The Upper Hall
The Upper Hall is the biggest room in the palace: it occupies an area of 85 square metres. On the south side it adjoins a light staircase and on the north side the hall has a balcony offering a splendid view of a cosy garden with two fountains, the old Peterhof road and a grove with a cutting towards the sea at the central axis of the palace. The Port Canal is discernible to the left and tops of century-old trees of the Strelna park can be seen to the right of the palace.
The Upper Hall was intended for formal receptions, dinners, balls and other ceremonial occasions. Peter the Great and his wife Catherine I were known as excellent dancers. At balls, if the Tsar was in a good mood, they tirelessly danced fashionable dances, such as Polish minuet, Grossvater, contredanse and the beautiful anglaise, thoroughly demonstrating every step. Contemporaries recalled that Peter the Great had a talent of a balletmaster - he invented new dances with elaborate steps and jumps and forced all those present including guests to imitate him paying no attention to their age. In the reigns of Elizabeth and Catherine the Great the programme of the dances which introduced the ball began to include a Russian dance.
In the Petrine age the Upper Hall housed a collection of maps representing the districts of Russia and engravings featuring views of Russian cities. After the Tsar's death the interior decor was altered several times. Today, the walls of the Hall are decorated with paintings by Western European masters of various schools and genres. On the west wall are Battle Scenes, two large-scale companion paintings by the German artist Georg Philip Rugendas. He was well versed in military matters and specialized in the depiction of horses, battles, sieges of fortresses and military camps. One of Rugendas's paintings shows episodes of life in the Prussian camp, and its counterpart depicts a scene in the French camp.
In the centre of the same wall is the canvas Antiochus and Stratonice, a free copy of an engraving made by an unknown Russian artist of the eighteenth-century from the painting by the Italian master Pietro da Cortona. It illustrates the story about the Syrian prince Antiochus who fell in love with his stepmother Stratonice.
The opposite wall is adorned with the painting Lot and His Daughters, a work by an unknown seventeenth-century Italian artist based on a Biblical subject, and the painting The Holy Family by an unknown.
Flemish painter active in the second half of the seventeenth century. Depicted in the centre of the canvas are the Virgin with the Infant Christ, Elizabeth with John the Baptist and St Joseph. A notable feature of this painting is its luxurious frame which seems to consist of various fruits and vegetables - grapes, plums, apples, pumpkin, cabbage, etc., which are depicted faithfully to give a sense of illusion.
In the centre of the east wall are two paintings by an unknown painter of the second half of the eighteenth century from the circle of Johann Fiedrich Groote: Hunting and Landscape with Animals.
The card tables placed near the walls are used to display various porcelain pieces manufactured at the Meissen Factory. Shown here are allegories of the parts of the world, figures of ladies and gentlemen, pastoral scenes and mythological creatures.
The groups Bacchus and Venus, Europa and Shepherdess and Her Cavalier executed in the 1740s after models by Johann Joachim Kandler are decorated with bright painting of contrasting tones. Their stands are embellished with applied flowers and leaves. The group Asia and Africa in the form of two embracing children was produced in 1755 after a model by Friedrich Elias Meyer. His figurines in the Rococo style, painted in light, soft hues, are marked by an ease and elegance.
The festive character of the interior is emphasized by two bronze sculptural groups devoted to mythological subjects, Apollo and Daphne by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Foggini, cast in the 1720s, and Vertumnus and Pomona by the French sculptor Robert Le Lorrain, dated 1704.
The Upper Hall houses an interesting collection of Chinese and Japanese vases of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The gilded wooden pedestal shaped as the figure of a boy seated on a dolphin, made in Italy in the first half of the eighteenth century, supports a covered Chinese vase crowned with the figure of a dog shi-shi. The body of the vase is decorated with an elegant polychrome painting featuring birds with bright feathers, flowers and tree branches.
All the other vases in the Upper Hall are works by Japanese ceramists. Adorned with bright polychrome painting, the vases are extremely varied in form, subject matter and decorative devices. Representations of mythological animals, flowers and birds are predominant among their decorative motifs. There are also some subject compositions, such as landscapes with buildings or scenes of Japanese life.