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The Chesme Hall

This apartment is a memorial to Russia's naval victories. The light coming in through the windows in the north and west walls illumines twelve oil paintings arranged in two rows along the three blank walls. These large canvases, painted by Jacob Philippe Hackaert, form a sort of pictorial record of the campaign conducted by the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Adriatic Seas between 1769 and 1773. Their subjects are derived from contemporary documents, entries in log-books, battle charts with detailed readings, and reminiscences of old sailors who had witnessed the events. Goethe, who was a personal friend of Hackaert, thought very high of these works. One of the best among them is Burning Turkish Battleships in Chesme Harbour. To enable the painter accurately to depict the explosion and fire on board ship, the Russian naval command had an old sixty-cannon frigate, St Barbara, blown up in Livorno harbour in 1771, in the presence of a huge crowd of spectators, this spec-tacular event producing a great impression on Euro-peans. The theme of Hackaert's Chesme series is continued in Paton's canvases occupying the west wall of the Throne Room, which was entered from the Chesme Hall. The paintings are hung in the order chosen by Velten in 1779 when he was altering Rastrelli's original decor.

The sculptural ornamentation matches the theme of the pictures. The overdoors consist of two panels each, a small one with a relief of Infant Tritons Rescuing a Human Child from the Waves, and a large one bearing Turkish Trophies. The contents of the Trophies are identical in each case, but they differ in composition. A shield with a crescent, a turban, a quiver with arrows in it, a yataghan, a Turkish horse-tail, and an open manuscript volume are arranged with great taste and skill within each panel. Other moulded decorations - oak garlands framing the pictures, vases adorned with flower garlands over the windows, and vases with a festoon of laurels over the mirrors; medallions draped in pendent garlands of oak and presenting relief profiles of heroes of antiquity - all develop the same theme: the triumph of the Russian navy in the Battle of Chesme.

While redesigning the interior in the Classical style, Velten preserved Rastrelli's inlaid floor and Laurent Werner's plafond with Ceres Giving Ears of Wheat to Triptolemus, the hero who taught men how to cultivate cereals.

In the nineteenth century the Chesme Room was called the Piquet Hall, both because the Russian eighteenth-century piquet tables, some of them with inlaid decoration, used to be set up in the hall, and because during the 1840s and 1850s a piquet, or guard of honour from the Guards Regiment, was posted here.

The Chesme Room, restored in 1969, looks today as it did before 1941. An old drawing of Rastrelli's was used to repeat the design of the floor, and the pictures, the gilt sconces, and the chandeliers of crystal glass made at the Nazya Glass Factory in the 1770s have all been restored to their former places. Only the plafond, destroyed by fire during the war, has been replaced by another, showing the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, the work of Augustin Terwesten I (1690). The subject, taken from Euripides' tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis (405 B.C.), is connected with the Trojan War, and is set on the shores of the Aegean Sea, where, in the eighteenth century, the Russian fleet fought the victorious battle of Chesme.

Paintings were widely used in the decoration of palace interiors at Peterhof as far back as Peter the Great's time. In the Palace of Monplaisir, pictures were set in the oak panelling of its Great Hall and the galleries; Rastrelli covered the walls in the Hermitage Pavilion with canvases by Western European masters; Vallin de la Mothe did the same in decorating the Picture Hall in the Great Palace; and ten years later Velten used pictures in his Throne Room and Chesme Hall. Velten, however, did not regard paintings as a purely ornamental detail, but was guided in his use of them by the main idea of the apartment's decorative scheme. It is precisely this feature of his work that gives to the Chesme Hall its remarkable unity of mood and artistic expression.




The Chesme Hall.


Turkish Fleet Retreating
into Chesme Harbour.
Painting on the east wall.
Detail.



Ceiling painting.
Augustin Terwesten.
Detail.
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