The Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace is a Neo-Baroque palace designed by Andrey Stakenschneider at the intersection of the Fontanka River and Nevsky Prospekt. This dark-red is known as one of the most lavish palaces in Russia and also as being the venue of the most lavish balls and concerts in St. Petersburg.
A Baroque Masterpiece
Visitors were particularly impressed with the staircase and considered it to be the most beautiful of any of the private palaces of St. Petersburg.
The ball at Countess L.s was more spirited… Here, from the absence of restraint, I had more opportunity of noting the female beauty of St. Petersburg, among whom were foremost the Princess Beloselsky Belozersky, a lovely specimen of a "Petite Russe" with nez retrousse, large languishing black eyes, hair bending from the root in the most graceful volutes, beautiful teeth, and fair skin, with a petite faille of the utmost delicacy.
A residence on the shores of the Baltic, Lady Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake, 1841
The exterior reminds one of the Baroque Stroganov Palace, but lacks the inner movement of Rastrellis palace. Stakenschneiders creation has no inner energy. It is calm and austere. Yet the two palaces standing on the banks of two rivers provide an interesting architectural frame.
In 1797, Princess A. G. Beloselsky purchased from Naryshkin a small stone house on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka. That house was demolished and in its place at the end of the XVIII century the architects Jean Thomas de Thomon and Fedor Demertsov built a three-storey palace with the modest facade in classical style.
Have a century later, Prince Constantine Esperovich Beloselsky-Belozersky commissioned the architect Andrei Stackenschneider to rebuild the palace. The palace was completely redone and acquired a modern look in 1847-1848. It is believed that Rastrelli’s Stroganov Palace was the model prototype for the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace.
The new palace was done in the style of the so-called new Baroque and began to resemble the style of Rastrelli. As part of this work, Stackenschneider erected a new wing in the courtyard. He also recreated not only the exterior, but also the interior of the building. The facades of the palace were designed in the artistic techniques of Russian Baroque XVIII century.
A Denmark-born Russian sculptor David I. Jensen was invited to work on the interior decoration. David Ivanovich was the founder of Russia's first workshop for the production of sculpture and decorative ornaments from highly durable terracotta facades and interiors of buildings. Among his works: caryatids and bas-reliefs in the interior of the Mariinsky Palace. The atlantes and caryatids on the facades of the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace were created based in his design.
Interior decoration of the palace was completed by Shtakenshneider. The grand staircase and marble fireplaces are his signature works. Along the stairs stood caryatids and sculptures supporting gilt candelabra, and the openwork lattice railing featured elegant monogram initials of the owner.
The library of Beloselsky-Belozersky was superbly decorated: the walls were covered with carved wooden panels and tight silk, decorated with a relief pattern fireplace, huge mirror in a gilded frame.
Constantine Esperovich Beloselsky-Belozersky did not live to see his palace – he died when the foundation was still being laid. His wife, or rather widow Elena Pavlovna (née Bibikova) married Vasily Kotchubey and moved into his house on Foundry Avenue. But she did not abandon the palace on Nevsky. It was there that she organized evening balls and social meetings. The Palace was located next to the Imperial Anichkov Palace and members of the royal family were frequent guests.
In 1865, Konstantin Beloselsky, the son of Elena Pavlovna, married Nadezhda Dmitrievna (née Skobeleva). The newlyweds settled in the palace on the Nevsky.
At the end of the XIX century the palace was owned by Esper A. Beloselsky-Belozersky. His wife, Princess Elena Pavlovna, was the chief Hofmeister at the court of the Empress, and as such popular with women seeking an audience with the empress. The Princess loved to throw grandiose balls. The Emperor Alexander III himself and his wife Maria Feodorovna were happy to come, but going home together was a different story. The empress was an avid dancer and loved to dance until dawn. In order to go home earlier than dawn, Alexander III, who instead of dancing spent him time playing whist or having casual conversations, would ask his aide, under various pretexts, to call musicians from the orchestra. Finally, the last musician standing would get up from his seat and wave his hands signaling that he can’t play alone – at that time the emperor would come to pick up his wife to go home. And once a year it was time for the grand court ball, with invitations sent out to some three thousand people.
The Palace at that time was in the most fashionable part of the capital. But then the crisis struck. This directly affected the owners. Capitalization of the metallurgical enterprises of the Urals - the main assets of the host - rapidly declined. There were many reasons, including the failure of management, and lack of investment in primary production. Prince Kotchubey tried to rectify the situation, even took loans from the state, but could not save the situation, and in the end had to sell the palace to the State Treasury to settle his debts.
In 1884, Tsar Alexander III gave the palace to his younger brother Sergey. It was a wedding gift for the marriage of the Grand Duke with Elizabeth Feodorovna (Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine). The palace got a new name - St. Sergius. But that new name didn’t stick.
Impressions of a Visitor in the 19th Century
The Beloselski Palace is an immense square building, standing alone without houses adjoining it, in the most fashionable part of the Newski Prospekt. At a guess I should say it was about the size of Stafford House, and, except that it is plainer and more massive, not dissimilar to it in shape and aspect. The whole of the vast block belongs to the Kuchabeys, and, so far as it is occupied at all, is occupied by their household. Its great, folding, glass doors open directly on the street; and the crowd collected outside could gaze through them right up the broad staircase, where rows of powdered footmen in scarlet liveries stood posted. The hall alone seemed to me as large as that of the Athenaeum Club, and the oak stairs were so broad that a dozen men might have walked up them abreast. On reaching the top of the staircase you entered a long suite of rooms which occupied the whole frontage of the palace. You passed through room after room, each one of which would be called a gallery, in cities where space is less plentiful. Everywhere there was that profusion of wealth and splendour of which in these letters I have had occasion to speak so often. There is a French word much ill use amongst the Russians, and for which I know no exact English equivalent. They are always telling you that something is "grandiose" and this word is exactly what I should apply to the Beloselski Palace. Our great English mansions are grand enough in their way, but they look like what they are, places in which people dwell ; whereas these vast Russian rooms looked like state apartments, where, except on rare occasions like the present, the curtains are drawn down, and covers are placed over everything. I doubt whether in any English noble mans house you would see quite the same lavish display of gorgeous ornament. Silks and velvets, marble and ormolu, gilding and tapestry, plate and pictures, inlaid floorings and mosaic tables, were all literally scattered everywhere. If you were to find a fault, it would be that everything - was so fresh and new. But indeed this is the case throughout St. Petersburg.
A month in Russia, Edward James Dicey, 1867
What is there now?
Today, its state rooms house the Sobchak Museum of the Formation of Democracy in Modern Russia, a tribute to St Petersburg’s first elected Mayor, Anatoly Sobchak.