Author: By Galina VASILYEVA, leading researcher, State Museum of St. Petersburg History
In the picturesque Italian Switzerland, surrounded by lakes and mountains, there is a small town by the name of Muzzano. The residents of this paradise can visit the historic Russian capital of St. Petersburg without leaving their own town. The "key" to the "miracle" is a house in the center of Muzzano with the walls decorated with frescos of panoramas of the Russian Northern Palmira.
During the summer of 1908, Alexander Benua, a celebrated Russian artist, arts historian, staff member of the Museum of St. Petersburg, left for Italian Switzerland, "to have a rest from artistic fuss, to lead a serene contemplative life amidst tender nature and forget for three months about theaters, museums, exhibitions". But man proposes and God disposes: Igor Grabar, the author of multi-volume History of Russian Art (later-academician) asked him to find out some details in Switzerland for that publication. As a result the artist visited places that were real "hot-beds of art". For centuries dynasties of outstanding architects, sculptors, painters and masons were thriving there, leaving their creations in Italy, France, Germany, England and Poland.
Alexander Benua collected information on those who worked in Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries, paying special attention to architectural details related to Moscow and St. Petersburg. In family archives and private art collections we got acquainted with the documents, made up lists of the obtained materials, wrote scientific commentaries, annotated drawings, deciphered inscriptions (on the back side of pages there remained his notes). Later on this art historian visited Italian Switzerland, which he loved so much, several more times. Enchanting blue lakes surrounded by high snowcapped mountains-all this was unforgettable. "And after each such journey I returned with a notebook full of notes, and a suitcase foil of museum catalogs, with numerous photos... I myself took a lot of pictures, and did it quite well, using a rather simple camera; some of these photos I used in my "History of Painting", whose volumes were luxuriantly published from 1911".
Benua was greatly impressed by the mansion of sculptor-decorator Domeni-co Felice Lamoni (1745 - 1830) in Muzzano, who spent 20 years in St. Petersburg. The master returned to his country in 1792, built a house of his own design, decorated it with intricate stucco reliefs and frescos. In memory of the city on the Neva, where he spent the best years of his creative activity, he painted landscapes of Northern Palmira on the walls of his house.
The offsprings of the sculptor greeted the Russian art critic with hospitality, showed him the house, works of their grand grandfather, and two of them ("View the Neva and Tongue of Vasilevsky Ostrov" and "View of the Neva and Petropavlovskaya Fortress") presented to Benua. Later on he presented it to the Hermitage. He bought from them works of Stefano Torelli-unfinished canvas "Catherine II as Minerva" and the "Portrait of Lamoni's Two Daughters" (at present they are exhibited in the Russian Museum). Thus, due to the voyage of Benua, St. Petersburg museums have been enriched with some unique entries: drawings, city landscapes, views of suburban palaces and parks.
Lamoni brought from Russia not only his own works, but also those of his countrymen-great Italians. Among them Benua placed the drawings of architect Antonio Rinaldi, who worked in St. Petersburg from 1751 till 1794 (the staircase of the Marble Palace), of Victor Brenna, who worked in Russia from 1783 till 1802 (the furnace for the Hall of War in Pavlovsk). Benua bought these works as well as 15 paintings of Lamoni for Count Vladimir Argutin-sky-Dolgorukov, who in 1912 presented them to the Museum of Old St. Petersburg, founded in 1907.
At that time the striving to preserve the culture of native city, reflected in architectural and specific graphs, in objects of everyday life and ornamental and applied arts, linked the creative intelligentsia, art historians, patrons and art-lovers. They studied archives and private collections in Russia, brought drawings and documents from
Europe, arranged exhibitions, attracting public attention to the study and preservation of the cultural heritage in its diversity.
In 1992 the State Museum of St. Petersburg History requested architect Benvedetto Antonini to tell about Lamoni's house, whose owner he had become earlier (by that time we have found out that the house was included into the official list of historical monuments of Switzerland). In spring 2000 we, together with Swiss colleagues, visited the Lamoni house. Antonini keeps with great care the collection of drawings and etchings, tools, used by the Lamoni family (by the way, decorator's son, architect Giuseppe Batista Alberto, also worked in Russia, in Pskov, and the stockrooms of our museum preserve the design of the church in a classical style made by him). But the magnificent state of the old house and its unique interiors impressed us most of all.
The three-storeyed stone mansion, surrounded with a strict cast-iron fence, is situated in the center of Muzzano. Along the main facade, from the side of a small inner yard, there is an open gallery of the first floor with an entrance to the front hall. On the stone floor, in the circle-inlaid coat of arms of the Lamoni family; to the right of the entrance, on a pedestal in the form of ionic column there is a plaster bust of D. Lamoni. It is made in the traditions of the Roman portrait: a high forehead, large expressive features of an old face, shoulders are draped with cloth.
Lamoni richly embellished a mantelpiece in the hall with relief compositions of artificial marble. He also made stucco molding and frescos of the second floor. "Finishing of the bedroom in my own house and some other sculptures there, though made carelessly, captivate with their gracefulness and virtuosity", wrote A. Benua.
