Libmonster ID: RU-17278
Author(s) of the publication: Veronica BOGDAN

by Veronica BOG DAN, deputy science director, Science & Research Museum, Russian Academy of Arts, St. Petersburg, Russia

The birth of H.M. Academy of Arts (l'Académie des Beaux-Arts) harks back to the Romanov dynasty. The very idea was conceived by Emperor Peter the Great (1672-1725), also of the Romanov house, long before its foundation date in 1757. L'Académie des Beaux-Arts is a St. Petersburg phenomenon through and through: St. Petersburg, a young Russian capital founded at the turn of the 18th century and growing apace, needed artists, architects and skilled masters.

J. B. Vallin Delamotte. Façade of the Académie des Beaux-Arts edifice in St. Petersburg. 1760s. Papier, Indian ink, water colors. © Science & Research Museum. Russian Academy of Arts.

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This happened during the reign of Yelizaveta (Elizabeth), Peter's daughter. Count Shuvalov, a favorite of hers and one of the makers of the Dictionary of the Russian Language, stood behind the opening of an Academy of "Three Most Illustrious Arts" in St. Petersburg. Ivan Shuvalov invited the best European artists as instructors, he established an art gallery and a library for l'Académie; he drew up its statutes and regulations, and approved an election procedure of honorary membership. The first grand meeting of l'Académie members took place on the second of December of 1762, that is already under Catherine II who usurped the Russian throne earlier that year. It was Count Shuvalov who was the originator of l'Académie designed to handle all art-related matters.

A museum was established then and there, and in time it became a great artistic repository both in Russia and elsewhere abroad. Its collections include a great many objects d'art--drawings, prints, paintings of Russian and West European masters as well as copies of classic and European sculptures used as models at art lessons. Visiting this museum, we can admire the works of maîtres and their students, and watch the path of budding artists to the pinnacles of mastery.

The very building of l'Académie des Beaux-Arts was built to the design of two professors of architecture-Alexander Kokorinov and Jean Batiste Vallin Delamotte of France--in 1764 to 1772. This building is just as remarkable as its collections, for it is a monument of early classicism and, together with its objects and library, is protected as part of the nation's cultural heritage.

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Russian masters of the brush and sculptors, by decorating the Académie interiors, materialized the idea of the significance of fine arts in the life of enlightened society and of the nation, they sought to convey the idea of their lofty mission. We might as well note that the Académie's house church as well as its halls consecrated to Raphael and Titian were finished in the 1830s to the design of the famous architect Constantine Ton, who also built the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow, and who headed l'Académie in 1840 to 1850 as its rector.


These exhibitions are housed in the Académie's rotunda building overlooking the inner circular court, 55 meters across. The exhibition space is on three levels. Displayed on the ground floor are copies of antique sculptures and of architectural monuments. These copies were made of cork in the 18th century by Antonio Chichi, a Roman modeler and sculptor. This collection is peerless in its artistic value and wide representation: many of the molds were made directly from original chefs-d'oeuvre back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The exhibition on the second level, the "Academic Museum", features opere of most-famous painters whose works served as models for many generations of young Russian artists. This kind of layout took body and form well before 1917. The second level holds a picture and statuary gallery featuring best productions of Russian and foreign masters. The third level is devoted to St. Petersburg's architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries and works of the outstanding masters of the day. Of particular interest are the design models of St. Petersburg architectural gems like the Smolny Nunnery, St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Mikhailovsky Palace, the Bourse...

The main exhibition halls looking on the Neva embankment display 19th-century copies of Italian maestros of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, in particular copies of Titian opere (II Martirio di San Pietro Dominicano; the original' lost in the 19th century) as well as a nearly complete set of Raphaelian murals of the Vatican palazzo. These copies made in the middle of the eighteen-hundreds by the Académie's pensionaries put us in mind of the laudable tradition, almost 150 years old, of sending young artists abroad for improving their painting skills. Held in these halls on a regular basis are exhibitions of modern-day masters of this and other countries.


