Domestic Architecture of Pre-Revolutionary Moscow 1

This series of posts comprises a few loosely translated extracts from Bolshoi Gorod, a fine Russian magazine of art and culture. In April this year, they did a small series on pre-Revolutionary private dwellings in Moscow, and these seemed of artistic interest in this blog. The tragedy is that it’s impossible for the average man-on-the-street to enter these residences, which are closed to the public even on the two days of the year (April 18, May 18) that are named Days of Culture, and it took nearly half a year of attrition and persuasion for Bolshoi Gorod to obtain access.

Alexandrinsky Palace

In 1754, Matryona Demidova, the wife of Prokofy Demidov, son of the Ural-based factory-man, bought lands from the Countess Repnin. Two years later, the baroque Demidov palace was constructed under the aegis of the Prague-based architect Jecht (I’m not sure I’m spelling this right and can’t find any information on him either). Behind the palace is a garden with five terraces descending to the river, and eight orangeries were located on them. The garden was opened up to the public; at one time, instead of statuary, the owners arranged for chalk-smeared peasants to stand still at various points in the garden to cry out at visitors who attempted to pick flowers.

In 1804, the main house was rebuilt in a mature classical manner. In the beginning of the 19th century, the palace belonged to Anna Orlova, daughter of the Peter III. In 1826, in honour of the coronation of Nicholas I, she organised a ball that was attended by 1,200 guests; the halls were illuminated by 7,000 candles. The Archimandrite Photius of the Yuriev monastery, who wielded some influence over Orlova, persuaded her to sell all that remained after the ball and give the money to Church and monastery, to atone for the sins of her father. In 1832, the house was taken into  administration for the imperial family. Nicholas I gifted it to his wife Alexandra, since when it took on the name of Alexandrinsky Palace.

From 1834, whenever the royal family was not in residence, the house was open to the public. In the 1890s, the governor of Moscow took over the property for his residence, and closed access to it. Since 1934, it has been occupied by the Russian Academy of Sciences, at which time also a grand 19th century fountain (by Ivan Vitaly) that used to be at the Lubyanka square was installed in front of the house. Two marble sculptures of dogs are preserved in the entrance to the palace, brought there from the Lower Presnensky pond.

Today, there is no public entry to the building, which preserves the pre-Revolutionary decor indoors.


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Alexandrinsky Palace in the 1830s.

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