William Handyside – From Edinburgh to St Petersburg

As regular readers of these ramblings will be aware, Duck Holiday periodically takes a look at Scots who have made their name in Eastern Europe. We continue that occasional theme with another Scottish engineer who is better known in Russia than in the land of his birth.

William Handyside was born in Edinburgh in 1793. He was the nephew of another engineer, Charles Baird, who worked extensively in Russia, notably in St Petersburg. On a visit to Scotland in 1810, he invited his nephew, who was then training to be an architect, to join him in Russia.

Handyside quickly realised that engineering rather than architecture, was his true vocation. Within five years, he assisted in the building of the first steam vessel to navigate the Neva River and by 1824, had completed four suspension bridges. In a city of waterways, bridge building must have been a decidedly useful skill.

Despite the rivalry between Britain and Russia in the early decades of the nineteenth century, there was a good deal of co-operation between the two nations and a number of British engineers went to work on projects in Russia. This was a theme touched on by Charles Dickens in Little Dorrit, in which the talented and good-natured engineer Daniel Doyce departs for Russia, apparently with considerable success.

Handyside’s most notable project was St Isaac’s Cathedral. Working with the French Neoclassical architect Auguste de Montferrand, he undertook the construction of much of the stone and metal work of the cathedral. This was no small project; the colonnade alone was composed of no less than forty-eight granite pillars, each fifty-six feet long and eight feet in diameter. Another thirty-six pillars, only slightly smaller, were fitted around the base of the dome. He was also commissioned by the architect to build the huge cast and wrought-iron dome.

St Isaac’s Cathedral

After the completion of the cathedral, Handyside collaborated with de Montferrand once more, this time in the building of what was then the largest granite column in the world, dedicated to the recently-deceased emperor Alexander I. In 1832, the column was elevated in an astonishing twenty-five minutes, in front of the current emperor Nicholas and a vast crowd of military and civilian onlookers. The monument stands in the centre of Palace Square, in front of the Winter Palace.

Alexander Column

Sadly, the exertions of his many building projects took its tool on Handyside’s health and he returned to Scotland in the hope of recuperation and recovery. He never recovered his health and died in his native city of Edinburgh in 1850 at the age of fifty-seven.

Charles Cameron – Scottish Classicist

In our occasional series about Scottish influence in Eastern Europe, it would be highly irregular to overlook the contribution of Charles Cameron, who was offered the position of court architect to Catherine II (‘Catherine the Great’) and whose designs provide a Classicist look in contrast to the prevailing Baroque style of the period.

Cameron was, in fact, born in London in 1745, to Walter and Hannah Cameron. Walter was a Scottish builder and carpenter who had established himself in the English capital. The young Charles – possibly named in honour of the Jacobite prince – was apprenticed to his father and soon began to display considerable talent for design.

In the 1760s, Charles Cameron travelled to Rome and undertook a detailed study of Roman baths. On his return to London, he published the snappily-titled The Baths of the Romans explained and illustrated, with the Restorations of Palladio corrected and improved.

Despite its unwieldy title and somewhat esoteric nature, it seems likely that the book was instrumental in Cameron’s appointment to the Russian court. Certainly, his name was known around Europe and Catherine, eager to present Russia as a modern European country, scoured the continent for architects and designers to provide the expertise she desired.

Cameron’s most notable works were the gallery that bears his name at the Catherine Palace and the Pavlovsk Palace, built for the son of Catherine the Great. The Catherine Palace, incidentally, was built for the empress Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great.

Catherine the Great preferred the Classical style to the Baroque and Cameron was the man to deliver. He redecorated the interior of the Rococo Catherine Palace before setting to work on the new gallery and its attendant park. The gallery, with its myriad statues of poets and philosophers, became the favourite promenade of Catherine.

Cameron Gallery from above

Cameron Gallery from above

Cameron also designed the nearby Sophia Ascension Cathedral. Catherine was eager to build a church that resembled the vast Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The architect was not familiar with the great Byzantine church and the result was more in his usual Classical style.

Cameron Gallery facade

Cameron Gallery facade

Ironically, it was the Pavlovsk Palace, perhaps Cameron’s most famous work, that led to his fall from favour. Cameron built the original palace but fell out with the emperor (Paul) and empress (Maria) over costs. Cameron was dismissed by the emperor in 1796.

Pavlovsk courtyard

Pavlovsk courtyard

Pavlovsk Palace

Pavlovsk Palace

Paul’s successor, Alexander, was more well-disposed towards Cameron and the architect was reappointed as chief architect of the Russian Admiralty in 1801. He also designed the Naval Hospital at Oranienbaum before retiring in 1805.

Pavlovsk (is this Classical enough?)

Pavlovsk (is this Classical enough?)

Despite speaking no Russian and apparently having no Russian friends, he continued to live in Russia and died there in 1812, just before the invasion of Russia by Napoleon.

Barclay de Tolly – Russia’s Scottish-German General

Those who have read Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace will be familiar with Mikhail Kutuzov, the general widely acknowledged to have been responsible for repelling Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Indeed, Kutuzov is treated with great respect in the novel, portrayed as a man of considerable wisdom and foresight. If Kutuzov is seen as a little overly sentimental at times, this trait is represented as a positive attribute.

