Ceremonial halls of St Michael’s Castle

Ceremonial halls of St Michael’s Castle
Permanent exhibition

On 19 May 2021, the ceremonial halls of St Michael’s Castle opened after major restoration. On 31 August 1951, the premises of the ceremonial halls of Emperor Paul I in St Michael’s Castle were provided to the Central Naval Library to hold stacks of books. In the St Michael’s Castle branch of the Russian Museum, the Naval Library had occupied premises with an area of 2,231 square metres in the best rooms of Emperor Paul I’s former residence.

The Naval Library was founded in 1799. Today its holdings comprise approximately 1,200,000 items, with about 30% being pre-revolutionary volumes from the 18th and 19th centuries – a bibliographic rarity. The final decision on relocation of the library was made in February 2018, under RF Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky. The library’s entire inventory held at the castle was relocated by the Main Command of the Navy itself within one month.

Immediately after the library’s move, the Russian Museum began restoration of the halls.

The Grand Throne Room

The Grand Throne Room of Emperor Paul I in St Michael’s Castle was created in 1798–1801 according to a design by architect Vincenzo Brenna (1741–1820). However, because Paul I’s visits to the castle were short, official ceremonies and formal audiences were not held there under the Emperor.

During Paul I’s reign, the walls of the room were upholstered with green velvet and goldwork, while the Emperor’s throne, placed under a crimson canopy near the eastern wall on a platform of eight steps, stood out as a bright spot in the depths of the long space with two tiers of windows.

In the centre of the ceiling was a painted plafond with two sections, executed on canvas by Italian artist Giuseppe Valeriani [1708(?)–1761], depicting an Allegory of Peace and an Allegory of Victory. The room was also finished with rich plasterwork.

In the frieze that sits under the ceiling all along the room’s perimeter were 76 painted insets depicting the coat of arms of Russian cities and provinces. Six white marble antique busts of Roman emperors and their wives were placed in the niches over the doors.

The royal family left the castle the day after Paul I’s death in March 1801. The building was subsequently transferred to the control of the Hof-Intendant Office. In November of that same year, by personal decree of Emperor Alexander I, apartments were constructed in the building for the residence of General of Engineers Jan Pieter (Pyotr Korniliyevich) van Suchtelen. The premises he occupied included the former Grand Throne Room, where the general kept his unique library that later became part of the Imperial Public Library.        

The luxurious velvet and goldwork wall upholstery was removed to Tver in 1809 for the furnishing of the palace located there (a road palace used for rest while travelling).

In the 1820s, after the Main Engineering School moved into the building, the room housed the Engineering Department Archives, for which two-level bookshelves were made and placed along the room’s north wall. The bookshelves remain to this day.

In 1957, the former Grand Throne Room became part of the premises provided to the Central Naval Library that had moved into the building. The library relocated in 2018.

In 2019 and 2020, the Grand Throne Room of Paul I underwent a full-scale renovation, including a recreation of the velvet wall upholstery, prepared in Paris at a fabric manufactory with a tradition of silk weaving dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries (in a colour similar to one typically used at the end of the 18th century). The two ceiling plafonds have been restored, along with the 32 remaining coats-of-arms of Russian cities and provinces in the frieze under the ceiling. The ones that did not last were recreated. The stove – faced with artificial marble, crowned with a bronze eagle and decorated with gilt bronze ornamentation – was recreated based on blueprints from the early 19th century. Copies of the busts of the emperors described in the castle’s inventory lists were installed in the niches over the doors. The wooden bookshelves, finished with curly birch veneer sheets, were painstakingly restored and their missing parts were recreated. The 19th-century chandelier was also restored, as were the gilt bronze bras on the room’s walls and the stove. Plans for the future include the production of an exact copy of Emperor Paul I’s throne.

The Resurrection Hall

The Resurrection Hall of St Michael’s Castle (also known as the White, Grand or Chevalier Guard Hall) is the entryway to the enfilade of Paul I’s ceremonial apartments. Huge in size, with two tiers of windows and rectangular in shape, it was built in 1798–1801 according to a design by architect Vincenzo Brenna (1741–1820), and intended for holding balls and celebrations, as well as for official receptions for foreign ambassadors and ministers.

It was here, in mid-March of 1801, that the body of the deceased Emperor Paul I was displayed for people to pay their respects.

