QUARENGHI, Giacomo
(b. 1744, Rota d'Imagna nr. Bergamo, d. 1817, St. Petersburg)

Biography

Italian architect and interior designer, active in Russia. He is best known as the builder of numerous works in Russia during and immediately after the reign of Catherine II the Great. He was named "Grand Architect of all the Russias."

The son of a painter, Quarenghi studied painting first in Bergamo and then in Rome, where he was taught by Anton Raphael Mengs and Stefano Pozzi. Vincenzo Brenna introduced Quarenghi to architecture, he studied architecture (1767-69) with Paolo Posi, Antoine Deriset and the latter's pupil Niccolò Giansimoni (d. 1800). His contacts with enlightened artistic circles in Rome, with their enthusiasm for antiquity and the ideals of Neo-classicism, were important and bore fruit in his later work. A period in Venice (1771-2), where he was studying the works of Palladio, brought him into contact with members of the British community there, through whom he secured a few English commissions, such as the altar (1772-74) in the Roman Catholic private chapel of Henry Arundell at Wardour Castle, Wilts. Quarenghi later visited the south of France (1778-79) and was much interested in the work of Charles de Wailly and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, which confirmed his commitment to Neo-classicism. His first major commission (1771-77) was the internal reconstruction of the monastery of S Scholastica at Subiaco; various minor works followed.

In 1779 Baron Friedrich Grimm secured Quarenghi's invitation to Russia by the empress Catherine II. Among his first important commissions were the English Palace at Peterhof (1781-89; now at Petrodvorets), since destroyed, and the Hermitage Theatre (begun 1782). These were the first buildings in Russia in the Palladian style. Other early constructions include the massive Bourse and the State Bank (1789-96).

His other works in St. Petersburg included St. George's Hall in the Winter Palace (1786-95), several bridges on the Neva, and a number of academic structures, including the Academy of Sciences (1785-90), the Catherine Institute (1804-07; now the Saltykov-Shchedrin Library), and the Smolny Institute (1806-08). At the royal residence of Tsarskoye Selo, Quarenghi designed the baths, concert hall, church, the Alexander Palace, and other structures.

Quarenghi designed simple but imposing Neo-classical buildings that have clear and precise designs. His favourite format was a plain rectangular block fronted by an elegant central portico with pillars and pediment. His buildings give the city of St. Petersburg much of its stately character.