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Russian art and architecture

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

During the 17th cent. influences from Lithuania and Poland brought about a humanistic interest in classical antiquity that was to culminate in the Westernization of Russia under Peter the Great. In 1712 Peter moved his capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg and began the transformation of a mud flat on the coast of Finland into a sparkling European city. A host of Western architects was imported for the enterprise and continued to work under successive reigns. The outstanding architect of the period was Conte Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. Working in a rococo style, he designed the Winter Palace (now part of the Hermitage), Smolny Cathedral, and the facade at Peterhof, one of the most beautiful buildings in St. Petersburg.

Catherine the Great preferred a more dignified manner. The Italian Antonio Rinaldi (c.1709–c.1790), the French architect Jean Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe (1729–1800), and the Scottish Charles Cameron (c.1740–c.1815) were responsible for the neoclassical architecture that Catherine promoted as the official court style. Prominent Russian architects during her reign included V. I. Bazhenov (1737–99) and I. Y. Starov (1744–1808); the latter built the splendid Tauride Palace in St. Petersburg.

In the 18th cent. the infiltration of European painting styles began, and for the first time since the introduction of Christianity sculpture became a major Russian art form. European artists such as Falconet and Vigée Le Brun, came to St. Petersburg while Russian artists started to receive their training abroad. Portrait and historical painting predominated. Under Alexander I foreign architects were still imported, including Thomas de Thoman (1754–1813), who built the Bolshoi Theatre. The Greek revival style also came into vogue, and is revealed in the buildings of M. F. Kazakov (1733–1812), A. D. Zakharov (1761–1811), and V. P. Stasov (1769–1848).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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