Rastrelli, Varfolomei

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rastrelli, Varfolomei Varfolomeevich


(also Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli). Born in 1700 in Paris (?); died in 1771 in St. Petersburg. Russian architect of Italian origin; leading Russian baroque artist of the mid-18th century. Son of B. C. Rastrelli.

Rastrelli arrived in St. Petersburg with his father in 1716. He studied abroad, possibly in Italy, from 1725 to 1730. From the time of his return to St. Petersburg until 1763 he held the position of court architect. Rastrelli’s early structures were similar in style to Russian architecture of the first quarter of the 18th century. For example, Rastrelli employed steep mansard roofs (as seen in the third Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, 1732–33), rustication (as seen in the Biron palaces in Latvia—in Rundāle [1736–40] and Mitava [now Jelgava, 1738–40]), and emphatic horizontal articulation. The facades are planar, having very little ornament.

In his mature period, from 1740 through the 1750’s, Rastrelli, influenced by the national artistic culture of Russia, reinterpreted the traditions of European baroque architecture. He gave his buildings an immense frontage and made use of characteristically Russian bell towers, cupolas, porches, and slender columns. Interior decoration included colored walls, gilding, and ornamental foliage motifs.

New qualities in Rastrelli’s work became evident in his first major projects of the 1840’s, which included the wooden Summer Palace in St. Petersburg (1741–44, not preserved) and the Church of St. Andrew in Kiev (designed in 1747; built between 1748 and 1767 by the architect I. F. Michurin). In the Church of St. Andrew, Rastrelli creatively used the traditions of 17th-century Russian architecture to create a contrast between the massive central dome and the four slender, tower-like cupolas that flank it. The cupolas, whose vertical thrust is emphasized, appear to be continuations of the columns at the corner of the structure and seem to soar dynamically out of the building’s foundation.

Between 1747 and 1752, Rastrelli worked on additions to the Great Palace at Petergof (seePETRODVORETS). He preserved the basic composition of the original palace, which was built during the rule of Peter I. Rastrelli widened the palace’s central part and added to its sides the royal chapel and the coat-of-arms building. His additions have elegant proportions, an expressive silhouette, and a festively decorative appearance. The interior, which was completely redone by Rastrelli, is brilliantly colored and sumptuously decorated. The reflections of the many mirrors, the glimmer of the gilt wood carvings, the patterns of the parquet floors, and the painting of the ceilings provided an ample and luxurious background for palace ceremonies.

The Vorontsov Palace (1749–57) and the Stroganov Palace (1752–54) in St. Petersburg reflect Rastrelli’s mature style. The articulation of the facades and walls acquired an extraordinary plasticity. Rastrelli made extensive use of external columns, arranged in pairs or in larger groups and flanking the central entrance or other compositionally important parts of the building. The columns are decorative, serving no immediate structural function.

Between 1752 and 1757, Rastrelli rebuilt Catherine’s palace at Tsarskoe Selo (now the city of Pushkin). The building’s longitudinal axis became the principal spatial coordinating element. The two vast wings of parallel formal suites increase in size toward the center of the palace, where the Great Hall and the Picture Gallery are located. Their grandeur is accentuated by the formal staircase in the southwestern end of the building. The rhythmic arrangement of columns of different types on the facade, the pronounced projection of the colonnades topped by broad entablatures, and the deep window recesses create a bold play of light and shadow. The abundance of stucco moldings and decorative sculpture, as well as the many colors of the facade, impart to the building an emotional intensity, festiveness, and stateliness.

Rastrelli’s last two structures, Smol’nyi Monastery (1748–54) and the Winter Palace (1754–62) in St. Petersburg, exude triumphant power and grandeur. Both projects were designed as self-contained urban ensembles.


Vipper, B. R. “V. V. Rastrelli.” In Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, vol. 5. Moscow, 1960.
Denisov, Iu. A., and A. Petrov. Zodchii Rastrelli: Materialy k izucheniiu tvorchestva. Leningrad, 1963.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.