During the 19th century, under Peter’s immediate successors, the evolutionary process he began continued without interruption and St Petersburg was embellished with many of its most famous buildings. The era of Empress Elisabeth (1740-61) is generally regarded as a happy one for Russia. Life in St Petersburg seems to have become calmer and more civilised, and the city became more luxurious as the rich noble families became firmly settled and built themselves grandiose residences. This is the period when the great imperial palaces were built: Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, the Winter Palace, all largely the creations of Rastrelli, whose designs, whether architectural or decorative give perfect expression to the age of Elisabeth and it is through him that the city acquired its idiosyncratic baroque flavour.
When Empress Elisabeth died in 1761, the era of baroque architecture in St Petersburg died with her. Catherine objected to the exuberance of Elizabethan taste as much as she objected to the frivolity of Elisabeth’s life-style. Catherine, educated and intelligent, considered herself a woman of the Enlightenment. Her preferred artistic idiom was the classical one and she established a commission to impose Vitruvian notions of architectural harmony on the entire city. The very graceful lay-out of St Petersburg, with its broad avenues, elegant squares and granite lined canals is the result of this commission. Catherine employed numerous foreign architects to work for her, building new palaces for herself or her lovers, expanding the Winter Palace to accommodate her collection of European painting and at times enjoying whimsical flights of fancy, as when she commissioned a young Scottish architect to build a Roman bathhouse in the grounds of the Catherine Palace.
Length: 1 hour