The Ostankino estate, situated in the northern part of Moscow, is a uniquely well-preserved monument of the 18th century Russian architecture.
In the past it was a country estate, while currently it is situated at a 20 minute ride away from the Kremlin. The estate attracts beauty lovers by its austere forms of the classical architecture, by the refined beauty of the palace interiors and by the secluded silence of the ancient park.
The estate ensemble had been shaping for several centuries. Ostankino was first mentioned in the mid-16th century.
From the first quarter of the 16th century to the mid-18th century, the estate was owned by the Cherkassky dukes.
Under their ownership, Ostankino was a rich residence with a beautiful church, a large master's house and a vast garden.
At those times, the estate was as beautiful and well-organized as to receive Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, also known as Elizabeth, four times in a row.
The still existing Ostankino Palace was built in the last decade of the 18th century by Count Nikolay Sheremetev, one of the richest and noblest people of the time. In 1743, Ostankino went to the Sheremetev family as the dowry of his mother who was born Cherkasskaya.
Since the parents of Nikolay selected Kuskovo as their country estate, Ostankino was mainly used for business up to the late 18th century.
The unusual Ostankino Palace was designed by the famous Russian architects F. Camporesi, V. Brenna and I. Starov. The design was implemented by the serf architects A. Mironov and P. Argunov. The construction works lasted from 1792 to 1798. The palace is built completely out of wood; however, its plastered walls seem to be out of stone. The implementation of the extraordinary idea was appreciated.
The decisive turn in the fate of Ostankino is related to the decision of N. Sheremetev to build a theatre in Ostankino. Theatre was fashionable entertainment among the enlightened Russian nobility of the time; however, unlike most of them, N. Sheremetev made theatre a cause of his life. With a well-trained company that had mastered a vast repertoire and with several theatre rooms being at his disposal, Sheremetev conceived a summer entertainment residence, which at the time was a unique project for Russia.
In the spirit of the Enlightenment that embraced the ideas of commonness of cultures and unity of the civilization, Ostankino was supposed to become a pantheon of art, a palace penetrated by theatre.
It was not only the fact that the theatre occupied the central place in the palace that made Sheremetev's plan fundamentally novel. One could feel that the theatricality idea influenced everything: the orientation of the estate general axis towards the Kremlin; the choice of the main viewpoint from Moscow to be on the further bank of the pond; the design of the main court that resembled a stage surrounded by wings; the gradual development of the interiors that succeed each other like play scenes; the choice of active bright colours and the abundance of mirrors and gilt in the interiors of the seemingly strictly classical building; the mix of the real luxury with props; the real and illusionary space transformation.
On top of that, high-quality works of art filled staterooms of the palace forming pictorial, graphic and sculpture art galleries and thereby transformed the staterooms, apart from foyers, into a sort of proto-museum.
There is a theatre in the centre of the palace. Two ways lead to it from the Entrance Hall. The Left Anteroom led visitors to the lower foyer, the theatre floor foyer. It was situated in the west wing of the palace. The Italian Pavilion occupied a greater part of the wing.
The pavilion harmonically mixed pageantry and seclusion that charmed visitors, while the abundance of marble sculpture set on the bluish and greenish background hinted at a park. The Right Anteroom led visitors to the upper foyer.
Succeeding one another, the rooms of the foyer form the enfilade of the first floor, where contrast colours, volume alternations, light and shadow play, numerous tricks represent the "new taste" of the master of the palace, which is essentially an original, theatricalized version of the classicism interior.
The foyer finishes with the Picture Gallery, where colourful images of narrative pictorial art anticipated colourful theatre performances.
During receptions held in Ostankino, balls were given after performances in the same room followed by dinners in the Egyptian Pavilion. The pavilion is atrium-shaped; it fully reflects the classicism traditions of interior design.
"I must tell you about the residence of Count Sheremetev who three days ago gave a celebration to the Polish king and around five-hundred other select people. No German ruler, not even an elector possesses anything of this kind… On the ground floor, everything glitters with gold, marble, statues and vases. More than enough to think that you have seen all the possessions of the master, but once you have ascended to the ground floor you get surprised seeing new splendour that is at least as magnificent as the one before. There is a large beautiful theatre. The company, actors, dancers, choir — all this belongs to the master," an eyewitness wrote.
Being highly professional, the company, which consisted of up to 200 actors, singers and musicians, could successfully compete with the imperial theatre. The repertoire of the company comprised over a hundred of operas, comedies and ballets (e.g., Russian comic operas of Fomin, Kozlovsky, Pashkevich, etc.); it included works of French and Italian composers (e.g., Gretry, Monsigny, Paisiello, Puccini, etc.).