Mikhail Barclay de Tolly does not fare so well in Tolstoy’s work, being seen as indecisive and dithering. Barclay fell from favour during the campaign, being superseded as Commander-in-Chief by Kutuzov and resigning from the army soon afterwards. After Napoleon’s defeat, Barclay’s popularity grew and he was restored to the military, taking over from Kutuzov following the latter’s death in 1813.

The two great leaders of the Napoleonic campaign, so often at odds with each other, now stand side by side outside the massive Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg, on the city’s most famous street, Nevsky Prospekt.

Statue at Kazan Cathedral (St Petersburg)

Statue at Kazan Cathedral (St Petersburg)

As regular readers of these notes will know, Duck Holiday is based in Scotland and is ever keen to investigate Scotland’s links with Eastern Europe. To claim that Mikhail Barclay de Tolly was a Scotsman would be stretching the truth more than a little. He was, however, a member of the noble Barclay clan from Aberdeenshire. There is some debate about his birthplace, but it is likely that he was born in what is now Lithuania and was raised in Livonia, which was then part of the Russian Empire and whose territory now straddles Latvia and Estonia.

Barclay was a German-speaking descendant of a Scottish family that had settled in Livonia in the 17th century. His grandfather was a mayor of Riga and his father was admitted into the ranks of the Russian nobility. The young Barclay joined the Imperial Russian army and saw his first action in the 1787-1791 Russo-Turkish war and the concurrent war against Sweden.

Portrait by George Dawe (Military Gallery of the Winter Palace)

Portrait by George Dawe (Military Gallery of the Winter Palace)

After distinguishing himself in the Polish campaign of 1794, Barclay rose through the ranks rapidly and became a major-general in 1799. During another Russo-Swedish war during 1808-1809, he distinguished himself by crossing the frozen Gulf of Bothnia near Kvarken, which allowed him to surprise the enemy and seize the town of Umeå in Sweden. In April 1809, he was made full General and commander-in-chief of Russian forces in Finland. A year later, he became Minister of War, launching an important series of military reforms while planning for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

After his reinstatement of 1814, Barclay commanded the taking of Paris and was made a Prince of the Russian Empire during the following year.

He died in Insterburg in Prussia in May 1818. His body – and later that of his wife – was buried in the Jõgeveste Manor Cemetery in Estonia.

Barclay de Tolly Mausoleum in Estonia

Barclay de Tolly Mausoleum in Estonia

The Walpole Collection

There are many good reasons to love the art collections of the Hermitage, but there are also many intriguing sub-plots for the visitor to think about. One small task one can undertake without too much strain is to identify the paintings commonly collectively known as the Walpole Collection.

We must, as Lewis Carroll once suggested, begin at the beginning. Houghton Hall was built in the 1720s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Walpole assembled one of the finest collections of European art, using Houghton Hall as a gallery for his collected treasures.

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole (Vanloo)

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole (Vanloo)

After Walpole’s death in 1745, Houghton Hall was inherited by his son and later, his grandson. By this time, the Walpole family were undergoing economic difficulties and the art collection of more than 200 works was sold to Catherine the Great of Russia. Most of the paintings are housed at The Hermitage. Some remain in Russia at other galleries while a few were sold to art galleries in other parts of the world. Several works were sold during Stalin’s reign in order to help fund the Soviet war effort. That appeared to be the end of the story for the Walpole Collection, but a lucky find in 2010 brought an unexpected twist to the tale. Some sketches were discovered, hidden away in a desk in a long-unused room at Houghton Hall. These sketches revealed the exact location of the paintings. Agreement was reached with the Hermitage for some 70 of the paintings to be loaned back to Houghton Hall, where they could be exhibited in their original settings. A few others from the collection were borrowed from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D C, which had acquired part of the Walpole Collection during the Stalin era.

Portrait of an Elderly Lady (Rembrandt)

Portrait of an Elderly Lady (Rembrandt)

Portrait of Inigo Jones (van Dyck)

Portrait of Inigo Jones (van Dyck)

The collection contains works by Teniers, van Dyck, Hals, Rubens and Rembrandt among many other notables of European art. The project at Houghton Hall allowed the paintings to be assembled in a single collection during the six months of the loan in 2013. The ‘Houghton Revisited’ exhibition attracted 114,00 visitors during the six months of the loan.

Arch of Ferdinand (Rubens)

Arch of Ferdinand (Rubens)

Adoration of the Magi (Jan Brueghel)

Adoration of the Magi (Jan Brueghel)

All of the artworks have now been returned and visitors to the Hermitage can provide themselves with a little extra amusement and pleasure by looking out for the paintings known as the Walpole Collection.

The Kitchen (Teniers)

The Kitchen (Teniers)

Christina Robertson – Fife’s Unknown Artist

The Hermitage in St Petersburg stands apart, in so many ways, from even the finest art galleries in Europe and, indeed, the rest of the world. There is, however, one aspect that marks it as similar; there are few works of art by women. Female artists are, happily, much more commonplace these days, but it was not always so.

It comes as a surprise, then, to encounter works by women artists among the great collections. It comes as an even bigger surprise to note that one of the few women to be represented at The Hermitage – and who, indeed, became a favourite of the Russian royal court – was a native of Fife.

Christina Sanders was born in Kinghorn in 1796. Little seems to be known about her early life or her first forays into painting. There appears to have been some art connection, however, as she married the artist James Robertson in 1822. The couple settled in London and the marriage produced eight children, though four died in childhood.

What seems certain is that Christina must already have been quite a serious artist at the time of her marriage. In 1823, she was exhibiting works at the Royal Academy and by 1829, she had been elected as an honorary member of the Scottish Academy, a first for a woman.

