This excellent example of Baroque architecture was the house of the Russian czars and czarinas, together with Catherine the Great, from the late 18th century. Constructed for Czarina Elizabeth, the opulent Winter Palace was the best achievement of Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Although the outside has changed little, the interiors have been subsequently altered by numerous architects and then largely restored after a fire gutted the palace in 1837. After the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, the imperial family rarely lived right here. In July 1917, the Provisional Government took the palace as its headquarters, which led to its storming by the Bolsheviks.
Catherine the Great employed architect Yuriy Velten to erect the Small Hermitage so she might privately entertain her chosen associates at court. The construction was designed in Baroque style with Classical features to mix in with Rastrelli’s Baroque Winter Palace. After the Small Hermitage was accomplished, Catherine determined to accommodate her newly acquired assortment of greater than 255 work within the building. The Large Hermitage was constructed a couple of years later to accommodate the tsarina’s huge library and artworks. There are actually more than three million items of art displayed in the Small and Large Hermitage, as well as in an ensemble of buildings that features the Winter Palace. There are displays from the Stone Age up to the twentieth century, including works by Matisse, Rembrandt, and Cezanne.
The Italian architect Rastrelli studied under his father and assisted him throughout his appointment as architect for Czar Peter I. In 1722, Rastrelli took on his personal commissions in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which established him as a superb Baroque architect. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign, he was appointed Chief Court Architect and went on to design a number of buildings, including the grandiose Winter Palace. When Catherine the Great ascended the throne, Rastrelli retired from court because the empress preferred a stricter, Classical style.