It's the first time Main Building of Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg
opened its doors to visitors of Museum Night.
Huge mosaic depicting Peter the Great
hangs at the top of the main staircase of the building. Total square of the mosaic is more than 30 square meters. It consists of more 1 million pieces of smalt and weighs together with copper base more than 8 tons.
Composite sketch of mosaic was performed by fruitful painter Carl-Ludwig Christinek
. Mosaic was made between 1761 and 1765 in Lomonosov’s workshops in Ust-Ruditsa. The mosaic remain forgotten till 1925. To celebrate bicentenary of Academy of Sciences, the then President of Academy, Alexander Karpinsky
, had remembered that the mosaic still exists and had organized searches, delivery and restoration of the mosaic.
During WWII the mosaic was included into the second Hermitage train to evacuate it, but remained in the city.
It seems that Lomonosov
’s interest in the technique of working with glass as a decorative material started from around 1740 and into the 1750’s, when two glass mosaic paintings from the Vatican workshops arrived in St-Petersburg. One of these mosaic paintings was a portrait
of Empress Elisabeth I
made by Alessandro Cocchi, the official mosaicist of Pope Benedict XIV
, who sent it to the Empress as a present. Lomonosov contacted the Vice Chancellor, Count Vorontsov
, and praised the advantages of this technique and the possibility of expanding its use in the decoration of interiors, especially for public buildings. Undoubtedly, he wanted to revive this ancient Russian art of mosaics, with the mosaic decorations in the Churches of Kiev and Novgorod dating from the 11th and 12th centuries being two famous examples.
It is purported that up until 1752, Lomonosov undertook several experiments and around 4,000 attempts in the laboratory of chemistry at the Academy of Sciences. He wanted to reclaim the process of making coloured glass again. He finally managed to create an impressive palette of 112 different colours, by repute even larger than the palette of the Vatican. In 1752, he obtained the Russian monopoly for this process, confirmed by the Russian Senate on 14th December 1752 and 15th March, 1753, which made it possible to create a factory in Ust-Ruditsa
, West of St-Petersburg.
The first pieces in coloured glass were made by the factory in 1754. The workshops employed more than 200 workers in three main buildings, which housed workshops for the preparation of the mélanges and the pâte de verre, several ovens and a water-mill used to activate the machines in order to cut and polish glass. The opaque and coloured glass used for these pieces was called smalt, made in different shapes, depending on the work of art and where it would be used. It could be shaped as pearls which were then sewn onto canvas, half-spheres or half-ovals applied to glass or stone, or various geometrically shaped pieces forming the base material for mosaics.
Mosaics were laid over a metal ground (in general over copper). Small pieces of glass were applied with fish glue onto a ground made of powdered alabaster, in order to improve the adhesion. Lomonosov developed the mosaic process himself as well as the proportion of chemicals composing each colour of the palette. For example, glass became green when copper was added, turquoise or black, depending on the quantity of added iron, pale red with mercury, while ruby coloured red was created with gold. In the archives, a distinction is made between masters in mosaics, for instance M. Vassiliev, E. Melnikov, Ya. Chalaourov or I. Petrov, and those known as “smaltistes” masters, like I. Zielkh, F. Rogojine or M. Kyrillov. The remarkable work of Lomonosov in this field was even mentioned in the Nouvelles de Florence, in 1764.
The chef d'oeuvre of the works created at Ust-Ruditsa is undoubtedly the mosaic depicting Peter the Great, victorious over the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava
in 1709. It is now located on the main staircase at the Academy of Sciences in St-Petersburg. Originally, it was made in order to decorate a commemorative mausoleum in the Imperial Necropole in the Peter and Paul cathedral, where Peter the Great was laid to rest, located in the fortress of the same name and considered as the starting point for the foundation of the city.
Lomonosov won the competition organized by the Senate in 1758 and wanted to introduce no less than seventeen coloured glass mosaics in the spectacular mausoleum, depicting episodes in the life of the Tzar, scenes from Scripture and the life of the apostles Peter and Paul. Because of the death in 1761 of Elisabeth I, the daughter of Peter the Great, the project could not be completed. However, some mosaics remain, such as the Battle of Poltava which was made between 1761 and 1765.
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