Rastrelli, (born 1700, Paris, France—died April 1771, St.
Petersburg, Russia), French-born inventor of an opulent
Russian Baroque architecture that combined elements of
Rococo with traditional elements of Russian architecture,
producing multicoloured and decorative ornamentation on all
Of Italian descent,
Rastrelli moved to St. Petersburg in 1716 with his father,
the sculptor Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli. During his first
five years in Russia, he worked with his father decorating
the interiors of the palaces of the Russian aristocracy.
From 1721 he worked independently as an architect, and he
immediately made a name for himself as a master with a rich
Over a period of 50 years
Rastrelli erected a great number of palaces for Russia’s
rulers and members of the imperial court. He was in special
favour with the empresses Anna I and Elizabeth I, who were
partial to opulent luxury. For Anna he built two palaces in
Moscow (the Winter and Summer Annenhof palaces; neither has
survived), the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg (eventually
destroyed by a fire, but later restored by a different
architect), and, for her favourite, Count Ernst Johann Biron,
two palaces in Latvia. The empress, pleased with Rastrelli’s
work, conferred upon him the title of chief court architect.
During the 20-year reign of
Elizabeth (1741–61), Rastrelli built 12 palaces and a number
of cathedrals for her. With her permission he also built
elaborate homes for her courtiers. (In St. Petersburg the
Stroganov and Vorontsov palaces have survived.)
From 1747 to 1752 Rastrelli
worked on a reconstruction of the palace of Peterhof (Petrodvorets).
The three-story building stretches nearly 1,000 feet (some
300 metres). Situated on the seashore and surrounded by a
great number of fountains, the palace—in the words of the
director and painter Alexandre Benois—gave the impression of
being the “Residence of the Sea King.”
From 1749 to 1756 Rastrelli
rebuilt the Bolshoi Dvorets (Grand Palace) in Tsarskoye Selo
(now Pushkin) and erected a series of pavilions in its park.
The Tsarskoye Selo Palace (now called the Pushkin Palace) is
some 1,000 feet long, noteworthy for the ornamentation of
its facades and interiors and the wealth of its plasticity
and colour. The French ambassador, viewing the palace on the
day of its inauguration, commented, “There is only one thing
missing here: a suitable case to house a jewel of such
In 1748 at the behest of
the empress, who—though partial to the joys of life, was
also very religious—wanted in her old age to become a nun,
Rastrelli began building the Smolny Monastery on the
outskirts of St. Petersburg. A large two-story square of
monastic cells surrounds a massive inner courtyard, in the
centre of which stands a grand five-domed cathedral. The
structure’s abundant ornamentation makes it appear to have
been chiseled out of a single chunk of stone.
The Winter Palace in St.
Petersburg (1754–62) was the pinnacle of Rastrelli’s
creation. The three-story building is in the form of a
quadrangle: the powerful square expanses are united with one
another at their corners by wide three-storied galleries in
which antechambers and living quarters were located. The
abundance of ornament gives the facades a feel of surging
inner power. The palace is the pinnacle of Russian
architectural Baroque and the beginning of its end.
Catherine the Great
regarded the Baroque style as crude and favoured
Neoclassicism, and she dismissed Rastrelli from service.
Shortly before his death the Russian Academy of Arts
accorded him an honorary membership.
Andrei D. Sarabianov