At the opening of the theatre in 1795, the opera The Capture of Ismail, or Zelmira and Smelon, composed by I. Kozlovsky to the words by A. Potyomkin, was performed. In 1797, during the celebration given by Sheremetev in the honour of Emperor Paul I, the opera Les mariages samnites by A. Gretry was performed; this opera was once more performed a little bit later for the Polish King Stanislaw II August Poniatowski. The lead role was played by the brilliant Praskovya Zhemchugova, a serf actor, the best singer of the company who later became Countess Sheremeteva.
In 1801, Sheremetev hosted a celebration for the last time in his life, in the honour of Emperor Alexander I. The golden age of Ostankino was gorgeous, though brief. Soon the company was disbanded, and the estate was forsaken by its owners for a long time.
Currently, Ostankino is the only 18th century Russian theatre that preserved a stage, an auditorium, a make-up room and a part of machinery. Excellent acoustics of the auditorium, which was specially attended by architects and builders, makes it the best Moscow auditorium in acoustics.
In the past, it was possible to transform the theatre; currently, the theatre is shaped only as a ballroom, which is however still used for ancient opera and chamber concert performances.
The staterooms that surround the theatre have no match in Russia for the preservation degree of rich carved decorations and gilded furniture (18th century) as well as glued-laminated parquet: the parquet of the staterooms is virtually in its original condition.
Invaluable lighting devices, sculptures, and furniture collections that decorate the palace are put in their original locations.
The museum possesses various collections that contain objects belonging to the owners of Ostankino, the Sheremetev counts, as well as objects collected after 1918 when the palace was nationalized and turned into the museum.
The most valuable are those collections that contain pieces of interior decoration that have stayed in Ostankino since it was founded.
A gilded and glued-laminated furniture collection is the largest collection of this kind. It contains furniture made in Russia or Western Europe in the 18th or mid-19th century.
There are censors of various forms and types, standing lamps, pedestal tables, wall adornments, panels, furniture made for Ostankino specially.
A large part of the collection is made up by works of the carver P. Spol distinguished for rich fantasy and careful finishing.
As for collections of the 18th century lighting devices related to certain estate interiors of the time, the Ostankino collection is the best one in the world by completeness and variety.
Around two hundred mainly Russian and French made standing lamps, wall lamps, candlesticks, candelabra, girandoles, lanterns and chandeliers that belong to the original palace decoration are preserved until our times.
The museum has also built up an interesting collection of 18th and 19th century Russian portraits that contains works by Ivan Argunov, Nikolay Argunov and D. Levitsky as well as rare canvases by little known painters such as Gorbunov, Parmenov, etc.
Collections of 18th and 19th century graphic and miniature paintings include works by the best painters from Russia and other countries.
Palace sculpture art is mainly represented by marble copies of antique originals made in Italy in the 18th century. However, in the late 18th century the palace hosted thirty authentic antique sculptures as well. Only five of them are preserved until our times.
Apart from the antique sculptures, the interiors are decorated with works of the Western European sculptors Canova, Lemoine, Boisseau and Triscorni as well as with many marble, alabaster and bronze vases of various shape and size.
A well-selected collection of Russian, European and Oriental made porcelain contains rare samples of early works; the collection was founded as early as in the times of Field Marshal Boris Sheremetev. In the first place, this concerns works of the Meissen porcelain factory. Early porcelain works by the Sevres factory, the Vienna factory, the British factories of Derby, Wedgwood, Longton Hall and the German factories of Thuringia are of interest.
A large collection of ceramics, founded as early as in the times of the Cherkassky dukes, contains the rarest Japan and China made porcelain of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
In 1958, a collection of 17th to 20th century fans made in Russia and Western Europe was founded by the famous collector F. Vishnevsky. Since then, the collection has been significantly expanded to become one of the largest and valuable Russian collections. The main part of the collection is made up of fans made in the second half of the 18th century when fan art was at its peak.
The museum hosts a collection of authentic 18th century figures, drawings and designs related to the design and construction of the Ostankino Palace. Together with the estate archive and the library that includes books from the Sheremetev collection, these materials illustrate the history of the great plan, the design and construction works and allow to perform restoration works not only in the palace, but in the park as well. The Ostankino Park was founded as early as in the mid-18th century.
The park took its final shape at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries and consisted of the Pleasure Garden and the Additional Garden. The Pleasure Garden area was adjacent to the palace and included several harmoniously connected elements of landscape architecture: a regular part containing two eight-arm radial alleys, a parterre, which used to be surrounded by covered alleys, the Parnas Hill, a little garden and a Siberian pine grove, both not preserved, as well as several plots in the English landscape park style. The Additional Garden, large and containing several picturesque ponds, was designed in the same style. The park buildings, which were few in number, are not preserved; however, the still existing figures and drawings make it possible to reconstruct them during the Pleasure Garden restoration works.
The museum actively organises exhibitions presenting temporary exhibitions from its holdings inside the palace as well as outside of it: lately, as a result of the restoration works, the theatre, a part of the staterooms and the park have been opened to the public.
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