The Vorontsov Palace was built in 1749-1757 by Rastrelli in the style of country estates. It was set far back from the road in the middle of a park plot with a formal front courtyard leading up to it from the gates of the wrought-iron fence. Seen from Sadovaya Street, the façade presents a most striking picture, and it seems all the more impressive for the low service wings placed perpendicularly to it at the sides.
The illustrous house of Vorontsov dates back to the 14th century. Its members always held important state posts and carried out difficult diplomatic missions. For example, Semyon Vorontsov, nephew of the palaces owner, was a talented diplomat and ambassador to London where a street was named after him. Yekaterina Vorontsova-Dashkova took part in the conspiracy which placed Catherine II on the throne and later became the first woman president of the Russian Academy. Mikhail Vorontsov himself was in charge of Russian foreign policy during Elizabeths reign and a strong supporter of the French orientation.
Among the homes of nobles, hardly inferior in magnificence to the imperial residences, those which do more honor to Rastrelli are Anichkov Palace, built on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Fontanka canal for a lover of the empress; the Vorontsov Palace, slathered in red today as the Winter Palace, but was originally painted in two shades; and especially the magnificent Stroganov Palace, at the corner of Nevsky Prospect and the Moika Canal.
Lart russe de Pierre le Grand à nos jours, Louis Réau, 1922
The central part of the façade is slightly projecting and is a story higher than the rest of the building. And the higher the structure, the less weighty it looks. There are groups of columns flanking the front entrance; on the second story only the end windows are framed in twin columns, with pilasters between the three middle windows; and the top story has neither columns nor pilasters and all it has for adornment are plain piedroits.
Count Woronzoff belonged to one of the oldest families in Russia, whose name was written almost upon every page of its history. He was enormously rich, perfectly independent, not a mere courtier, but a man who had the courage to say what he considered to be right, and never to hide the truth from his Sovereign. His reputation was blameless, and his moral character stood so high that no one even dared to question it. Though his qualifications as a statesman were not great, his sound common sense —so greatly appreciated by the Emperor because it tallied with his own—never allowed him to go far wrong. In all the high posts which he occupied, he always showed himself to be a real grand seigneur of the old school, incapable of a mean action or of petty revenge. His nature was indolent, his love of his own comfort perhaps excessive, his indifference to praise or blame sometimes carried too far; but he was the best friend a well-intentioned, straightforward monarch could have had.
Behind the Veil at the Russian Court, Princess Catherine Radziwill, 1913
There is no wall space at all: the windows, set close together, are surrounded by intricately moulding, and columns, pilasters and piedroits fill in the remaining space. The impression of festive mood is increased by the bright coloring ogf the palace, whose interior decoration originally matched the exterior, but lost much of its splendor as a result of many alterations.