Catherine Palace - Light Gallery (or Great Hall)
The Great Hall or the Light Gallery is the most spacious premises in the Catherine palace in Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), its main hall. The architect Bartholomeo Rastrelli accentuated this not only with the splendour of the decor but also with its magnificent dimensions, for the hall is 860 sq.m, in area. Official receptions and balls were usually held here during which 696 candles were burned in the carved sconces in front of the mirrors. Rastrelli’s design for the interior is an extremely simple one: the hall is rectangular in plan, 47 metres long, and includes a suite of elegant rooms situated along the length of it. This design for the interior is characteristic of this architect’s work. However, in the decor of the hall Rastrelli used a wide variety of artistic methods: golden lace of carved decoration, around the huge glazed doors and mirrors creating the illusion of more space, the richly decorated plafond taking your glance upwards to the boundless expanses of the sky, the complicated dynamic design of the gilded wall carving. The unique beauty of this magical decoration, bathed by rays of light from the doors and windows, creates a sensation of festiveness.
The main ornamentation on the walls of the Great Hall is woodcarving. One hundred and thirty Russian craftsmen, using Rastrelli’s sketches and patterns by Dunker worked the wooden decoration of the Great Hall in such a way that every detail of the ornamentation was a work of art. In the hands of
such masters as Pyotr Valyukhin, Dmitry Sakulisnoy, Ivan Sukhoy, and others the lime-tree wood did as it were come to life, being transformed into fiery cupids with palettes and lyre in the upper tiers of the windows, then graceful gilded female figures, Caryatids mounted in the door frames. The fanciful carved ornament characteristic of baroque style splays out around the windows and mirrors like golden streams.
The numerous mirrors reflected and reiterated the complicated rhythm and the dynamic nature of the gilded carving, and the frieze on the gigantic ceiling painted by the well-known Italian master of decorative art Giuseppe Valeriani with the help of Antonio Peresinotti and the Russian artists Alexei and Yefim Belsky, Ivan and Pyotr Firsov, and others.
The ceiling “The Triumph of Russia” glorified in allegorical form Russia’s successes on the battlefield and the flourishing of its science and art. The centre of the composition consisting of three parts is a female figure, the personification of Russia. She is depicted very dynamically, against the background of a boundless sky and fluffy clouds, which creates the illusion that the hall is of unusual height. The sensation that the interior of the hall is boundless is intensified by its design which does as it were frame the frieze.