Christina Robertson (self portrait)

Christina Robertson (self portrait)

By the 1830s, she was making her name as a portrait painter, her work featuring in several magazines and journals. Through these, she caught the attention of the Russian aristocracy in St Petersburg. In Paris in1837, she painted portraits of a number of Russian nobles and notables. Doubtless, her talents were reported back to the Imperial Court by one or more of her sitters.

Empress Alexandra Fedorovna

Empress Alexandra Fedorovna

It was a good time to be a British artist around the Russian court. Russian high society had developed a love of all things British and by 1839, Robertson had exhibited several works at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts. The following year brought a major breakthrough when she was commissioned to paint full-length portraits of the Emperor Nicholas I and the Empress Alexandra. She received numerous other commissions and was soon elected an honorary member of the St Petersburg Academy before returning to Britain in 1841.

Empress Maria Aleksandrovna

Duchess Maria Aleksandrovna

Robertson was to visit St Petersburg again in 1847 and was to remain there until her death in 1854. Although relations between Britain and Russia were less than cordial – the Crimean War was looming – she remained a popular guest and continued to receive commissions from the Russian royal family. In particular, she painted several portraits of the Emperor’s daughter-in-law, the Grand Duchess Maria Aleksandrovna. She established her own studio in St Petersburg in 1849.

Duchesses Olga Nikolaevna and Alexandra Nikolaevna

Duchesses Olga Nikolaevna and Alexandra Nikolaevna

Sadly, Robertson’s health was failing by the early 1850s and with suggestions that a number of her clients were refusing to pay her, she may well have been struggling financially as well. She died in St. Petersburg, in 1854 and was buried in the city’s Volkovo Cemetery, the final resting place for many writers, scientists and other esteemed figures. The Crimean War had commenced in 1853, so while Britain and Russia may have been at war, there appears to have been no personal animosity towards Christina Robertson.

Even today, it could be argued that women are not fully recognised in the world of art. This was certainly true in the 19th century. A number of women were successful as novelists – though even a brilliant writer like George Eliot felt obliged to write under a male pseudonym – but very few even dared to embark on a career as a painter. Robertson was a rarity and there were few other women in her position. The Hungarian-born Serbian painter, Katarina Ivanovic, a younger contemporary, was one of the few, though she did not achieve the recognition of her Scottish counterpart, at least during her own lifetime.

Christina Robertson, though, remains prominent in Russia today, though understandably her popularity waned following the Revolution of 1917, when all things relating to the aristocracy suddenly suffered a diminution of interest. Some fifteen of her works can be seen in The Hermitage and several more are on permanent display in the other great art gallery of St Petersburg, the Russian Museum. That, alone, is a testimony to her skill as an artist. The fact that she achieved what she did in such a male-dominated world is astonishing – and particularly remarkable for a woman from a small coastal town in Fife.

Neo-Classical

As its name suggests, Neo-Classical architecture derives heavily from the Classical style familiar from Greek and Roman temples of antiquity. It began in the middle of the 18th century, partially as a reaction against the florid style of Rococo and Baroque. Perhaps because of our endless fascination with the ancient world, its modern day manifestation can be seen almost everywhere and the central and eastern parts of Europe are no exception.

Bucharest

As we have noted before, Bucharest was stripped of many buildings during the Ceaușescu regime and in one of those ironies that pervade life, the gross ego-trip that now serves as the Palace of the Parliament is built in a latter-day version of the Neo-Classical.

That palace

That palace

Few, however, would claim this monstrosity to be of great aesthetic value. For something more pleasing to the eye, the Ateneul Român (Romanian Athaeneum) is a much better bet. The building, designed by a French architect named Albert Galleron, was opened in 1888 and serves as the city’s main concert hall. It is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, named after Romania’s most famous composer.

Ateneu Român

Ateneu Român

Budapest

For a full-on Neo-Classical experience, a wander up to the top of Andrássy (or a trip on one of the dinky little trains on the M1 metro line) will bring you to Heroes’ Park. A vast monument stands at its centre, depicting Hungarian leaders and politicians. On the northern and southern sides, two grand Neo-Classical buildings face one another. To the north is the Museum of Fine Arts, bearing eight Corinthian columns topped by a portico depicting the legendary punch-up between Lapiths and Centaurs. Looking across at the museum is the Palace of Art, though it is not a mirror image of its neighbour. It has a mere six columns, but is no less imposing for that.

Heroes' Park

Heroes’ Park

Corinthian enough?

Corinthian enough?

Palace of Art

Palace of Art

Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine Arts

Back towards the centre, on the very same street, is the splendid Opera House. Completed in 1884, it was built to rival that of Vienna. The façade is elegant and symmetrical, with sculptures portraying Hungary’s two finest composers, Erkel and Liszt.

Opera House

Opera House

The interior is, if anything, even more glorious, with its murals, chandeliers, vaulted ceilings and magnificent sweeping staircase, perfectly designed to let ladies of 19th-century Hungarian society to show off their (doubtless equally magnificent gowns.

The Hungarian National Museum deserves a visit for the impressive collections, but it also worth spending a while looking at the building itself. Located in the central part of the Pest side of the city, it was built in 1802 and the whole museum complex is a striking Neo-Classical vision of style.

