Monday, 7 May 2018

The Playwright and the Mikhailovsky Castle

During Paul and Maria Feodorovna’s journey through Europe in 1781-82, the grand ducal couple visited the northern Italian castle of Cardinal Farnese in Caprarola. An album of drawings with facades and floor plans of the castle was given to Paul. Among the last sheets was a partial plan of the center of St. Petersburg. A drawing of the Caprarola Castle was sketched in where Rastrelli’s Summer Palace for Empress Elizabeth stood. Paul contemplated, as early as 1782, dismantling the palace of his birth and erecting the Mikhailovsky Castle on its site.

Aerial photographs (below) of the Mikhailovsky Castle


Aerial photograph (below) of the Caprarola Castle

It took the architect Vincenzo Brenna from 1797 to 1801, the span of Emperor Paul’s reign, to complete the construction of the Mikhailovsky Palace. The floor plan was as follows:

1st  Floor      Grand Duke Alexander & his wife Elizabeth, Court Staff
2nd Floor      Emperor Paul, Empress Maria Feodorovna, Grand Duke Konstantin & his wife Anna
3rd Floor      Children Maria, Catherine, Anna, Nicholas and Mikhail, Servants

Façade and Floor Plan c1797 (below) of the Mikhailovsky Castle and Model



In the late summer of 1800, the emperor instructed the German playwright August von Kotzebue to write a guidebook on the interiors of the Mikhailovsky Castle. Paul was interested in the progress of the book and advised Kotzebue to ‘not describe anything superficially but everywhere and everything in great detail’.

In the emperor's bedroom/study there were ‘a lot of landscape paintings hanging on the walls that are lined with white wood. In the middle stood a small camp bed, without curtains, behind simple screens. Above the bed hung Guido Reni’s Angels painting. In one corner of the room there was a portrait of a knight, the work of Jean Le Duc who was greatly valued by the Emperor. The bad portrait of Frederick II and plaster statue depicting the same King on horseback, placed on a marble pedestal, were a strange contrast to these magnificent paintings. The Emperor’s writing desk was wonderful in many ways. It rested on ivory columns with bronze plinths and capitals; an ivory lattice of the finest work adorned with small ivory vases surrounded it. On one of the walls there was a picture depicting all the uniforms of the Russian army. A magnificent carpet was on the floor and the room had two doors hidden by a curtain. One of them led to a closet with a well-known purpose [toilet] and the other a locked cabinet. The double doors that led from the Emperor’s room to the Empress’ apartment were locked with a key and a bolt’. The corridor between this room and the library had two hidden doors with ‘the one on the left opened onto a secret staircase leading to the rooms on the first floor’.

Photographs (below) of Emperor Paul’s Desk and Fireplace Screen designed by V. Brenna


After the death of the emperor on March 11th 1801, the imperial family left for the Winter Palace, never to return to live there. Emperor Alexander I permitted high ranking military officers and their families to occupy the apartments. By November 1801 many of the furnishings, lighting fixtures and works of art were removed to other palaces. The oak mosaic parquets were replaced with simple pine floors; fabrics and colored glass on the walls were dismantled. For the next two decades, the castle retained its former appearance until the transfer of the building to the Engineering Department in 1822. The interiors were dismantled and most sold at auction. Archival documents reveal details of the objects [i.e. mirrors, etc.] and their buyers. The marble on the walls in the rooms of Empress Maria Feodorovna were sent to her daughter Grand Duchess Anna and the Prince of Orange for their palace in Brussels.

Photograph c1890 (below) of the Mikhailovsky Castle

Plan and photograph c1900 (below) of the Mikhailovsky Pavilions


The Mikhailovsky Castle is today part of the Russian Museum.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. Somehow I was unaware of the very charming pavilions. : )

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