Rastrelli

Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-71) was the most important baroque architect working in Russia. He developed an easily recognizable style of late baroque, both sumptuous and majestic. His major works, including the Winter Palace in St Petersburg and the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, are famed for extravagant luxury and opulence of decoration.

Bartolomeo went to Russia in 1715 with his father, Italian sculptor Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1675-1744). His ambition was to combine the latest Italian architectural fashion with traditons of the Muscovite baroque style. The first important commission came in 1721 when he was asked to build a palace for Prince Demetre Cantemir, former ruler of Moldavia.

The church of St Andrew in Kiev (1749-54)

Rastrelli was appointed to the post of senior court architect in 1730. His works found favour with female monarchs of his time, so he retained this post throughout the reigns of Empresses Anna (1730-40) and Elizabeth (1741-62). His major works were as follows:

  • 1730 - The Annenhof Palace in Lefortovo, Moscow, demolished in the 19th century
  • 1733 - The first Winter Palace in St Petersburg, subsequently demolished
  • 1736 - The Rundale Palace for Ernst Biron, Duke of Courland and intimate friend of Empress Anna
  • 1738 - The Mitava Palace in Jelgava, Courland, also for Biron
  • 1741 - The Summer Palace in St Petersburg, demolished in the late 18th century during construction of St Michael's Castle
  • 1747 - The Grand Peterhof Palace
  • 1749 - The church of St Andrew in Kiev
  • 1749 - The Vorontsov Palace in St Petersburg
  • 1752 - The Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo
  • 1752 - The Mariyinsky Palace in Kiev (now the official residence of the president of Ukraine)
  • 1753 - The Stroganov Palace in the Nevsky Prospect, St Petersburg
  • 1753 - The Winter Palace in St Petersburg

Rastrelli's last and most ambitious project was the Smolny convent in St Petersburg where Empress Elizabeth was to spend the rest of her life. The projected bell-tower was to become the tallest building in St Petersburg and all of Russia. Elizabeth's death in 1762 prevented Rastrelli from completing this grand design.

The new empress Catherine dismissed baroque architecture as an old-fashioned "whipped cream", and the aged architect had to retire to Courland where he supervised decoration of the ducal palaces. His last years were spent in obscure commerce with Italian art-dealers. He was elected to the Imperial Academy of Arts several months before his death. A square before the Smolny convent bears Rastrelli's name since 1923.

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