Hungarian National Museum

Hungarian National Museum

One building that demonstrates that a mixture of style can work, if properly conceived, is the Vigadó concert hall, situated on the square of the same name, close to the Pest bank of the Danube. The present building is, in fact, a rebuilding, as the original was burned down. The new building, dating from 1864, is essentially Neo-Classical, but with a few added twists. Outside, look out for the Little Princess, a sculpture of a girl with a dog. Street sculptures are a Budapest speciality.

Vigadó concert hall

Vigadó concert hall

Berlin

Berlin is absolutely teeming with Neo-Classical buildings. Museum Island is not only a great place to enjoy the art and artefacts displayed within the museums, but to admire the buildings themselves. The Altes Museum was built in the 1820s to house the royal art collection. Its younger sibling, the Alte Nationalgalerie, was completed some 50 years later, also in Neo-Classical style.

Alte Nationalgalerie

Alte Nationalgalerie

Altes Museum

Altes Museum

Not far away is the beautiful Bode Museum, built in 1904. Today, it houses a fine collection of Byzantine art and visitors familiar with the city of Oxford may notice the similarities between the Bode and Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera.

The Bode Museum

The Bode Museum

The Neue Kirche (New Church) has been through several reconstructions. It was original built at the beginning of the 18th century, underwent considerable rebuilding in the 1880s and was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War, though subsequent reconstruction did not begin until 1977. For all its many travails, the church is another of Berlin’s great Neo-Classical buildings.

Neue Kirche

Neue Kirche

St Petersburg

For all St Petersburg’s love of the Baroque, one of its stand-out buildings is the huge Kazan Cathedral, midway along the city’s most famous street, Nevksy Prospekt. The cathedral was built between 1801 and 1811, a relatively quick affair by cathedral standards.

Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral

The cathedral is built on the lines of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Shortly after its completion, Napoleon invaded Russia and it became essentially a shrine to the Russian victory. The leader of the Russian army, Mikhail Kutuzov, was buried in the cathedral after his death in 1813 and a large statue of the general stands outside, along with one of Barclay de Tolly, the War Minister during the conflict.

de Tolly statue at Kazan

de Tolly statue at Kazan

Not far away is St Isaac’s Cathedral, completed in 1858 and based on the great Byzantine churches. It is, though, essentially a Neo-Classical take on the style. The huge main dome is, in typically understated Orthodox fashion, plated with gold. So conspicuous is the dome that it was painted black during the Second World War in an attempt to conceal it from enemy bombers. St Isaac’s is the world’s third-largest domed cathedral and took some 40 years to build.

St Isaac's Cathedral

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Built in a considerably shorter period of time (1819 to 1825, but no less majestic, is the State Museum of Russian Art, otherwise known as the Mikhailovsky Palace. To prove that nothing falls easily into a pigeon-hole, the palace has a touch of the Baroque to it and is enclosed by railings that are distinctly Art Nouveau. The palace became an art museum in 1898, when Nicholas II decided that St Petersburg should have an art gallery to match Moscow’s famous Tretyakov. The St Petersburg gallery grew to such an extent that its collection is around four times that of its Moscow counterpart.

State Museum of Russian Art

State Museum of Russian Art

Sofia

Though not an imposing building in terms of size, the National Theatre is one of Sofia’s most charming. A relatively recent structure completed in the early 20th century, it has great style and is perfectly located. Standing in the City Park at the heart of the Bulgarian capital, it provides a lovely backdrop to the surroundings and provides a pleasing view for those relaxing in the many cafés and bars in the gardens.

City Park and National Theatre

City Park and National Theatre

Of a more recent vintage is the National Library. Building began in 1939, but war intervened and the library was not completed until 1953. The official name is the St Cyril and St Methodius National Library, named after the brothers who introduced the Cyrillic alphabet. A statue of the brothers stands in the grounds.

National Library

National Library

Even more recent is the building that was the headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Built in the 1950s, it is constructed in the style known as Socialist Classicism. Many of the edifices constructed in this style are, quite frankly, ugly, but Party House has a certain elegance to it. There are, in fact, three linked buildings at the site, now occupied by government offices, the vast TZUM department store and an upmarket hotel.

The old Communiist Party HQ

The old Communiist Party HQ

The large Sofia Court House is of a similar style, though built a little earlier. It is another building that could defy categorisation, but with its 12 huge columns, comes closer to the Neo-Classical than anything else.

Court House

Court House

Of a more traditional style is the main building, or Rectorate, of Sofia University, though the university itself dates back to the late 19th century. The two statues outside the main entrance depict the Georgiev brothers, Hristo and Evlogi, who financed the building.

Sofia University

Sofia University

Rococo

Rococo is sometimes termed ‘Late Baroque’ and there are obvious reasons for this. If Baroque flutters its eyelashes and says “Look at me”, then Rococo goes a bit further and suggests that we might like to join it in an orgy. Rococo is not for the faint hearted.

Because of its outrageously over the top nature, Rococo is largely, though not always, confined to palaces, where its flamboyance can be let loose on both the exterior and interior. Unfortunately, Rococo will always be associated with the ludicrously ostentatious displays of the out-of-touch aristocracy, but at least these excesses have been left for the rest of us to enjoy.

Istanbul

The Pera Palace is Istanbul’s most famous hotel. Located just to the north of the Galata Tower, the hotel was built in 1892, chiefly for the benefit of travellers on the Orient Express. This leads us nicely to Agatha Christie, who was a regular guest between 1924 and 1933. Legend has it that she wrote Murder on the Orient Express in room 411 of the hotel. Plenty of other notable figures have stayed here, including Leon Trotsky, Mata Hari and Greta Garbo.