During Emperor Paul I’s reign the walls were faced in artificial dark-patched yellow marble. Large canvases depicting significant events in Russian history were placed in specially prepared niches. There were six paintings in all: The Baptism of Grand Prince Vladimir and Dmitry Donskoy’s Victory over the Tatars [by artist John August Atkinson (1775 – not before 1831), State Tretyakov Gallery], The Capture of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible and Election of Michael I Feodorovich Romanov as Tsar [by artist Grigory Ivanovich Ugryumov (1764–1823), State Russian Museum], The Battle of Poltava [by artist Vasily Kozmich Shebuyev (1777–1855), location unknown], and The Russian and Turkish Fleets Unite and Pass Through the Bosporus [by artist Vasily Petrovich Prichetnikov (1767–1809), location unknown]. The themes of the paintings were selected by Emperor Paul I himself.

The hall’s ceiling was decorated with an allegorical plafond. The side walls featured fireplaces made of grey marble “on six Doric columns”. The hall was lit by four large bronze lamps made of convex glass. One of the remaining lamps from the Resurrection Hall is currently displayed in the Throne Room of the Pavlovsk Palace.

After the royal family left the castle, the hall was used as a storage area for “astronomical instruments”. In 1819, it became home to the clerical office, archives and book depository of the Committee for Religious Schools. After the Main Engineering School moved to St Michael’s Castle in the 1820s, the hall was used as the Engineering Department Office.

In the early 20th century, the hall, which sits over the Resurrection Gate, was used for “cadet activities”. In the early 1950s, it began to be used for the physical education of the students of the Dzerzhinsky School, which at that time was located in the Engineers’ Castle (as St Michael’s Castle had come to be known). Later, in the 1960s, the hall was turned into a book storage area for the Central Naval Library, which left the building in 2018.

The Resurrection Hall underwent major restoration in 2019–2020, prior to which it was in a very poor state of repair. The restoration process restored the plafond that dated from the time of the Engineering School, the artificial marble that covered the walls was also restored, based on pieces of it that had been found while stripping the room. The fireplaces at the side walls were restored, and the two paintings by Grigory Ugryumov, held by the Russian Museum, were returned to their rightful place. The paintings done by John Atkinson for the Resurrection Hall belong to the State Tretyakov Gallery. They are currently being restored. Specially prepared reproductions, made from the originals, give an idea of the works. 

The Arabesque Gallery of St Michael’s Castle

The interior of the Arabesque Gallery in St Michael’s Castle was created in 1798–1801 according to a design by architect Vincenzo Brenna (1741–1820), imitating the Vatican’s famous Raphael Loggias. The gallery was part of the ceremonial apartments of Emperor Paul I, and was one of the most decorative and striking premises in the palace.

After Paul I’s death and the royal family’s departure from the castle, the original decorative elements of the gallery were lost. When the Main Engineering School moved into the former imperial palace in 1822, this room became the Drafting Room, and the walls were painted a light green.

In 1843, the five niches of the longitudinal wall, which previously held statues, were transformed into windows according to a design by architects Tamansky and Nechogin, who served in the Engineering Department.

This was the state of the former Arabesque Gallery for a century. In the 1960s the Gallery was transformed into a reading room for the Central Naval Library that had moved into the building. And it was at that time that a doorway was constructed along the longitudinal wall to replace the central window.

Under Paul I, the gallery was divided into seven parts, with one window in each part, and had six supporting arches, copying the architecture of the Loggias in Rome. However, unlike the one in Rome, in the St Petersburg version of the gallery the wall across from the windows had five semi-circular niches for statues. The sculptures were copied from ancient originals in Rome. Currently, two of them – Appolino and Germanicus – are housed in the State Hermitage. The location of the rest of the statues is unknown.

During Paul I’s reign, the walls and ceilings of the room were decorated by two artists of Italian descent – Antonio Vigi and Pietro Scotti – who were invited to Russia by Vincenzo Brenna and stayed for a long time afterwards.

The first phase of restoration work was done on the Arabesque Gallery in 2019–2020, which included painstaking stripping and restoration of the bas-reliefs over the windows and of the old skilfully carved doors in the side walls, including the insertion of mirrored glass and re-creation of the artificial marble discovered on the pilasters and the false windows with mirrors. Additional study is currently underway in order to execute the restoration of the room’s gilding and wall paintings.

Lady-in-Waiting Anna Protasova’s Chambers

These premises, located in the southern section of the eastern façade’s bel étage, with its windows on the Fontanka River, were occupied by chief Lady-in-Waiting Anna Stepanovna Protasova (1745–1826).

