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RASTRELLI, Francesco Bartolomeo
(b. 1700, Paris, d. 1771, St. Petersburg)

Biography

Italian architect, inventor of an opulent Russian Baroque architecture that combined elements of Rococo with traditional elements of Russian architecture, producing multicoloured and decorative ornamentation on all facades. He was the most distinguished practitioner in mid-18th-century Russia, having settled there when his father Carlo Bartolomeo, sculptor and architect, was called to St Petersburg in 1715.

In the 1720s he may have studied with de Cotte in Paris, and possibly travelled in Germany and Italy before returning to Russia in 1730. Under the aegis of Empress Anna Ivanovna (1730-40) and her 'favourite', Ernst Johann Biren (Biron or Bühren, 1690-1772), Duke of Courland, he rose in the architectural world, designing several important buildings including the Biron Palace at Mitau (Jelgava), Latvia (1736-40).

His position as Court Architect continued under Empress Elisabeth Petrovna (1741-62), and it was during her reign that he created many influential buildings in a Baroque style of great magnificence yet delicacy. His works include the Andreas Church, Kiev (1747-68), renovations and extensions to the Summer Palace, Peterhof (1747-52), the Vorontsov (1743-57) and Stroganov (1750-54) Palaces, St Petersburg, the Smolny Cathedral and Convent, St Petersburg (1748-64), the Great Palace, Tsarskoe Selo (now Pushkin, 1749-56), and the fourth Winter Palace, St Petersburg (1754-62), the last, probably his finest achievement.

His work often synthesized French, Italian, South-German, and Russian styles, and his sources were many. He was accomplished in creating very long façades broken up by emphatic vertical punctuations, best seen in the scenographic Winter Palace. At the Andreas Church, Kiev, and the Smolny Convent, St Petersburg, he drew on 17th-century Russian church architecture for his Greek-cross plans, dominant central cupola, and lesser domes. His highly individual style created buildings of great charm. Most of his Rococo interiors have been destroyed or altered (including the famous Amber Room, Tsarskoe Selo, of 1753).

The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg was the pinnacle of Rastrelli's creation. The three-story building is in the form of a quadrangle: the powerful square expanses are united with one another at their corners by wide three-storied galleries in which antechambers and living quarters were located. The abundance of ornament gives the façades a feel of surging inner power. The palace is the pinnacle of Russian architectural Baroque and the beginning of its end.

Catherine the Great regarded the Baroque style as crude and favoured Neoclassicism, and she dismissed Rastrelli from service. Shortly before his death the Russian Academy of Arts accorded him an honorary membership.



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