Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771)
The singer of Russian baroque, Rastrelli lived in Russia for some 50 years and created a style of his own in Russian architecture. He is justly regarded as a Russian architect: no other foreigners who worked in Russia in different years had such a subtle manner of combining the western mentality with Russian traditions.
During his life Rastrelli experienced both the delights of fame and the bitterness of oblivion. Peter the Great and his daughter, Empress Elizabeth, valued the architect's talent. But during the reign of Catherine the Great his name was crossed out of the lists of court architects. But it survived in history.
In his younger days Rastrelli, a descendant of an old Florentine family, did not dream of becoming an architect.
The St. Petersburg-based art critic Olga Fyodorova tells us the story of Rastrelli's life. The prominent Italian architect Carlo Rastrelli brought Bartolomeo, aged 16, to Russia. He was invited by Peter the Great to build the new Russian capital, St. Petersburg. Young Rastrelli found himself in the center of what was in fact a gigantic construction site. Having no training in the science and art of architecture he drew on everything that he saw around. At 20, he launched a project for his own.
The baroque style, which reigned in the Russian architecture of those days, featured a wealth of decorative elements on the buildings, made extensive use of combinations of contrasting colors, employed mosaic finish and a great number of statues.
The architectural "freedom" of this kind attracted Rastrelli all the more because his childhood passed in strict Gothic Paris. A gifted artist and architect, Rastrelli not only developed the traditions of European baroque but combined them with the traditions of early Russian architecture with its belfries and porches, and an abundance of gold decor and floraflora motifs in interior ornamentation. Such were his Summer Palace in St. Petersburg (which has not survived), the Winter Palace (also known as the Hermitage), the architectural ensemble at Tsarskoye Selo, the summer residence of Russian emperors, and the Vorontsov and Stroganov palaces among the many palaces of St. Petersburg's nobles. But the gem of his work is the Smolny architectural complex, which includes a cathedral, two convents and a girls' educational institution.
"The Smolny ensemble is one of Rastrelli's best works," says Olga Fyodorova. "He began to build it in 1748 but did not live to see it completed. Only a hundred years after the ensemble was completed by architect Vasily Stasov. The exterior is done in the style of Rastrelli's baroque with fanciful stucco work and numerous columns. The interior is austere and solemn with no mural paintings. That was the impact of classicism, which replaced baroque when Rastrelli was still alive.
As times and tastes changed, architecture changed too. But Rastrelli could not put up with an architecture that stopped pleasing the eye. He could not bear to see magnificent baroque decorations thrown out of the Winter Palace right before his eyes. He suffered when his palaces were rebuilt according to the new classical rules. The court architect, Count Rastrelli, was forgotten. He had to apply to Catherine the Great for money allowances for himself and his family. The Empress reluctantly signed his petitions.
Rastrelli lived 50 years of his 71-year life in Russia. He arrived in St. Petersburg as a youngster and a pupil of his father. He gained fame and honors. In his last years he lived in oblivion and in near poverty and died of a stroke. "An architect is valued here only when he is needed," he liked to repeat in the last years of his life. We know neither the exact date of his death, nor the exact place of his grave. But we have the eternal monuments to his talent - palaces in St. Petersburg, the Cathedral of the Resurrection near Moscow, St. Andrew's Church in Kiev.