As we have already said, the reigning Romanov dynasty did much for l'Académie des Beaux-Arts, for its foundation and further advancement. Its collections expanded in time. Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great, reigned in 1762 to 1796) turned her attention to l'Académie already in the first month of her reign, right after she had seized the Russian throne. Visiting l'Académie and attending examinations there, she got her courtiers to follow suit. During her reign a stone edifice of l'Académie was put up (1764-1788), with its charter and privileges endorsed. The first graduation class was out in 1767, and seven gold-medal honorées, the best of the best, were sent to Paris at the public cost to improve their art skills out there. Back home the honored alumni contributed their works to the academic collections that set the stage for Russia's first art museum.

We know that Catherine II was corresponding with les encyclopédistes of France (e.g. Voltaire) and she hearkened to their advice in adding to the collections of l'Ermitage and L'Académie des Beaux Arts. In 1767 a young French sculptor, Etienne Maurice Falconet, came to St. Petersburg on the recommendation of Denis Diderot, a French philosopher and encyclopedist. Fal-

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conet began work on his masterpiece in the heart of St. Petersburg, a monument to Emperor Peter the Great (Peter I). He handed some of his oeuvres to L'Académie as well as sculptures wrought by his compatriots. Falconet also donated a Pygmalion and Galatea by the brush of Francois Boucher, directeur of L'Académie Royal de Peinture et Sculpture in Paris. He also brought in an Ascension of Maria by Charles Van Loo, also of France. Catherine II contributed to L'Académie also canvases of French maîtres from her private collection--landscapes by Charles-Francois Lacroix and Claude Joseph Vernet as well as painting by Joseph Marie Vien and Jean Batiste Greuze. Late in the 1760s the academic collections had another welcome addition, seven pasteboard pictures en grisaille (in gray) for the indoor tapisserie with scenes of hunting depicted by the Flemish painters Rubens and Snijders.


Running several decades ahead, we come to the reign of Pavel (Paul) I (1754-1801) who inherited the Russian throne in 1796 just upon the death of his mother, Catherine II, and ruled up until 1801, when he was deposed and assassinated in a palace coup of March of 1801. Still as crown prince, in 1765, he was honored with membership in l'Académie. Enthroned, he had close to forty cork models of antique buildings, still ordered by his mother in Italy, brought to St. Petersburg. His sons, the princes Alexander (1777-1825) and Constantine (1779-1831), used them for their study of ancient history.

In 1801 Antonio Francesco Farsetti, a Venetian cavalier and "chief of the Sovereign Order of St. loannes of Jerusalem, donated to the Russian throne a great number of copies and molds from works of Italian sculptors. Some of the registers coming down to us make mention of copies from sculptures by Michelangelo Buanorotti as well as terra cotta sculptures wrought by such baroque sculptors as Allessandro Algardi, Antonio Raggi, Angello Gabriello Pio, J.B. Theodon, Moderatti and Maltese. Francesco Farsetti inherited this collection from his father, Philippo Farsetti, who

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had ordered copies of famous antique originals held in the museums of the Roman Capitolium (Campidoglio), Vatican and in major private Italian collections. With the abolition of the Academie's museum in the 1920s, the best bozzetti (objects) were handed to l'Ermitage, though a smaller and the worst damaged part of this collection is in the safekeeping of our museum.


Russian monarchs were, this way or that, involved in l'Academie's affairs--it all depended on their preferences. Czar Nikolai I (Nicholas, 1796-1855) was quite active in this respect. A person of multifarious interests, he found time to keep an eye on every kind of oeuvres, and he was rather severe where honors were concerned. The emperor, who had a good command of brush and pencil, set himself as a high judge in artistic matters. Although tyrannic in his verdicts, this had a positive side--he got l'Acaderoie to expand its art collection sizeably.

