At the conference “The Current Issues of Theory and History of Arts” (one of the key event organisers was St Petersburg University), Doctor of Art Studies, Prof Tatiana Iliina delivered a report on “The Senate Chamber”, a unique interior design of the Twelve Collegia, which, for over 180 years, has been at the heart of the University.

The Petrovsky Hall, the only surviving eighteenth-century interior at the Twelve Collegia at the University Embarkment, used to be the meeting place of the Council of the Russian Empire under the reign of Anna Ivanovna and Elizaveta Petrovna. In 1730s, the works on the Hall’s interior decoration were observed and directed by Mikhail Zemtsov: he invited an up-and-coming artist Andrei Matveev, who proved to make good progress and regarded as likely to become successful after he had adorned the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The fireplace and the hearth in Dutch style were designed by Ignatii Rossi, which were decorated with sophisticated carvings by German Fanboles.

The main focus nevertheless was on paintings: the plafond and paintings on the walls. Matveev was responsible for making sketches. All the paintings were adorned with the Baroque moldings adorned with the Cupid heads, so was the plafond with the molding, partly gold-plated, partly white, which made the interior solemn and grand.

Tatiana Iliina examined iconography of the sculpture and paintings of the Petrovsky Hall. The plafond depicts a sophisticated allegoric composition “Truth, Mercy and Faith”, which portrays the state symbols as four oval shields with the emblems of the Russian Empire, Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia khanates. The four sculptures and seven paintings allegorically personify the state virtues, among which is Generosity, Concord, Love to the Fatherland, Nobility, and others. The design of the Hall reveals what the senators and statesmen must have been like in XVIII century.

“The paintings in the Petrovky Hall have a history of 300 years, and we certainly appreciate their creators, art restorers, and custodians. Fortunately, the art experts, who restored the paintings at the Soviet time, left some records that we can use now. Still they are archives, as it has passed a half a century from the last restoration in 1966”, — said Tatiana Iliina. The paintings have darkened with age and need restoration, she said.

The works on the interior decoration of the Hall were complete under the reign of Elizaveta Petrovna: her portrait by Ivan Vishnyakov, near the end of the table where the senators were sitting during their meetings, created an illusion that the Empresses was standing there. All the paintings seem to intertwine with the sculptures, luxurious and exquisite décor of festoons, wreathes, flowers, fruits, leaves, twigs and Cupid heads.

“This monument is, without doubt, unique, and obviously we are striving to preserve it, — said Tatiana Iliina. — We, art historians, architects, art restorers, should be endeavouring to preserve it for posterity”.

Reference:

The conference “The Current Issues of Theory and History of Arts” is annually held by St Petersburg University and Moscow University with the support of the top Russian museums. The event is hosted successively either by St Petersburg University or Moscow University. In October 2016, the event is hosted by the Northern Capital, with its partner the Hermitage, within the V St Petersburg International Cultural Forum.

With a particular focus on a wide chronological range of and interdisciplinary approach to the arts, the conference discusses some theoretical and historical issues of arts and architecture, how to preserve and interpret the Russian and world cultural heritage, and how the theory of arts relates to the museum practice