Sculptural decor of the house reminds works of the master in the grand princes' palaces in St. Petersburg suburbs. Intricate reliefs in the form of allegorical scenes and ornamental compositions decorate dessus de portes (panels over the doors) and mantelpieces. Artificial marble of different shades is used in the decoration of pilastered walls. Stylistic uniformity, sense of measure, accurately determined scale ratio of wall and relief plane-these are characteristic features of stucco moulding.
Dessus de portes in the light spacious drawing-room on the second floor are executed as frescos. These are views of St. Petersburg of the 1770s-1780s: "Bolshoi Theater", "Petrovsky Square", "Peter and Paul Fortress". The two last themes are also depicted in Lamoni's water-colors that are kept in our museum, while his painting of the Petropavlovsky Fortress is at the Hermitage.
Paintings are unique from the icono-graphic point of view: the building of the St. Petersburg Bolshoi Theater, erected according to A. Rinaldi design, has not survived: its reconstruction began in 1802 according to the design of Jean Tom de Tomon, architect from France. Thus, the first Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg is perpetuated on the painting and walls of the Lamoni house. The expanse of Teatralnaya (Karuselnaya) Square is greater on the fresco as compared with the water-color, everything looks more grandiose-the theater, sailing vessels on the Kryukov canal. The landscape with Peter and Paul Fortress in the foreground depicts the embankment with the strolling public, the span of loan-novsky drawbridge, the silhouette of Petropavlovsky Cathedral and the perspective of Dvortsovaya embankment.
The fresco "Senatskaya Square" is situated symmetrically ever the other door along the same wall. Here too one can see a multitude of precious details
of old St. Petersburg. In the foreground-a canal with a bridge, old Isaakievsky Cathedral (architect A. Rinaldi), monument to Peter I on horseback and opposite bank of the Neva- the building of the Academy of Arts, the palace of Prince Alexander Menshikov on Vasilyevsky Ostrov.
In the 1780s, when Lamoni worked under guidance of architect Charles Cameron from Scotland, the stucco moulding of the Pavlovsky palace was executed in collaboration with Antoni Bernarsconi from Italian Switzerland. They made medallions and ornamental relief on the main building facade, stucco moulding in the interior: medallions with Zodiacal signs in the Egyptian Hall, Bedroom, Main Dining- Room, Dressing-Room, Carpeted Study and Billiard Room (magnificent stucco moulding, ruined during the fascist occupation in the years of the Second Word War, was restored in the 1950s-1960s).
Another side of the master's creative heritage-sketches and paintings making up his graphic collection. These are views of Petersburg, Pavlovsk, Gat-china, made in stylus, Indian ink and water-color. Lamoni was a great master of feather painting, his dynamic compositions are implemented lightly and energetically. He was fond of combining black Indian ink with sepia, that made his graphic works more picturesque. Skillfully built architectural perspectives reflect a grandiose scale of urban expanse and sculptural decor of the buildings at the same time.
A characteristic feature of Lamoni's feather painting-expression in the portrayal of staffage*: galloping knights in wide-brimmed hats and flying overcoats, sailors, climbing up the masts of sailing vessels, swift riding carriages. Architectural compositions of his paintings resemble back drops of theatrical decorations, which serve as the background of the play. Full of movement and charm of sketching from life, they are close to the brilliant graphics of his great contemporaries-Jacomo Quarenghi and Pietro Gonzago. As an example we can name Lamoni's painting "View of Nevsky prospect" of the 1780s. It depicts the center of Petersburg which no longer exists: the house of General A. Vilboa, built by architect B. Rastrelli in late 50s-early 60s of the 18th century, the first stone bridge over Ekaterininsky canal, constructed by engineer N. Golenishchev-Kutuzov in 1766. Lamoni painted all this from the bell- tower of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, completely dismantled during construction of Kazansky Cathedral.
Of great interest in the painting of Count Orlov's palace in Gatchina, built according to A. Rinaldi's design. Later it was reconstructed by V. Brenna for grand prince Pavel Petrovich, that's why Lamoni's painting is a rare portrayal of the palace before reconstruction.
Landscapes of Pavlovsk (Indian ink and water-colors of the 1780s), created by Lamoni in the period of construction of this palace-park complex, are permeated with poetry and charm of these picturesque places. The artist painted the valley of the Slavyanka river, the palace, park pavilions-Temple of Friendship and Monument to Parents; from urban structures must be mentioned-Marientalsky Hospital, built according to J. Quarenghi design.
In conclusion it must be pointed out: Lamoni's role in creating stucco moulding of grand princes' palaces has not been duly assessed by contemporary researchers. He developed the traditions of Italian school of processing artificial marble in Russia- stucco (Ital.), which is a characteristic feature of the decor in the architecture of Russian classicism.
Future joint studies of the creative heritage of the architects and sculptors from Italian Switzerland by Russian and Swiss researchers, who worked in Russia, will allow to discover new materials in the creative biography of Domenico Felice Lamoni.
* In landscape painting small figures of people and animals. - Ed .
Опубликовано 10 сентября 2018 года
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