According to Alexei Olenin, the Academie's president, Nikolai wished to establish the first Russian art museum at the Academic He donated an exquisite painting by Karl Briullov, a great Russian painter, The Last Day of Pompeii (1830-1833) and as many as a thousand excellent plates, prints and engravings, all that in ten years between 1825 and 1834. Among other gifts of his were several master canvases and a large collection of Etruscan vases he had in his possession. The family members followed the emperor's example. Alexander (1818-1881), his crown prince enthroned in 1855, presented a cardboard picture Gods' Assembly on Olympus (L'Assamblea degli Dei sul Olimpo) by Vincenzo Camuccini of Italy; it was put on display in one of the halls of l'Académie. In 1842 and 1843 he presented as many as sixty-four plaster sculptures.

Meanwhile Emperor Nikolai inaugurated new rules for Académie's presidential nominees: only members of the royal house were entitled to serve as presidents. Duke Maximilian of Leichtenberg married to Maria, the czar's older daughter, held this position in 1843-1852. A man of great erudition, the duke was fully conscious of the need of getting native artists to perfect their métier. At his initiative an art exhibition of rare objects owned by private individuals was held in 1851, and it was a great success. Since the academic museum was for a long time the only art institution open to the public, the exhibition furnished a fine opportunity for art lovers to admire paintings, sculptures and applied art objects from major collections of the nobility, such as the Stroganovs, Shuvalovs, Lobanovs-Rostovskis, Musins-Pouchkines and of that ilk, and also from smaller art collections of highborn citizens of St. Petersburg. Duke Maximilian, too, contributed from his superb collection.


Grand Princess Maria Nikolayevna (1819-1876) became the Académie's next president. She donated a large collection of oggetti della arte owned by her children from two marriages. She bequeathed Jacopo Bassano's SACRA FAM1GLIA and MEZZOGIORNO ITALIANO (UN'ITALIANA FACENDO LA VENDEMM1A, 1827), by Karl Briullov. By her will

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she also left two marble antique busts and five thousand rubles to purchase art opere to honor her memory. During her presidency, from 1852 to 1876, there came a rekindling of public interest in Old Rus art and its head-sources, above all in Byzantine art. Thanks to her vigorous efforts l'Académie instituted a class of Orthodox icon-painting and a museum of old Christian art. By royal edict as much as four thousand silver rubles was earmarked straight for four years to buy books, Byzantine paintings and copies, and other objects for the new class.

Other royal family members did not stand by either. Princess Yelena (Helen) Pavlovna, "... desirous to assist the good of the class in Russian church icon-painting established at the Academy, I am pleased to grant a copy of a picture by Beato Angelico, with the original kept in the chiesa Santa Maria degli Angeli in Orvieto." The German-born Princess Helen, her full maiden name being Frederica Charlotte Maria of Wurtemberg (1806-1873), was an erudite and a well-read woman. Married to Grand Prince Mikhail Pavlovich, one of the sons of Emperor Pavel and sister to Emperors Alexander and Nikolai, she adopted the Orthodox Christian Faith. She struggled for an abolition of serfdom in Russia and for other progressive reforms in her new homeland. The German princess was a great philanthropist. She gave money to Alexander Ivanov, an eminent Russian painter living abroad, for bringing home from Italy his epic painting The Appearance of Christ to the People, and she also helped Karl Briullov and Ivan Aivazovsky, a famous painter of seascapes. Lending support to the idea of a Russian musical society and a conservatory of music, she provided money for this undertaking as well.

Serving as president of l'Académie, Princess Maria donated other opere, for one, nice sculptures she had as a gift from Emperor Napoleon III of France: Milo of Croton, Les Deux Lions by Antoine-Louis Barye, a French animal painter and sculptor, Les Trois Grâces by Germain Pilon, I Due Prigionieri by Michelangelo and some other plasters from Paris originals. These objects are still with us in our museum. Princess Maria, living mostly in Florence, Italy, sent in plaster molds from great Italian sculptors of the early Italian Rinascimento, also in the safekeeping of our museum. These oggetti are excellent teaching aids for would-be sculptors and architects.

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L'ACADÉMIE IN 1872 TO 1917

Emperor Alexander II donated, apart from the twenty-one Gobelin tapestries, two gouache canvases by Giovanni Busato, an Italian painter and professor of the Venetian Academia delle Arte, portraying St. Nicholas, Mary Magdalene and Queen Alexandra; in 1872 these opere were moved to the St. Trinity Church of the Izmailovo Regiment in St. Petersburg. In 1861 the czar handed in his oval portrait by Horace Vernet of France; Alexei Vitkovsky of Russia made a copy of it.

