Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli – Famous Italian Architect in Russia

09 December, 2014

Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli – Famous Italian Architect in Russia

If you ask an Italian about this Italian architect, many would not know who Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli was.. well, he is not so famous in his own country. But, if you plan to go to Russia, to St. Petersburg in particular, you will hear about him almost in any places that you will visit. Just have a look at the luxurious Winter Palace in St. Petersburg or at the extraordinary Catherine Palace in Tsarskoee Selo (just to mention some of Rastrelli’s major works) – as the Russians already do, you too will easily associate the architect’s name to a both sumptuos and majestic style of architecture, which became known as Russian Baroque.  So let’s learn more about one of the greatest architects active in Russia!

In 1715, when he was only 15, Bartolomeo Rastrelli arrived in Russia together with his father, the sculptor and architect Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli. In 1721 he already received his first architectural commission, as he was invited to design a palace for Prince Demetre Cantemir of Moldavia. His ambition was to combine latest Italian motifs with traditional Romanov Baroque. All went well: his works pleased the Russian court, and in 1730 he was appointed senior court architect by Empress Anne. In this role, Rastrelli directed the campaign of architectural renovation and construction carried on during the reigns of Anne (1730-40), Elizabeth (1741-62), Catherine (1762-96) and Alexander I (1801-25), creating his unmistakable style of Baroque architecture.

In addition to those mentioned above, his main commissions included: Saint Andrew’s Church, Kiev (1748-67), Vorontsov Palace, St. Petersburg (1749-57), Hermitage Pavilion, Tsarskoe Selo (1749), Mariyinsky Palace, Kiev (begun 1752), and Stroganov Palace St. Petersburg (1753-54). His last and most ambitious project was Smolny Convent in St. Petersburg for Empress Elizabeth. The projected bell-power was supposed to be the highest building of Petersburg and of the Whole Russian Empire. But Elizabeth’s death in 1762 prevented the Italian architect to complete his great design. New Empress Catherine II, on the contrary of her predecessors, disapproved Baroque style, considered it to be  old-fashioned – as a result of this, Rastrelli had to abandon his work and he retired. (The building was only finished in 1835 by Vasilij Stasov with the addition of a modern neo-classical interior to suit the changed architectural tastes at the time)

Not long before he died, Rastrelli was elected a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts, St Petersburg. Since 1923 the square before the Smolny convent bears Rastrelli’s name.


This post was brought to you by Manuela, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz

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