The location of Anna Protasova’s rooms – which included a drawing room, bedroom, sofa room, dining room, and others – was similar to an enfilade. The interiors were architecturally intimate and laconic: the ceilings were painted with designs and the walls were largely upholstered in textile wallpaper.

In the early 19th century, after the imperial family had left the castle, the lady-in-waiting’s chambers became part of the area allocated as the residence of General Jan Pieter (Pyotr Korniliyevich) van Suchtelen. The general used Protasova’s rooms to house his large collection of Western European painting.

When the building was given to the engineering service in 1822, the lady-in-waiting’s chambers were transformed into model rooms for the Engineering School, where they would display models of fortresses as study aids for the cadets. For easier placement of the models, parts of the cross-walls were removed in 1843 and the initial interior décor was replaced. The premises remained in this state for over 100 years.

At the end of the 1950s, the rooms were handed over to the Central Naval Library that had moved into the castle. Specifically, the rooms were home to its rare book collection. The library left the building in 2018.

The former chambers of Lady-in-Waiting Anna Protasova underwent restoration in 2019–2020, with the aim of returning the interior to the floor plan and appearance they had in the mid-1800s. 

Chambers of Master of the Horse Count Ivan Pavlovich Kutaisov

These rooms are located on the ground floor of the eastern wing of St Michael’s Castle, with windows looking out onto the Fontanka River. During the time of Pavel I’s reign, they were occupied by Master of the Horse Ivan Kutaisov.

Kutaisov’s apartments, which included 9 rooms (antechamber, drawing room, sofa room, bedroom, nursery, office, boudoir, washroom and another antechamber), were similar to an enfilade. Four of the rooms had mezzanine floors as well. The walls of all the rooms were upholstered with textile wallpaper, while the ceilings were generally painted with decorations.

After the royal family vacated the castle, the rooms were occupied by Major General Ivan Ivanovich Dibich (1737–1822) and his family in the spring of 1801. When the main Engineering School moved into the building in 1822, some of the rooms of Kutaisov’s former apartments were allocated to its hospital. At the end of the 19th century the school had its cafeteria here, for which purpose the partitions between six of the rooms were removed. The mezzanine floors and stairs leading to them that dated from the time Kutaisov lived there were dismantled. During the 19th century the interiors were remodelled and modified.

In the 1950s, the former rooms of Ivan Kutaisov, along with other premises in the castle, were granted to the Central Naval Library, which relocated to another building in 2018.

Restoration work on the former chambers of Count Ivan Kutaisov was done in 2019–2020, using the floor plans and information on the condition of the interior from the end of the 19th century as a guide.

Chambers of Chief Marshal of the Court Alexander Lvovich Naryshkin

During the reign of Paul I, the rooms on the ground floor of St Michael’s Castle whose windows face the Voskresensky (Resurrection) Canal were occupied by the Chief Marshal of the Court and Director of the Imperial Theatres Alexander Lvovich Naryshkin (1760–1826).

Alexander Naryshkin’s apartments consisted of three rooms with mezzanine floors, with an exit through a corridor into the propylaea of the main entrance to the castle’s Grand Courtyard. Staircases leading from the semi-basement level to the mezzanine floors flanked both ends of the chief marshal’s chambers. The rooms were decorated rather humbly. The walls were upholstered in textile wallpaper, but the ceilings were simply whitewashed. There were also 14 paintings displayed in the antechamber.

After the imperial family took leave of the castle, in 1801, Alexander Naryshkin’s rooms became part of the premises occupied by Major General Ivan Ivanovich Dibich (1737–1822) and his family.

When the Main Engineering School moved into the building in 1822, a company of cadets occupied Naryshkin’s rooms. At the end of the 19th century, the premises were repurposed to accommodate the apartments of the battalion commander, and later the apartments of the school’s director. By that time, the mezzanine floors and staircases that had existed during Naryshkin’s time there had been removed. Rooms were created in place of the staircases. The interiors were remodelled.

In the 1950s, Naryshkin’s chambers, along with other premises in the castle, were transferred to the care of the Central Naval Library. The library was relocated in 2018. By that time, only the original floor space was left of Naryshkin’s apartments, which had been remodelled many times over. The artistic design of the interior had also been changed, in connection with the removal of the textile wallpaper. From an architectural standpoint, there remained only fragments in the form of simple contoured cornices.

The former chambers of Naryshkin underwent restoration in 2019–2020, based upon the floor plans and condition of the interiors at the end of the 19th century.


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