The Kuskovo EstateRussian: usadba Kuskovo or усадьба Кусково is located to the east of Moscow. It is the former residence of the Sheremetev family. This 18th-century estate comprises a wooden palace with the original interior layout and décor; a French formal parkRussian: frantsuzskiy regulyarnyi park or французский регулярный парк with ponds, sculptures and a GrottoRussian: Grot or Грот, GreenhouseRussian: Oranzhereya or Оранжерея and HermitageRussian: Эрмитаж pavilions; Italian and Dutch houses; the Church of the All-Merciful SaviourRussian: Tserkov Spasa Vsemilostivogo or Церковь Спаса Всемилостивого; and the Museum of CeramicsRussian: Muzey keramiki or Музей керамики. Renowned architects and painters (Blank, Lagrenée, Kologrivov) and serf architects of the Sheremetevs (Argunov, Mironov, Dikushin) contributed to the creation of the Kuskovo Estate.
Distantly related to the House of Romanovthe second dynasty to rule Russia, after the House of Rurik, reigning from 1613 until the February Revolution of 1917, the Sheremetevs were one of Russia’s noblest families. There even used to be an expression, ‘as rich as a Sheremetev’. The Sheremetevs owned the Kuskovo Estate for over three hundred years, from the 16th century until the Socialist Revolution of 1917.
The the estate hosted lavish receptions and entertainment such as folklore shows, boat rides accompanied by choir singing, fireworks, horn orchestras, games and carousels, balls and theatre performances. Pavilions and gazebos were built for these purposes, along with a greenhouse, a cabinet of curiosities, a menagerie and a hunter’s lodge. Exotic trees were planted in the Winter GardenRussian: Zimniy sad or Зимний сад and the greenhouse, and peacocks and aquatic birds walked around in aviaries. A small fleet of rowing boats was moored on the pond. With a total area of 230 hectares, the estate had enough space to host extremely large receptions with the number of guests reaching 30,000.
The PalaceRussian: Dvorets or Дворец (1769–1775), or the Big MansionRussian: Bolshoy dom or Большой дом, was designed mostly for receiving guests in summertime. It was made of wood and painted delicate pink, symbolising the dawn. Guests marveled at paintings by Rembrandt, Raphael, Van Dyсk and Veronese. There was also a saddle on display which had once belonged to King Charles XII of Sweden before Count Boris Sheremetev took it as a trophy, together with the King’s horse, in the Battle of Poltava. Festive meals at the Palace were served on dinnerware made of pure gold. At the same time, the Big House and the entire estate abounded with fake objects such as decorations made from papier-mâché instead of gold, life-size paper figures put up in the park instead of real people and so forth.
The Big Mansion in constructed on a high stone basement, as was the custom in the 18th century, and has two floors, the main floor and above it, the attic storey. The façade of the mansion is adorned with three columned porticos and a gable with sumptuous carvings and a personalized monogram. The mansion’s owners saw to the comfort of their guests, as evidenced by gently-sloping ramps and the white stone staircase leading to the front door. Enigmatic sphynxes guarding the estate seem to stare at each visitor entering the mansion.
Plank floors, chimneys, stoves, woodcarvings and stucco moldings decorating the Big Mansion’s interior are the creations of free and serf Russian craftsmen. Foreign artists and sculptors who came here at the invitation of the estate’s owners also contributed to its construction. In modern times, this sumptuous estate was in poor condition, and restoration works lasted from 1976 and 1983. Specialists restored furniture and woven wall decorations from 19th-century samples and analogues.
PARK PAVILIONS AND MUSEUM OF CERAMICS
The only formally French park in Moscow, with its marble sculptures and obelisks, ponds, canals and bridges, has preserved many of its pavilions. The Italian houseRussian: Italianskiy domik or Итальянский домик (1755) served as a palace for minor receptions and as a museum of curiosities. The laconic Dutch houseRussian: Gollandskiy domik or Голландский домик (1749) was built as a tribute to Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725’s era and his fascination with Holland. Its Dutch-style interior lined with over 10,000 tiles is truly a sight to behold.
The collection of the Museum of Ceramics is located in the Big Stone GreenhouseRussian: Bolshaya kamennaya oranzhereya or Большая каменная оранжерея, the biggest pavilion of the palace and park presenting products of the leading enterprises, works by renowned artists and unique exhibits. The items on display at the museum provide an opportunity to trace the evolution of the aesthetic ideals of different epochs. The exhibition presents works from Ancient Greece and Rome, the ancient Near East, Western Europe and, of course, Russia. The museum is particularly proud of its unique collections of Russian porcelain produced by Russian manufactures.
One of the most intriguing buildings in Kuskovo, the Grotto (1755–1761/75), was designed as a place where one could cool off on a hot summer day. It was supposed to personify the elements of stone and water, which is why its walls and ceiling are richly decorated with shells, glass, mirror pieces and plaster fretwork portraying exotic animals. Only a handful of the host’s intimate friends were allowed inside the Hermitage (1765-67), where they could retire from everyone during the balls. A special mechanism lifted a couch with the guests sitting on it to the second floor, followed by a table for 16 persons.
THE SIMPLE AND THE SUBLIME
The oldest structure in the entire Estate is the Church of the All-Merciful Saviour, which has now become part of the Kuskovo Estate. It has never been rebuilt since its construction between 1737 and 1739. Its altar was consecrated in honour of the Procession of the Venerable Wood of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord, which is a gold cross carrying a piece of the True Cross of Jesus Christ, a gift from the Pope to Count Boris Sheremetev.
Another surviving landmark in the park consists of the fragments of an Open-Air TheatreRussian: Vozdushnyi Teatr or Воздушный Театр dating back to the 1760s. It was set up in the park with a stage on top of an artificial hill, coulisses made of trimmed barberry shrubs and pine trees that created perfect acoustics, an orchestra pit behind a flowerbed and a turf amphitheatre, sitting 80 to 100 spectators. Praskovia Zhemchugova – a serf actress who married Count Nikolai Sheremetev – used to perform on the stage of this theatre.
Modern reconstruction work allows visitors to view the restored menageries, the aviary and the American greenhouse. All history lovers who enjoy imagine the past in all its glory will enjoy a visit to this estate, which once welcomed Russian Empresses Elizabeth Ithe Empress of Russia from 1741 until 1761 and Catherine the GreatEmpress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, the country's longest-ruling female leader and its most renowned. Film directors are particularly fond of shooting historical films in Kuskovo, including Mysteries of Palace Coups, Long Live Midshipmen!, School for Noble Maidens, along with two Russian comedies, Hello! I’m Your Aunt! and Shyrli-Myrli. Even Nikolai Sheremetev, a patron of arts and a theatre lover, would never have dreamed of such an artistic use of his estate, but he would have been flattered, for sure, that his luxurious manor has been captured not only in paintings, but also in cinema.
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