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The Pilaster study

The next room is the largest one - the Pilaster study (originally called the Grand Study of His Imperial Majesty). The architectural finish was designed by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1800. The walls of white artificial marble are designed in the form of decorative panels, separated from one another by the clear rhythm of the gilt stucco pilasters in imitation of sienna marble. The same material is also employed in the lower wall panels and the band of the frieze dividing the walls from the moulded cornice. Moulded bas-reliefs are painted in imitation of ancient bronze over every panel, as well as over the mirrors and doors. The medallions contain profiles of Alexander the Great and his mother Olympias. Motifs painted in imitation bronze have also been introduced into the ornamental design of the plafond, executed after designs by D.-B. Scotti, in harmony with the general character of the finish of the study.

The Pilaster Study was used for audiences and small receptions. During the day time, Maria Feodorovna would often discuss the running of the estate here with her bailiff or the head gardener. In the evenings it was host to small family gatherings. This was all reflected in the furniture, arranged in groups with the creation of separate small "corners", highly typical of the early nineteenth century residential interior. Special attention should be paid to the suite of furniture designed by Andrei Voronikhin, consisting of two mahogany sofas, armchairs and chairs with gilt carving on the backs and armrests. Its most distinctive feature is the carved decoration on the backs in the form of two intertwined serpents (St Petersburg, circa 1805) and the silk and wool satin-stitching. The tables, consoles and work tables were made by Russian masters at the start of the nineteenth century. Among the items of furniture, there is an interesting mahogany screen embroidered with Russian crosses. The embroideries have allegorical subjects and inscriptions in French. Maria Feodorovna, who was herself an excellent needlewoman, allegedly had a hand in their creation. Embroideries were extremely popular at the start of the nineteenth century. Alongside the satin and tambour stitching often encountered in the eighteenth century, a new vogue developed for embroideries with cross, half-cross and gobelin stitching. Embroideries were used to decorate furniture - upholstery and insets in closets, screens and tables. Russian masters also embroidered rugs and there are superb examples of such work on the floor of the Pilaster Study.

Among the objects of decorative and applied art in the Pilaster Study, there are some excellent specimens of the art of Russian stone-carving. These are the paired jasper obelisks on the bureau (designed by Andrei Voronikhin, Peterhof Lapidary Factory, 1803), the paired jasper vases with bronze handles in the form of serpents (Ekaterinburg Lapidary Factory, 1801-02) and the two chalice jasper bowls with accompanying bronze figures of falcons drinking (Ekaterinburg Lapidary Factory, 1807). Between the windows on consoles are elegant decorative vases made of crystal and stained glass with bronze (designed by Jean-Francois Thomas de Thomon, Imperial Glass Factory, St Petersburg, 1808). Works of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century French artistic bronze - clocks, candelabra, incense vase - adorn the fireplaces, consoles and bureaux that together comprise the furnishings of the Pilaster Study.