Pera Palace

Pera Palace

On a smaller scale, but also in Rococo style, are the fountain kiosk of Ahmed III, located at Topkapi Palace, and the fountain of Sultan Ahmed III.

Ahmet III Fountain

Ahmet III Fountain

Pushkin

Some 15 miles to the south of St Petersburg, the town of Pushkin was a regular summer residence for Russia’s Imperial families. Indeed, the town was known as Tsar’s Village, becoming Children’s Village after the Revolution before being named in honour of the poet who studied at the local school.

The Catherine Palace is often thought, wrongly, to be named after Catherine the Great, but was in fact named after Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. The original building was far more modest that what can be seen today, the Empress Elizabeth having ordered a rebuilding of the palace. Initially, she commissioned two Russian architects, but brought in the inimitable Bartolomeo Rastrelli, whose style is all over the building’s façade.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

While some might prefer to categorise the palace as Baroque, it is so magnificently, outrageously over the top in every aspect that is simply has to be described as Rococo. This is Rococo with a capital R, Rococo that jumps up and down shouting at the top of its voice while simultaneously beating you over the head with its outlandish attire.

Comfy little terraced house

Comfy little terraced house

If the palace itself is not enough, there is the beautiful park, with its lakes, pavilions, statues and bridges. Even if you are determined to remain unimpressed by all of this, stepping inside the palace is likely to make even the most resolute jaw drop.

Even the lake is Rococo...

Even the lake is Rococo…

Naturally, this was the exact intention. Jaws were supposed to drop, as visitors filed into the exquisitely ornate main hall and then drifted through the collection of equally lavish rooms bedecked in gold and jewels of varying colours. All of this extravagance, of course, was not going to impress the increasingly subversive peasantry and while it would be ludicrously simplistic to blame such buildings for the revolution of 1917, the outrageous opulence of these palaces was an obvious symbol of the vast gap between the top and bottom of society.

Jaw drop time

Jaw drop time

Prague

The pink and white stucco façade of the Kinský Palace makes it a building difficult to miss. The palace’s name is taken from that of the Imperial diplomat who bought it in 1768.

Kinsky Palace

Kinsky Palace

Other than being Prague’s finest Rococo building, the palace has a couple of claims to fame. Alfred Nobel once stayed here and, in 1948, Communist rule in Czechoslovakia was proclaimed from its balcony.

Nowadays, the palace is used by the National Gallery to house temporary exhibitions.

Vienna

Vienna does not lack for Baroque places, the most famous of which is, perhaps, the Belvedere. However, for a full-on, flamboyant Rococo experience, Schloss Schönbrunn takes some beating. Completed in 1713, it is the former summer residence of the Habsburgs, one of whose number, the Empress Maria Theresa, ordered much of he interior to be decorated in Rococo style.

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

The Grand Gallery lives up to its name, a hall of large windows, magnificent chandeliers and crystal mirrors. The room is still used today for state receptions and banquets.

Even more mirrors can be found in the Mirror Room, where Mozart once delivered a private performance for the aforementioned empress.

For a variation on Rococo, the Vieux-Laque Room combines the style with Chinese art. Black lacquer panels from Beijing depict birds, flowers and landscapes embellished in gold, an element the Habsburgs were not shy of displaying.

Vieux Laque Room

Vieux Laque Room

Berlin

The Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), on the west side of Berlin, is a typically grandiose palace of the type beloved by imperial families. It was built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries of the behest of Frederick III, who bore the suitable grand title of Elector of Brandenburg. The palace is named Charlottenburg after Sophie Charlotte, Frederick’s wife.

Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace

The interior is a mix of Baroque and Rococo. The most glittering display of the latter can be found in the apartments of Frederick the Great, located in the palace’s New Wing.

The gardens are extensive (and free to visitors). They were originally designed in Baroque style, were redesigned in English landscape fashion when the style was in vogue, but reverted to the original style in the late 18th century.

Rococo a-go-go

Rococo a-go-go

The palace was, for a brief period between 2004 and 2006, the official residence of the German President while the usual seat (Schloss Bellevue) was being redecorated.

Baroque

These days, we tend to think of ‘Baroque’ as symbolising stylishness. In fact, the word was used as a term of derision by those that felt it was excessive and quite simply too loud. Whereas the Renaissance drew its inspiration from the Classical, with its rational straight lines, Baroque was colourful, curvy and just a bit too loud for some tastes.

Baroque survived, however, and not only did it survive, it thrived. Germany, Austria and Russia proved to be centres for the style and it is not too difficult to find Baroque architecture in most European cities. Even sober Englishmen like Wren and Hawksmoor could not resist a touch of Baroque in their designs.

With so many examples to choose from, it is not an easy task to reduce the list to a mere handful, but the buildings described below are, in our opinion, among the finest.

Kyiv

Baroque caught on in Eastern Europe and is quite often found in Ukraine, Russia and neighbouring countries. Churches, in particular, are a popular building for the style and there are many wonderful examples in Kyiv.

St Andrew is not only Scotland’s patron saint, but that of Ukraine as well, and the church dedicated to him is one of Kyiv’s best. It was designed by the great Baroque architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli and nowadays is the patriarchal cathedral of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The building was completed in 1767. As with many Orthodox churches, the interior artwork is stunning and features a lavish, three-tier iconostasis, also designed by Rastrelli.

