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Architects of the Kunstkamera

Prior to laying the founding stone of the Kunstkamera in 1719, a prominent European architect Andreas Schlüter had developed only a schematic design in 1713-1714. Many historians of the Kunstkamera tend to think that Peter was directly engaged in the building planning, that he picked the construction site and authored the idea of how to place the library halls and various collections. It was a concept allowing to speak about a philosophical stratagem of the museum organization, which was meant to be a true microcosm. In the lifetime of Peter I, only the walls had been erected. The Tsar contributed so-called “cabinet” (his personal) funds to the construction. Initially, Architect Georg Johann Mattarnovi had been directing the construction and, later on, he developed a new design of the building.  G.J. Mattarnovi had started but never completed the construction of the Kunstkamera (1718-1719). After his death, Architect N.F. Harbel was in charge of the construction (1719 -1724).  Under Harbel, the external look of the building had somewhat deviated from the initial design.  Thus, the galleries appeared. The brickwork of window apertures, still existing, is richer than indicated in the drawings. By the time of N.F. Harbel’s death in 1724, the building had been erected in the rough: the tower was not completed and cracks threatening building’s safety appeared. 

Gaetano Chiaveri (1724-1727), who replaced Harbel, had first of all demolished the tower and composed a new design of the building’s decoration. Comparing the engravings with Chiavery and Mattarnovi’s architectural designs, one can see that the lower cumbersome part of the tower became higher. Instead of the four pavilions that Mattarnovi intended to build around the tower cylinder, a light colonnade appeared. The height of the cylindrical part was enhanced and the tower was crowned with a pinnacle bearing the sphere; on the embankment side, mannered baroque pediments, richly decorated with sculptures, appeared above the lateral façade risalits instead of a quite modest “Mattarnovi’s balustrade” with an attic window.  Chiavery had never finished construction of the tower; by his design, Architect M.I. Zemtsov completed it in 1734.

In July 1723, architect D. Trezzini proposed to install 12 carved wooden statues and 75 carved wooden vases on the Kunstkamera’s façade.  M. Zemtsov was offered to create sketches of the statues for the Kunstkamera’s tower. These were impersonations of “Ostrology1, Gorography2, Ingenium3, Memoria4, Medicine, Geography, Justice, Sapientia5, Curiositasa6, Admiracisa7, Diligentsia8, Sciencia9.”

The façade of the building was decorated with statues made by Master Koch of linden tree wood. The statues had remained there till the early 19th century. 

On December 5, 1747, a major fire occurred in the Kunstkamera building. It severely damaged the building and, in the first place, destroyed the wooden parts: the roof, the pinnacle, and the colonnade around the tower.  In the early 1748, a commission composed of architects Bartolomeo Rastrelli, Domenico and Pietro Trezzini, and others made a decision to dismantle the frontons. Initially, I.J. Schumacher (brother of J.D. Schumacher, the Chancellery Counselor of the Academy) was commissioned to do the design solutions and cost sheets. However, shortly after, he was released from this job, and Architect Savva Ivanovich Chevakinsky, who had been working on restoration of the tower in 1755-1758, got engaged in the project implementation and direction. The armillary sphere and the pinnacle of the Kunstkamera building were lost in the fire of 1747. In 1758, Architect S.I. Chevakinsky restored the tower but with no upper part.  It had stood with this reduced silhouette for nearly 200 years. The building had got its original look only in 1948–1949, when the tower was crowned with a new armillary sphere produced after R.I. Kaplan-Ingel’s design.

By the early 1990s, it became obvious that after forty years of exploitation the armillary sphere on the tower had got out of order. The research and construction company “Prometey” came up with a constructional design and produced a new sphere of titanium alloy. On November 28, 1993, it was installed on top of the Kunstkamera tower.

The tower once again turned into one of architectural landmarks of our city, a symbol of St. Petersburg, the city of science, aligned with other symbols of our city - the spires of Peter and Paul Fortress and the Admiralty. 

1 From Gr. Astrologia: a science about celestial bodies.

2 From Gr. Hora - hour, and grapho – write: the art to make sundials.

3 From Lat. Ingenium: ingenuity, intellect, genius, knowledge.  

4 From Lat. Memoria: memory, history, annals, chronicle.

5 From Lat. Sapientia: wisdom, philosophy.

6 From Ger. Curiositat, Fr. curiosite: remarkable, inquisitive.

7 From Lat.  Admīrātio: astonishment, admiration.

8 From Lat.  Dilignitia: diligence.

9 From Lat.  Scientia: science, knowledge.