RASTRELLI, Francesco Bartolomeo


RASTRELLI, Francesco Bartolomeo
(1700-1771)
   This Russian architect, whose family originated in Italy, is best known for his highly ornate Late Baroque and Rococo architecture found in and around St. Petersburg. Rastrelli arrived in Russia in 1715 with his father, a sculptor, and both went to work for the Russian aristocracy to cultivate a sumptuous, native Rococo style for the royal family. By 1730, Rastrelli had become the Senior Court Architect.
   Rastrelli's Winter Palace, built in St. Petersburg in 1754-1762 for Catherine the Great, appears as a richer, more elaborate version of Versailles Palace, France. This visual parallel to French aristocratic architecture helped to confirm the cultural authority of the Russian monarchy at the time. (The first Winter Palace, built by Rastrelli in the 1730s, had been demolished to allow room for this grander structure.) While light pastel colors were commonly used in Rococo paintings and interior spaces, here a light green color is introduced on the massive exterior, accentuated by white columns, more forcefully disengaged from their walls than at Versailles, and topped by highly ornate gold capitals. With a wonderful view across the Neva River, this building is now used to house part of the Hermitage Museum.
   The Catherine Palace, built in Tsarskoye Selo, or the "Tsar's Village," in 1752-1756, allowed the royal family to escape urban life for the carefully cultivated countryside. Built in the Rococo style with later Neo-Classical additions, the building is painted a light blue with white columns topped by gold capitals, while gold onion domes provide an exotic, almost playful, appearance to the exterior. With the addition of formal French-styled gardens and a courtly culture in emulation of the French ideal, Catherine I was able to confirm her cultural superiority at a time when monarchic rule was just beginning to be questioned in French intellectual circles.
   In Kiev, Rastrelli built the Church of Saint Andrew in 1749-1754 for Empress Elizabeth. Kiev was the center of Eastern Orthodox faith at the time, and this particular site, located on a steep hill, was thought to be the location where the Apostle Saint Andrew erected a cross during his visit to the region. Due to the awkward terrain, the church was built with cast-iron steps that lead the visitor up to an entrance platform. The structure, built on a square plan with a vivid green onion dome and four corner towers that look like minarets topped by smaller onion domes, has light blue walls covered by a profusion of white columns.
   These elaborate Rococo buildings helped to provide a beautiful visual symbol of powerful political rule in Russia in the mid-18th cen-tury, and despite their adherence to French Baroque and Rococo architectural principles, Rastrelli nonetheless created a uniquely eastern version of the Rococo style that remains an important historical symbol of high Russian culture.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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