St Andrew's

St Andrew’s

Also worth a look, though sadly one cannot go inside, is the Mariinsky Palace, designed by the same architect. This lovely blue and cream building is an excellent example of the Russian Baroque style. It was built in 1755 as a residence for royalty visiting Kyiv.

Mariinsky Palace

Mariinsky Palace

St Petersburg

The fingerprints of the ubiquitous Rastrelli can be seen all over St Petersburg, never more evidently than in the Winter Palace and at first sight, the visitor might assume that St Nicholas Cathedral was another Rastrelli classic. In an indirect sense, it is, having been designed by one of the Italian’s pupils, one Savva Chevakinsky, who was also the architect responsible for the rebuilding of St Petersburg’s first museum, the equally lavish Kunstkamera.

Kunstkamera

Kunstkamera

The cathedral is quite unmissable, a giant turquoise and white wedding cake set amidst trees and gardens. The interior is just as decorative as the external appearance. It has a long association with the Russian Navy and is sometimes referred to as the Naval Cathedral.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas

St Nicholas - tower

St Nicholas – tower

Across the Neva River stands the Peter and Paul Cathedral, designed by Domenico Trezzini (who also designed the Twelve Collegia, the main building of St Petersburg University) and completed in 1733. The bell tower is the tallest of any Orthodox church and the lavishly decorated interioor houses the tombs of most of Russia’s emperors and empresses.

St Peter and Paul

St Peter and Paul

Istanbul

Istanbul’s varied and turbulent history means that there are buildings of varying styles and, in some cases, a mixture of styles. The city does not lack for beautiful buildings and one of the very best is the Dolmabahce Palace.

Designed by Armenian architects at the behest of the Europhile Sultan Abdul Mecit, the palace was completed in 1856. It is not a modest affair; the waterfront façade is 284 metres long and the building contains 46 reception rooms and galleries. Everything is magnificent, from the highly ornamental gates to the Paul Garnier-designed clock tower, added 30 or so years after the construction of the palace.

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace

It was, though, the sheer extravagance of the palace that helped bring about the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and it was from the Dolmabahce that the last emperor fled into exile in 1922.

Zagreb

Visitors in search of fine buildings make a good start if they arrive at Zagreb’s main railway station. Like many of the stations on the route of the Orient Express, it is a stylish affair. Outside the station, the view across King Tomislav Square is of lawns, flowers and a large fountain, behind which stands the elegant Art Pavilion.

St Catherine's Church

St Catherine’s Church

It is, though, up the hill in the Old Town, that the visitor needs to be to enjoy Zagreb’s magnificent Baroque St Catherine’s Church, a 17th-century construction in shimmering white and featuring gloriously outrageous pink stucco on its walls. It is located close to St Mark’s Cathedral, with its famous chequer-board roof tiles.

St Mark's Cathedral

St Mark’s Cathedral

Prague

Prague may have an extensive collection of Gothic buildings and at least one renowned Art Nouveau structure, but there is a lot of Baroque around. Indeed, the Czech Republic is something of a feast for lovers of Baroque and most churches in the countryside are built in this style.

Prague Castle, like many medieval strongholds, has been rebuilt and reconstructed many times down the years, resulting in a mixture of styles. While its cathedral is unmistakeably Gothic, there are Renaissance and Baroque structures throughout the whole complex. The Matthias Gate is believed to be the very first Baroque construction in Prague.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Another Prague landmark, the Charles Bridge, is noted for its Gothic towers, but one should not overlook the collection of Baroque statues – some 30 of them – on the bridge itself. The statues, by various sculptors, were added in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

St Luitgarda (Charles Bridge)

St Luitgarda (Charles Bridge)

Prague has many Baroque churches, the most famous being the Church of St Nicholas, built in the 18th century on the site of an old Gothic Church. Its architect was Christoph Dientzenhofer, who was also responsible for the rebuilding of the imposing (and Baroque) Břevnov Monastery. The monastery is known as the oldest brewer in the Czech Republic and Benedictine beer is still brewed today.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas

Eastern Europe is a happy hunting ground for lovers of Baroque and one of the pleasure is to see the variances in style from place to place.

Great Museums – The Hermitage

 The State Hermitage Museum, to give it its official title, is quite simply the finest in the world. With more than three million exhibits spread across its five interlinked buildings containing over 400 halls, it is not small. Those wanting a quick visit should allow at least four hours. If you’re looking for something more substantial, but are restricted to a single day, Wednesday has the longest opening hours, with a start at half-past ten and a closing time of nine o’clock in the evening. As is standard practise for museums all over the world, the Hermitage is not open on Mondays.

The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace

On entering, it’s wise to pick up a plan of the museum at the reception desk. This shows the layout of the halls and their numbers. It might seem a bit geeky to tick off the halls as you make your way through the museum, but it’s not the worst idea, as it’s all too easy to end up going round in circles. There is also the possibility of running into large groups, so there are some rooms that you’ll probably want to revisit once they are a bit quieter.

We're in!

We’re in!

Even if the extraordinary collections were to be removed, the visitor would still be stunned by the décor. The buildings would be worth seeing purely for their magnificence, particularly in the original Winter Palace. The famous Jordan Staircase is a flamboyant concoction of marble and gold and the Pavilion Hall is looked over by 28 crystal chandeliers. It’s worth taking a little extra time to look at the exhibition halls in their own right, as one can be overwhelmed by the art displayed within them and to miss the sheer beauty innate to the halls.

