Bazhenov, Vasilii Ivanovich

Bazhenov, Vasilii Ivanovich


Born Mar. 1 (12), 1737 or 1738, in the village of Dol’skoe, near Maloiaroslavets (by other information, in Moscow); died Aug. 2 (13), 1799, in St. Petersburg. Russian architect, graphic artist, and architectural theoretician and teacher; exponent of classicism. Born into the family of a church reader.

Bazhenov studied in Moscow under D. V. Ukhtomskii (1753–55) and at Moscow University (1755), under S. I. Chevakinskii at St. Petersburg (from 1756), and under A. F. Kokorinov and J. B. Vallin de la Mothe at the Academy of Arts (1758–60); he also studied as a pensioner of the Academy of Arts at the School of Fine Arts in Paris (1760–62) under C. de Wailly. From 1762 to 1764 he visited Italy, where he was appointed a professor at the Academy of St. Luke in Rome and a member of the Academy of Arts in Bologna and Florence. From 1765 he was academician, and in 1799 vice-president, of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.

Bazhenov was the first Russian architect to begin to consider a structure in relation to its surroundings, as a three-dimensional composition that actively organizes the space of a city. His design for a palace for the Moscow Kremlin (1767–75), with the simultaneous reconstruction of the entire complex and of Red Square, was marked by the breadth of his conception of city building. By his design the Kremlin was to be transformed into an immense public forum with an oval main square at which the main radial streets of Moscow would come together. The Kremlin’s tie to the buildings of the city was to be strengthened as well, because the palace’s main facade (foundation laid in 1773; there is a wooden model of the palace in the A. V. Shchusev Scientific Research Museum of Architecture in Moscow) was to be brought into the line of the Kremlin walls. At the same time, the powerful rusticated socle of the palace and the ceremonial colonnade of the two top stories were to hide the ancient structures of Sobornaia Square, a change which would have fundamentally disrupted the traditional appearance of the Kremlin. In 1775 realization of the design was suspended because of Catherine II’s disinclination to glorify Moscow. This was a heavy blow for Bazhenov, but to some extent he succeeded in realizing his city-building ideas in the Pashkov house in Moscow (1784–86; now the old building of the V. I. Lenin Library of the USSR). He reworked the traditional design for the construction of a country estate, placing in a single row on the crest of a hill opposite the Kremlin a central building crowned with a belvedere and the connected outbuildings (which had usually been placed out front); thus he gave the structure an urban appearance. Instead of a cour d’honneur (front courtyard) he made a garden; the main entrance was placed on the side of a small courtyard, where the main gates were located and which was given the character of a cour d’honneur with a funnel-shaped space. The Pashkov house was not only a worthy neighbor to the Kremlin; it determined the scale of the three streets that its facades faced. In the Pashkov house, as with Bazhenov’s other Moscow buildings as well (the Dolgov house at No. 1 Meshchanskaia Street, now the Mir Boulevard, 1770; the bell tower and refectory of the Vse Skorbiashchie Church on Bol’shaia Ordynka and the Iushkov house on Miasnitskaia Street, now Kirov Street, 1780’s), the great wealth of fluid ornamentation on the facades is combined with harmoniously clear and logically conceived proportionality of all parts of the building. The masterly use of color and the texture of materials—stone, plaster, and plaster of Paris—give rise to a subtle, picturesque quality, a complex interplay of light and shadow. The enthusiasm for pseudo-Gothic, which was characteristic of a number of architects of the second half of the 18th century and which Bazhenov first displayed in pleasure buildings on Khodynka Field in Moscow (1774–75, known from the drawings of M. F. Kazakov), soon developed into a search for a new style in Bazhenov’s work. In the architecture of the romantic garden-park complex in Tsaritsyn (1775–85) and in the church estate in Bykovo, near Moscow (1782–89), elements of ancient Russian and Gothic architecture, reworked in an imaginative way, are distinctively combined in classical proportions. The design of Tsaritsyn, with its elements of classical clarity, subtly takes into account the terrain of the location: buildings are picturesquely placed at different levels. The white stone pseudo-Gothic decor, visually lightening and plastically enriching the red brick structures, gives the buildings an inviting and stylish appearance; the interiors of the buildings, complex in configuration, create surprising contrasting effects as one moves from one to another. The structures in Tsaritsyn were not completed, inasmuch as Catherine II was hostile to them when she inspected them. In the design for the Mikhailovskii Fortress in St. Petersburg (1792–96; built 1797–1800 by V. F. Brenna and E. T. Sokolov), a complex created at the will of Paul I and separated from the city by canals, Bazhenov was nonetheless able to join the fortress to the city by carrying the pavilions out into the line of In-zhenernaia Street.

Bazhenov was one of the first to overcome the limitations of the theory of classicism; he valued highly individual monuments of medieval architecture and constantly accentuated the historical significance and social mission of Russian architecture. He was the editor of a Russian translation of Vitruvius. He established an architectural unit and school (in which M. F. Kazakov, K. I. Blank, I. V. Egotov, and E. S. Nazarov worked) under the auspices of the Office for Kremlin Construction.


Kratkoe rassuzhdenie o Kremlevskom stroenii. TsGIAL, collection of the Academy of Arts, 1770, file 26, Bazhenov and Karzhavin papers.
“Slovo na zalozhenie Kremlevskogo dvortsa.” In A. S. Sumarokov, Poln. sobr. vsekh soch., part 2, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1787.
“Mneniia... o Kremlevskoi perestroike.” InArkhitekturnyi arkhiv, no. 1, Moscow, 1946. Pages 119–121.


Mikhailov, A. I. Bazhenov. Moscow, 1951.
Il’in, M. A. Bazhenov. Moscow, 1954.
Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, vol. 6. Moscow, 1961. Pages 85–129.