The Marble Palace (the Palace, for short), an architectural monument of the second half of the 18th century, was deemed by its contemporaries as "the only of its kind." Built at the location of the Post Court of Peter the Great, the Palace became a splendid "last piece" of the grand Palace Embankment along the Neva River.
Catherine the Great who intended to give the Palace as a present to her favourite, Count G. Orlov, assigned the construction of the palace to the Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi (1709–1794).
The Palace was under construction for 17 years, from 1768 to 1785. Natural stone (granite and multicoloured marble) was selected as the main construction material for exterior and interior finishing, which endowed the Palace with uniqueness and suggested the name "Marble Palace."
The Palace amazed its contemporaries with its sumptuousness, the splendour of the interior and the beauty of its sculptural and pictorial decorations.
However, the first owner of the Palace, Count Orlov, did not live to see this splendour, because he died in 1783, when the interior finishing works had not been yet finished. Catherine the Great bought the Palace from Orlov's inheritors. In 1796, she gave it as a present to her grandson Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich for the occasion of his wedding with Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (she converted to Orthodoxy as Anna Fyodorovna).
Later, in 1832, Emperor Nicolas I granted the Palace to his second son, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich. In his time, a general reconstruction of the Palace was undertaken; the task was assigned to the court architect A. Bryullov. The architect had no choice whether to restore or rebuild the Palace: as early as in 1830, despite permanent restoration works the building was in the state of failure, while the finish including doors and parquet had been dismantled. The architect did not alter the decorations of the faсade and generally preserved the floor plans. In accordance with the design of Bryullov, the interior of the rooms was redecorated, the styles of preference being the Late Renaissance style, the Gothic style, the Rococo style and the Classical style.
In 1888, the son of Konstantin Nikolayevich Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich became the owner of the Palace. In 1880s and 1890s, several rooms were created specially for him on the ground floor: the English study, the Gothic Musical Living Room and the Lower Library. Konstantin Konstantinovich was a famous poet of the Silver Age (he signed his works with the cryptonim "K. R." — Konstantin Romanov) as well as a wonderful translator of works by Goethe, Schiller and Shakespeare.
Under Konstantin Konstantinovich, the Palace became the centre of Saint Petersburg's cultural life: its rooms hosted concerts that attracted the intellectual elite of the capital, discussions on the best works by authors of Russia and other countries, theatrical performances that involved the grand duke himself, his wife Yelizaveta Mavrikiyevna and their children.
From 1919 to 1936, the Palace was occupied by the Russian Academy for the History of Material Culture.
In 1937, exhibitions of the Leningrad branch of the Central Museum of Lenin were installed at the Palace. The new use of the rooms led to a loss of the architectural finish of the rooms on the first floor: the unique fireplaces and decorative fabrics were destroyed, while the artificial marble, frescoes and paintings were painted over. Only the Main Stairs and the Marble Room were left almost intact and generally preserved the auteur finish of Rinaldi.
The Main Stairs are decorated with the grey marble of the Urals and the steps are made of the dark green Karelian sandstone. In the centre of the ceiling of the stairs, the plafond The Judgement of Paris (by the 18th century German painter I. Christ) is placed.
The stone decorations of the Marble Room strike with their many colours, smartness and opulence, their perfectly worked marble, selected and arranged with impeccable style. The Marble Room is finished with seven kinds of marble originating from Greece, Italy, the Urals, Karelia, and Siberia. The room is decorated with bass reliefs by F. Shubin and M. Kozlovsky as well as with the plafond The Triumph of Venus by S. Torelli.
In January of 1992, the Palace was handed over to the State Russian Museum, which marked the beginning of a new period in its history.
In 1994, the permanent exhibition Ludwig Museum in the Russian Museum was opened in the Palace. This exhibition is based on the collection donated to the Russian Museum by the famous German collectors Peter and Irene Ludwig. The collection contains works by contemporary European, Russian and American artists. This exhibition is being continuously expanded with new acquisitions and donations.
In 2001, the White (or Gothic) Room was opened after having been restored. The room is equipped with the modern high-technology equipment for conferences, symposiums and teleconference bridges.
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