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Amber Room

TOUR CATHERINE'S PALACE WITH US: Tour of Catherine's palace for cruise passengers, Tour of Catherine's palace for independent travellers

The Amber Room is located in Catherine Palace in Pushkin town. The tour takes you through the Gala Rooms of Catherine Palace including The Amber Room where you can admire the meticulously restored interior of natural amber mosaic walls, precious parquet floors, mirrors and gold leaf woodcarvings. The tour guide tells you the story of The Amber Room's creation, loss and reconstruction after WW II. Photography and video are forbidden inside the Amber Room. To prepare for your trip, you can read the below story written by the art historian Dr. Burkhardt Göres who had followed with close attention The Amber Room's reconstruction progress since his first trip to Leningrad in 1967.

" ... Colleagues at The Hermitage enabled me to meet Anatoli Kuchumov in 1969, the main custodian at Pavlovsk, who had been an employee in the Czarskoye Selo palaces administration before 1945 and had as early as 1946 started to look for The Amber Room, which had been taken by the German army in 1941 from Catherine Palace to Königsberg. I told him what I had found during my training at the Berliner Gemaeldegalerie: I had come across a letter in which Dr. Alfred Rohde, Director of the Koenigsberg Art Collections, informed Professor Ernst Zimmermann, Director of the Gemaeldegalerie, after the first two large British bomb raids on Königsberg in August 1944 that the loaned miniatures of the Gemaeldegalerie and treasures from its own collections were safe and sound in a tower shelter and that The Amber Room was also largely undamaged, with only a few panels having been destroyed during the fire. It was not until the spring of 1945 that one lost track of the room. At Kuchumov's request I obtained for his research in Kaliningrad a photocopy of a 1942 Königsberg city map from the state library in Berlin. Later I was able to let him have a miraculously preserved brilliant photograph of the elements of The Amber Room in Königsberg, which had been sent to me by Professor Margarete Kuhn, Director of the West Berlin Palaces Administration. In 1979, the Soviet Government officially decided that The Amber Room was to be reconstructed.

 

Amber Room, Catherine the Great's Summer Palace Amber Room, Catherine the Great's Summer Palace Amber Chamber, Katherine Palace Amber Workshop, Catherine Palace

In 1980, I had the good fortune of meeting in a St. Petersburg attic workshop a group of young restorers boldly seeking to recreate the '8th Wonder of the World'. A year later the Czarskoye Selo Palaces Administration had another restoration workshop where the '9th Wonder of the World' was now being meticulously created. During each subsequent visit to Czarskoye Selo I witnessed the fresh success made in achieving this huge task, which impressed me above all by the artistic quality of the work going far beyond good workmanship, and by the strict scientific approach simultaneously adopted. The restorers very carefully examined the photographic documentation, created models from plasticine and plaster before actually using the valuable amber, and did not take any artistic liberties. The driving force on this long journey over several decades was Alexander Kedrinski, the senior architect responsible for the reconstruction of Catherine Palace, under whose aegis the ceiling painting, the precious intarsia floor and the sculpted woodwork of the room had already been recreated. I was regularly informed of the details of the work, the success achieved and the difficulties encountered by my old friends who were among the founding members of the workshop: Alexander Shuravlov, who headed it for one and a half decades, Albert Vanin, the experienced representative of the older generation, and Alexander Krylov, who was then still a young virtuoso of his discipline and is now responsible for the high-quality artistic execution.

The first complete model of The Amber Room created by Krylov in his spare time during the work on The Amber Room is now the center piece of the 'Aricalex' collection in Berlin, which presents models of historical buildings, and a symbol of the great masterly skills of Russian amber restorers. The difficulty and global nature of the task already became clear to the masters while working on the first scaled-down model of a wall from the room - this was not a copy in the usual sense in which it is possible to compare the copy with the original at all times. When an item is recreated, demands are made on the restorer - like the original creator - above all in his capacity as an artist. Until the problem was solved by the use of photogrammetry, it was only possible to determine the height and depth of profiles by specimen models. However, in any activity of this kind, sculptural details are always determined first and foremost by the master's artistic sensitivity. In those 20 years the most difficult sculptural details, formed with the aid of plasticine, were primarily the responsibility of the workshop's experienced modeller, Yekaterina Anosina, and later her son until his accident. The amber carvers themselves gained access to the secrets of their sophisticated work by restoring historical amber arte facts from various museums. Particularly important in this connection was the restoration of a large amber chest on which the initials of Gottfried Thurau, one of the creators of The Amber Room, were discovered. Copying various models from museums trained the eyes and hands of the specialists. Studying old formulae made experiments and comparisons possible. By comparing old black-and-white photographs with photographs of newly created amber parts of the room it proved possible to move closer and closer to the original hues of the paneling. Heating and boiling the thin amber pieces in a special mixture allowed the desired hue to be achieved, thus coming as near as possible to the original. Polished, numbered and matched, the amber parts, produced from the same amber obtained in the vicinity of former Koenigsberg as used 300 years ago by the creators of the lost Amber Room, were mounted on the wooden supports using a glue specifically developed for this purpose in the workshop. The frequent use of engravings with underlying film and the relief of the carved parts all add to the wide spectrum of colors and sculptural elements of the amber, which is by nature extremely rich and diverse in its shades of color. The first task handled by the restorers was the base panels, which were also the first to be given their traditional place in the room of the palace where the splendid original had been from 1755. Then they started working on the large panels with mounted frames.

