St. Petersburg’s Sumptuous Winter Palace

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
December 18, 2020 Updated: December 18, 2020

Russia’s monumental pastel-green Winter Palace in St. Petersburg was once home to some of the country’s most notable emperors and empresses. The palace encompasses many types of art and architecture, including Baroque, Neoclassical, and Gothic styles, through to Rococo.

In 1754, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna commissioned Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to build a Baroque winter palace that would surpass the beauty of the best European palaces. 

Constructed over eight years, the palace contains more than 460 sumptuous rooms. But not all the rooms were decorated according to the original Baroque design. In 1762, just after her coronation, Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great) took up residence in the Winter Palace. She favored the new Neoclassical style of architecture, and so the palace took on a more refined style. 

After a fire ravaged the building in 1837, the style of the palace changed again. Russian architect Vasily Stasov restored the exterior, the Jordan Staircase, the Grand Church, and the main state suites to the original design and decoration. Some of the rooms he decorated were made  even more opulent. For example, he gilded the Neoclassical columns in the Armorial Hall. And Russian artist Alexander Briullov redesigned and decorated some of the smaller rooms in 19th-century fashion, from Gothic to Rococo styles. One of the notable new rooms was the Malachite Drawing Room, which was the reception room for the empress’s suite.  

The 1903 Winter Palace Ball marked the last great gathering of the imperial family. Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich said it was “the last spectacular ball in the history of the empire.”

Now the Winter Palace is part of the State Hermitage Museum, and Catherine the Great’s art collections form the foundation of its world-renowned collection.

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An aerial view of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Andrew Shiva/ CC BY-SA 4.0)
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The Malachite Drawing Room. (Volkova Natalia/Shutterstock.com)
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Nicholas II’s Gothic library. (Mitzo/Shutterstock.com)
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A corridor near Alexander Hall. (Tanya Volk/Shutterstock.com)
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The 1812 War Gallery. (Marco Rubino/Shutterstock.com)
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A Russian throne in St. George Hall (the Large Throne Room), the main hall for all the Russian czars. (Chubykin Arkady/Shutterstock.com)
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The Gold Drawing Room. (Myskina6/Shutterstock.com)
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The Rococo-style Jordan Staircase. (Marco Rubino/Shutterstock.com)
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The Grand Church in the Winter Palace. (Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com)
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A two-headed eagle with its double crown, on the Winter Palace gates, is from the Russian Empire’s coat of arms. (dimbar76/Shutterstock.com)
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A marble statue in an alcove on the Jordan Staircase. (Olha Solodenko/Shutterstock.com)
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The Armorial Hall. (Olga Bugro/Shutterstock.com)