L Académie's two last presidents likewise did quite a bit to enrich its art gems. For instance, Prince Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909), a son to Emperor Alexander II, made a gift of two canvases in. 1870, II Bacio di Giuda (with reference to Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus Christ) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravagio, and a landscape, La Vista del Ponte di San Angelo e della Chiesa di San Pietro in Rome by Silvestro Shchedrin. Grand Prince Vladimir was heading L'Académie from 1876 to 1909. Before his incumbency he presented two landscapes by Feodor Matveyev, A View of Lake Nemi and A View of Lake Albano as well as a seascape A Rough Sea and an Arch in the Environs of Napoli by Joseph Rebelle. Unfortunately nearly all these gifts are gone---all but one, and this is a copy of La Trasfigurazione by Pietro di Christoforo Vanicci Peruggino (copied by Ekaterina Skripitsina,, an amateur painter).

Princess Maria Pavlovna, the spouse of Prince Vladimir (she served as l'Académie's president in 1909 to 1917) made a gift of her own bust wrought by Pietro Canonic of Italy (1911), to be followed, in 1912, by a marble statue of Princess Maria Nikolayevna (one of the daughters of Nikolai II, the last Russian czar) by Pietro Tenerani, a professor of the Roman San Luca Academia.


Many of this dynasty were fairly good at brush and pencil, and they were not bad as sculptors either. Peter the Great, for instance, would turn ivory figurines on his lathe. And Catherine II, aside from bone carving (our museum had chess figurines she carved), was out to get alloys for making cameos, and she was skilled in cutting out seals. She learned these skills from Karl A. Leberecht, a master medailliste and wood-carver. But architecture was her overriding passion. She conceived the idea of the Cameronian Gallery* at Tsarskoye (Sarskoye) Selo, a suburban estate of the czars south of the city of St. Petersburg. This gallery built in 1784 to 1787 was a materialized fantaisie on classical motifs. The empress had her chambers adorned with bronze copies of antique statues cast in l'Académie des Beaux-Arts. Molds brought in from Italy (by Ivan

* Built by Charles Cameron for Catherine fond of taking strolls at this estate and having clever, philosophical conversations.---Ed.

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Shuvalov and later on, by Prince Nikolai Yusupov) were used for the purpose.

Pavel I was said to have been personally involved in designing his private sanctum, the Mikhailovsky Palace (fearing conspiracies, he wanted a secluded place for himself). His family members--the daughters Alexandra and Helen as well as Nikolai, who took the throne in 1825--were good artists, too. They were coached by Ivan Akimov, an expert painter. Many young grand princes and princesses of the Romanovs were taking lessons from eminent artists of the brush. Olga, Nikolai I's daughter, had Alexander Sauerweid as her tutor (an Académie's alumnus and battle-painter) and Giovanni Vitali, a naturalized Italian sculptor, portraitist and teacher (better known in Russia as Ivan Vitali) coaching her in sculpture.

L'Académie's museum had in its custody many Romanov drawings: those by the crown-prince Pavel, the grand princesses Helen, Catherine, Maria and Alexandra displayed in the "littera M hall". In 1872 these opere were turned over to the academic library. Exhibited in the showcase of the same hall were two medaillons of wax--Minerva's Head by Princess Alexandra, and a Portrait of Peter the Great by Princess Helen. At present the works of grand princes are kept at the State Russian Museum.

The Romanovs made it a practice to visit exhibitions and purchase art pieces, which was both material and moral support for the artists. The princesses would readily display their own oeuvres, Traveling in Europe, the Romanovs would visit Russian art studios. They gave permission to have paintings, water colors and sculptures from their collections displayed at exhibitions at home and abroad.

Timed for the Romanov house quatercentenary, our exhibition at the Académie's museum is a tribute of respect to members of the Russian czarist family and what they did for the fine arts--not only in bounden duty but also by the dictates of their hearts.


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