Jordan Staircase

Jordan Staircase

The Pavilion Hall is home to the astonishing creation that is the Peacock Clock. It was designed by the London goldsmith James Cox and presented to Catherine the Great in 1781. The clock still functions, the huge gilded peacock spreading its wings as the other attendant creatures also perform for astonished visitors.

The Peacock Clock

The Peacock Clock

While it’s tempting to head straight for the paintings, there is a fine collection of antiquities to see. The Greek, Roman and Egyptian discoveries would make for an impressive museum by themselves. There is also a spectacular collection of gold, silver and royal jewels in the aptly named Treasure Gallery.

Jupiter

Jupiter

The first floor is, essentially, a Who’s Who of art. There is a solitary work by Michelangelo, his sculpture Crouching Boy, and this is possibly the most photographed piece in the entire museum. The muscle definition on the figure is remarkable, though note the unfinished feet!

From Italy, Tintoretto, Leonardo, Lippi, Caravaggio and Canaletto. From Spain, Goya, Velazquez, El Greco and Murillo. Flemish art is represented in large numbers by Van Dyck, Rembrandt, various members of the Brueghel clan and Rubens. Duck Holiday was especially delighted to see a work by the Dutch artist Jacob Duck. Even Britain, a country not renowned for producing great artists, shows what can be done in the shape of works by Morland, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

The empresses Elizabeth and Catherine were notable Francophiles and this is reflected in the huge French collection. Only the Louvre holds more French art than the Hermitage. The Renoir portraits are especially noteworthy and include his delightful Young Woman with a Fan. Other types of fans, those of Impressionism and post-Impressionism will have a field day among the Monets, Matisses, Cezannes and Gauguins on the museum’s second floor. The Impressionist gallery is not solely French; Picasso and van Gogh also feature strongly.

Renoir

Renoir

As residents of Fife, it was pleasing to see nine portraits by the Fife native Christina Robertson. She was highly respected at the Russian imperial court in the middle of the 19th century and ended her days in St Petersburg. Her grave is in the city. There are also four works, including a self-portrait, by another woman, the renowned Swiss artist Angelica Kauffman.

Another Briton, George Dawe, painted portraits of no less than 329 generals who were engaged in the campaign against Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Like Christina Robertson, he relocated to St Petersburg and his work can be seen in the Military Gallery.

Military Gallery

Military Gallery

Back among the Italian collection, look out for the superlative view of Venice created by Canaletto, bearing the snappy title The Reception of the French Ambassador Jacques–Vincent Languet, Compte de Gergy at the Doge’s Palace, 4 November 1726. There is an interesting little exercise to undertake here. Walk slowly back and forth in front of the painting and keep your eyes focussed on the buildings. Their distance from the edge of the painting seems to change as you go from side to side.

Canaletto

Canaletto

Another diverting little game for the visitor from Britain is to look out for the collection of art acquired from Houghton Hall. This was the Norfolk home of the British Prime Minister Robert Walpole, whose legacy was somewhat squandered by his successors. The collection was sold to Catherine the Great, but as a BBC4 documentary revealed recently, some sketches were found at Houghton Hall, showing not only the paintings, but where they were located in the house. The Hermitage generously agreed to a request for a loan of the collection, and for a year, the pictures were restored to their original places on the walls of Houghton Hall. They are now back in St Petersburg, but the visitor can see from where paintings were acquired by the descriptions accompanying them. A considerable number of them are by Van Dyck, including the many portraits undertaken during his time as court painter to Charles I in England.

There are, naturally enough, several shops within the museum. These sell a wide range of books, prints, gifts and other artefacts and are not, in general, particularly expensive. The potential visitor should note, however, that it’s advisable to have a good breakfast if you’re intending to spend all day at the Hermitage. The café is, quite frankly, a bit rubbish and the queues can be rather long. The prices aren’t outrageous, but it’s not really up to much. Far better to hold on for a decent meal in one of the many excellent restaurants in St Petersburg. There should, after all, be plenty to discuss over a pleasant dinner and a bottle of Georgian wine. It’s best to prepare for a long day, but it should be a richly rewarding day.

St Petersburg – All Baroqued Out

The train trip from Moscow is fast and comfortable, but is unlikely to find its way into a list of scenic rail journeys. The flatness of the countryside gives one the feeling of travelling across East Anglia or the Netherlands, but without any agricultural land or windmills to enliven proceedings. Four hours and ten minutes is impressively quick, though the non-stop trains reduce that time by half an hour. The Moskovsky railway station, twin of Moscow’s Leningradsky, awaits the traveller.

From the Moskovsky, which is very centrally situated, it’s a short hop to the most famous thoroughfare in St Petersburg, Nevsky Prospect. The street, long and straight, appears with regularity in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and despite its modern day plethora of unimpressive restaurants and faux English and Irish pubs, retains a certain grandeur.

The vast neo-Classical Kazan Cathedral is impossible to miss as you venture along Nevsky. Its design was based on St Peter’s in Rome. Shortly after it was built, the cathedral became essentially a monument to the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. The two large statues outside the cathedral depict the victorious military commanders Kutuzov and de Tolly.

Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral

St Petersburg does not lack for cathedrals. The biggest is St Isaac’s, also a huge neo-Classical edifice, built some years after the Kazan. The oldest is the cathedral at the Peter and Paul Fortress and it is here that most of Russia’s emperors and empresses were buried. Even by the lavish standards of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Peter and Paul Cathedral is magnificently decorated and features an unusual and decorative iconostasis.

St Isaac's Cathedral

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Peter and Paul Cathedral

It is, though, Baroque that dominates the city. Baroque is everywhere, and in the park near to St Isaac’s Cathedral is a beautiful little building that turns out to be…a public lavatory. Yes, even the toilets are Baroque.

Baroque bog

Baroque bog

At the other end of the size scale, but also undeniably Baroque, is the Winter Palace, the largest building of the complex that makes up the Hermitage. The Winter Palace was designed by the prolific architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who was responsible for many outstanding Baroque structures in Eastern Europe.

Winter Palace

Winter Palace

Ironically, while the Winter Palace and Hermitage are associated with Catherine II (‘the Great’), the empress was not a fan of the Baroque. It was the previous empress, Elizabeth, who commissioned the Winter Palace, as well as the Smolny Convent, where the empress intended to spend her final days as a nun. However, she died before the completion of the convent.

Another of Rastrelli’s great Baroque works is the Catherine Palace, situated in the town of Pushkin, about fifteen miles from St Petersburg. The present palace is not the original, built for Catherine I. It was completely rebuilt, on the orders of Elizabeth, by Rastrelli and is quite simply an outrageous, over the top, glorious and ridiculous monument to the excesses of imperial grandeur.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

The Grand Hall is a breathtaking and vast ballroom of ornamentation, mirrors, chandeliers and gilded carvings. The Palace’s best-known room, though, is probably the Amber Room, now restored after being looted by the Nazis during the Second World War and taken to Königsberg. The refurbishment was, ironically, completed with amber from the Baltic region, much of it from the city of Kaliningrad, formerly known as the German city of Königsberg and now part of a small enclave of Russia,.

The Grand Hall

The Grand Hall

If the rooms at the palace are lavish, so too the grounds. Gardens, lakes and pavilions stretch out over a large area in a further display of aristocratic decadence. Strolling around the gardens, one noticeable feature is how tame many of the wild birds are, testament to the sheer number of visitors the palace attracts.

The Mariinsky Theatre rivals Moscow’s Bolshoi. It was named after its patron, the Empress Maria Alexandrovna and is a huge building that mingles the Baroque and Neo-Classical. There are regular operas, ballets and orchestral performances, though those wishing to view a performance should note that there is a second and new hall, the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall that is not as aesthetically pleasing as the original.

Mariinsky Theatre

Mariinsky Theatre

St Petersburg, like Moscow, is not cheap when it comes to dining out. It is, though, generally a little less expensive than the capital. Being quite a cosmopolitan place, there are plenty of options for the vegetarian. One of these is The Idiot, one of many establishments that tip their hat in the direction of Dostoevsky. There menu is varied, with a fine array of vegetarian options, including a delicious borsch. Prices are not extortionate; around 25 pounds for three courses and three beers is most respectable. The Idiot also sells very palatable Georgian wine.

The best-known Indian restaurant is Tandoor, which is, like The Idiot, close to St Isaac’s. The vegetarian options are a bit limited, but virtually next door is Tandoori Nights, which has an abundance of vegetable dishes. In an inversion of the usual situation, the beer here is relatively cheap.

There are several establishments that deal in beer, great quantities of it, in fact. Unfortunately, there seems to be something of an obsession for cod Irish and English pubs and while some of them at least have the decency to sell reasonably good beer, those with taste may prefer somewhere like the Craft Bier Café, where the atmosphere is more leisurely and civilised. With 40 or so beers on tap, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to find something to suit.

Those with extremely fussy palates can always try Pivnaya Karta (‘Beer Card’), which has an extraordinary selection of more than 400 different beers. For a nightcap – though definitely not as a session ale – try one of the array of Russian Imperial stouts on offer. Both Pivnaya Karta and the Craft Bier Café are close to Chernyshevskaya metro station, a blessing for over-indulgers.

The St Petersburg metro is relatively new, having started in the 1950s. It is growing ever larger, with further expansion planned. Because of the city’s location – it is essentially in the middle of a coastal wetland – most of the stations, even outlying ones, are very deep. As with Moscow, some of the stations are worth visiting purely from an aesthetic point of view. It is, though, one of the few ‘shallow’ stations that is perhaps the most attractive. Avtovo has a Neo-Classical façade and inside, there are white marble columns and ornate chandeliers, along with a mosaic depicting the blockade of the city from 1941 to 1944.

Two-metre Peter

Two-metre Peter

Those travelling to or from the airport will pass a war memorial and a brief schooling in the Cyrillic script will tell you that it refers to Leningrad, the name of the city from 1924 to 1991. A quick glance at your boarding card will reveal the airline code ‘LED’, so at least in international airline terms, the city retains something of its former name.

Lenin points the way

Lenin points the way

That sums up something of St Petersburg’s character. The city is full of statues; Peter the Great, Lenin, Gogol, Glinka, Catherine the Great, Gorky, Nobel, Dostoevsky, Nicholas I, Pushkin and a cast of many others. Imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, industrial Russia and cultural Russia all meet in St Petersburg. With its rivers, canals, beautiful buildings and wonderful museums, it is little wonder that so many people undertake that bureaucratic joy that is completing the form for a Russian visa.