 

Amber Room, Catherine Palace Amber Room, Catherine Palace Amber Room, Catherine Palace

The scale of the work led to a significant extension of the workshop, which recruited not only further talented amber restorers but also gem carvers for the mosaics. And then perestroika occurred. Though it was now possible to breathe more freely, life simultaneously became much harder and major cultural projects, whose funding had previously been guaranteed by the government, lost their most important sponsor in the new market environment. Despite the efforts by Professor Ivan Sautov, General Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Museums, the activities of the amber masters workshop faced the prospect of coming to a complete halt because of a lack of funds. Desiring to support the workshop in any way possible, I arranged for the restoration of two amber items from the collection of Berlin's Kunstgewerbemuseum. However, such isolated “rescue operations“ failed to alleviate the overall critical situation.

This was not fundamentally changed until a real rescue initiative was launched by Ruhrgas (now E.ON Ruhrgas AG) from Essen in Germany, which was extensively involved in Russia. The company decided in 1999 on the occasion of its anniversary to act as sponsor for the new amber marvel and safeguard the financing of the reconstruction of the Amber Room in time for St. Petersburgґs anniversary in 2003. As a member of the advisory committee for the reconstruction of the Amber Room, I was in the fortunate position of witnessing a twofold revival: intensive work on the panelling in the Amber Room and at the workshop in Tsarskoye Selo with its unrivalled masters and unique creative potential.

As far as the original of the lost Amber Room is concerned, the last few years produced not only new speculation about its possible whereabouts but also genuine sensations. One day the chief of the Potsdam police informed me in confidence that an allegedly original Florentine mosaic from the Amber Room, inserted in paneling by Tsarina Elisabeth after 1755, was being offered in Bremen under suspicious circumstances. My task was to determine whether it was actually the original. During my next visit to the amber masters workshop I discovered, however, that an excellent reproduction lay almost finished on the work-bench. In order to be well equipped for identifying the mosaic in Bremen, I received good advice from the gem carvers and restorers, and Deputy Director Larissa Bardovskaya provided me with detailed enlargements of old photographs of this mosaic. During the subsequent feigned purchase in Bremen under the responsibility of Peter Schultheiss from the criminal police in Potsdam, I was convinced of the authenticity of the mosaic. This led to its immediate confiscation and subsequently its solemn return by the German Government to the Russian Government. Together with the mosaic, a chest of drawers, which had stood in the Amber Room before the Second World War and was rediscovered in a German private collection, was returned. When the German Interior Ministry asked me to confirm the origin of the chest, which was not difficult, it was nonetheless clear to everyone concerned that these discoveries, though important in their own right, could not at all advance the search for the original Amber Room because the chest was not linked to the room in any way and because the mosaic had, as it turned out, been stolen by an officer of the German army before the Amber Room was transferred to Koenigsberg.

Even though the tragic fate of the Amber Room during the war is still a mystery in many respects, the bizarre history of its creation in Prussia became ever clearer to me and was gradually freed of traditional errors and misinterpretations when I began to study and compare the archival and graphic sources. For example, I discovered that it was not the famous Andreas Schlueter, as previously assumed, but his important rival Johann Friedrich Eosander who was the author of the project, which was originally planned for the royal palace in Charlottenburg but later in an extended form for the residence of Frederick I in Oranienburg. It was also possible in Berlin to trace the actual journey taken by the finished walls. Finished in the course of 12 years by the master amber turners Gottfried Wolffram, Gottfried Thurau and Ernst Schacht, they were not moved until 1713 from the armoury in Marstall (and not the Zeughaus arsenal, as always claimed) to the Berlin palace as paneling for Frederick William I's “tobacco club“. But only three years later they were dismantled to be taken to distant Russia as a valuable gift to Tsar Peter I, for which – as he said – he had long yearned.

Everyone concerned about the artistic heritage had long wanted the “8th Wonder of the World“ to be returned to its second home in Tsarskoye Selo. Though it became ever clearer over the years that this was a futile hope, we are now able to convince ourselves that the new amber marvel we are receiving from the hands of today's talented Russian masters is in no way inferior to the original and undoubtedly deserves to be described as one of the wonders of the world, irrespective of the status assigned to it by grateful contemporaries and their descendants. Against this background, the historical significance of the unique initiative taken by Ruhrgas AG (now E.ON Ruhrgas AG) with its Board Chairman Friedrich Spдth and its Board member Achim Middelschulte, to whom we are indebted for the idea and its implementation, cannot be overrated."

by Dr. Burkhardt Göres, Director of Palaces, Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, Berlin-Brandenburg

Also read our article '10 Fun Things to Do in St Petersburg Russia'

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