The Pilaster Study


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Behind the Valet de Chambre Room, there is the Pilaster Study – the largest room of the Empress' apartments. Initially, it was called the Grand Study of His Imperial Majesty. The architectural decoration of the cabinet was made in 1800 as per the project of Giacomo Quarenghi.

The walls of white artificial marble are decorated in the form of decorative panels in a paneled frame and are separated from each other by a clear rhythm of pilasters made of golden stuc (stuc, French for artificial marble, marble-imitating plaster) imitating Sienese marble. The lower wall panels and the frieze ribbon separating the walls from the stucco cornice are also made of this material. Above each panel, as well as above the mirrors, and in the overdoors, there are stucco bas-reliefs painted in dark antique bronze. In the bas-reliefs, there are figures of Egyptian sphinxes; in the round medallions, there are profiles of Alexander the Great and his mother Olympia, copying original marble bas-reliefs by Ignazio Collino from the Boudoir of the Southern Suite of the Palace. The ornamental painting of the plafond, made as per the sketches of Giovanni Battista Scotti, depicts military attributes, including motifs painted in bronze, which complements the general character of the decoration. In the beveled corners on the sides of the central wall, there are white marble fireplaces with inserts of colored marble in red-brown and brown-yellow shades.

During the morning and afternoon hours, the study was intended for audiences, and in the evening, small-scale receptions and home meetings were held here. In the morning, visitors were received here. Maria Feodorovna could talk here with the steward or with the head gardener, discussing household matters, or accepting petitions. Small-scale family meetings were held here in the evenings. This determined the arrangement of furniture in groups with the allocation of individual “corners”, which is typical for the residential interior of the early 19th century.

A set of Russian-made furniture attracts special attention: two sofas, armchairs, and mahogany chairs with gilded carvings of the armrests and especially the backs in the form of woven snakes, as well as silk and wool satin embroidery on cloth (Saint Petersburg, ca. 1805). Sofas near the walls define two groups for conversations or needlework. The central part is reserved for business meetings and negotiations. The main focus here is a desk by Heinrich Gambs. A large round table is more suitable for family gatherings or literary readings.

The “sofa” group at the entrance to the study is separated from the general space by a screen, a very popular piece of furniture in living rooms. Not only did such a screen served as a partition, protecting from drafts, but created an additional decorative effect as well. This mahogany screen from Gambs' workshop is decorated with monotone embroideries depicting allegories of art, mercy, and charity with inscriptions in French. These motifs were undoubtedly selected by the Empress, who could even take her part in their creation. There is also an elegant needlework table made by Heinrich Gambs for the mistress of Pavlovsk. It is decorated with embroidery by Maria Feodorovna, depicting the house of Peter the Great in Saardam in the Netherlands. Embroidery became quite fashionable in the early 19th century. Along with the satin stitch and tambour stitch, which were common in the 18th century, cross-stitch, half-cross stitch, and tapestry stitch are now even more widespread. Embroidery is used to decorate furniture: upholstery of chairs, inserts in cabinets, screens, tables, and window draperies. In addition, Russian craftswomen, following colored pictures in atlases, embroidered floor carpets that spread out under their feet like flowerbeds in bloom. The most peculiar are the needlework tables that are folded into a single block with embroidery mounted in the tabletops. In the quiet evenings, the ladies sat at tables, embroidered and conducted conversations, or listened to the Empress's readers.

The greatest solemnity is inherent to the air along the main wall of the study between the fireplaces. In the center, is an elegant mahogany bureau with bronze gilded ornaments in the form of elegant Egyptian women, by Heinrich Gambs. On the sides of the bureau are two cabinets with an excellent mahogany texture and decorative elements of gilded bronze in the Empire style. The ensemble of furniture is complemented by first-class works of decorative art. On the bureau, there is a French gilded bronze clock with winged sphinxes of patinated bronze on a marble base; on the sides of the clock, there are unique paired obelisks of Kalkan jasper with bronze Egyptian sphinxes (Peterhof Lapidary Factory, per the drawing by Andrey Voronikhin, 1803). Voronikhin was the author of the projects of many products made at lapidary factories. On the stands on the sides of the bureau, there are two paired vases made of Yamsk jasper with bronze handles in the form of snakes (Yekaterinburg Lapidary Factory, 1801–1802). On the cabinets, there are two low paired bowl vases of Kalkan jasper on a stem, decorated with bronze figures of drinking falcons (Yekaterinburg Lapidary Factory, 1807).

Andrey Voronikhin collaborated a lot with Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, who was the director of the Imperial Glass Factory since 1804. This collaboration is evidenced by the consoles of the Pilaster Study with stone tabletops and supports in the form of Egyptian figures standing between the windows. Elegant decorative tripod vases made of crystal, colored glass, and bronze (Saint Petersburg, the Imperial Glass Factory, as per the drawing of Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, 1808) stand on these consoles.

Among the rarities, a bronze guéridon table with a porcelain tabletop deserves special attention (Saint Petersburg, the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, the late 18th century). The porcelain has an early landscape of Pavlovsk Park with the Ruins Pavilion dismantled by the architect Vincenzo Brenna in the 1790s during the expansion of the Palace.

From the Pilaster Study, through a small balcony, there is a descent to the Empress's Private Garden, the true kingdom of the goddess Flora.



The Pilaster Study on the floor plane


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