Russian Baroque Architecture: Characteristics & Examples

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about the most important characteristics of Russian Baroque architecture. Explore some examples of beautiful cathedrals and civic buildings created during this period and that became important landmarks of Russian history and architecture.

Russian Baroque Architecture

Russia was a land of mystery for the western world because it was so distant from the rest of Europe— it always had strong local characteristics which created unique manifestations of arts. For Baroque architecture, Russia created a very particular and impressive style. Let's find out more.

A new artistic style started in Italy in the early 17th century after the Renaissance called the Baroque, and its most defining feature was elaborate ornamentation, widely used in every aspect of the design. From Italy, the new style spread through Europe, eventually reaching the remote lands of Russia.

It was only by the end of the 17th century when Russian Baroque architecture started, almost a century after it started in Italy and it continued to develop until the Rococo style gained importance in the late 18th century. Baroque arrived in Russia in the form of innovation in constructions, abundant decoration and use of colors.

Characteristics of Russian Baroque Architecture

To better understand Russian Baroque, it is often divided into three periods named after the monarch in power who promoted the constructions at that time:

Muscovite Baroque

The new style appeared in constructions for the Naryshkin family at the end of the 17th century. The buildings didn't copy Western Baroque architecture, but rather they were based on Russian traditional architecture and incorporated some new features, inspired in German and Italian Baroque. The layout for religious buildings continued to be the Greek cross, with five cupolas, one in the middle and one on each side, decorated with abundant arches. The traditional pyramidal form disappeared. Constructions were made of red brick with plenty of ornaments in white stone.

This type of Russian Baroque ended suddenly when Tsar Peter the Great determined that all constructions in Moscow should stop, and workers should go to Saint Petersburg to accelerate construction projects there.

Petrine Baroque

It was during the reign of Peter when European lifestyle came to Russia and Baroque became the main style in the country. Many constructions were done as the Monarch was establishing Saint Petersburg as the new capital of the empire.

Petrine Baroque developed in the first decades of the 18th century and the style was mostly inspired by the modest architecture of Holland and Scandinavia. The main characteristic of this architecture was the simple volumes and the flat facades, contrasting with the high level of detail for the interior decoration. Noble materials were used for the interiors. In terms of composition and layout for churches, this style breaks the Byzantine tradition of the Greek cross and introduces a more western European Latin cross layout. The layout of palaces also incorporated French Baroque ideas, like the differentiated base, noble and top floors and the main wing in the middle and symmetrical wings on each side.

Elizabethan Baroque

Finally, the most famous Baroque buildings in Russia were built during the reign of Peter's daughter Elizabeth, who brought Italian architects to work not only in the new capital but also in major cities like Moscow and Kiev. The best-known architect of Russian Baroque style was Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

This style retook the centric Greek cross layout, using five cupolas with bulb shape to crown the middle and the points of the cross. It became an architecture of greatness, looking to promote and glorify the Russian Empire in every single detail. We see the use of color in the facades, with more than one tone being used. The interiors and exteriors were highly ornamented and every space was used to embellish the building.

With the death of Empress Elizabeth, the Baroque lost importance and the Rococo style started. Some other local styles of Baroque architecture also developed throughout the vast lands of the Russian Empire; such as the Siberian Baroque and the Byelorussian Baroque.

Examples of Russian Baroque Architecture

Muscovite Baroque

  • Church of the Intercession at Fili (Near Moscow, 1694): It has a traditional Greek cross layout, with four rounded ends, each one with a pointed copula. The tallest tower is in the middle, also crowned by a copula. Arches were widely used as decorative elements. After renovations, it was painted red, but the original tone remains uncertain.

Church of the Intercession at Fili
Church of the Intercession at Fili

  • Menshikov Tower (Moscow, 1707): This church has a traditional cross layout, with entrances at the points of the cross and a central tower. We see the use of color and abundant white stone embellishments on the facades. In later years it suffered renovation, altering the original Baroque look.

Menshikov Tower in Saint Petersburg
Menshikov Tower in Saint Petersburg

Petrine Baroque

  • Menshikov Palace (Saint Petersburg, 1710): It was built as the residence for the governor. The palace consists of a main wing in the middle and two symmetrical wings. It has a very rhythmic composition for the facades, created by the use of windows and visible columns that are modestly ornamented.

Menshikov Palace in Saint Petersburg
Menshikov Palace in Saint Petersburg

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