The relationship between Russian and Italian people has a centuries-old history. The first documented visit of Russian ambassadors to Francesco I Sforza, the Duke of Milan, took place in 1461 and was followed by an exchange of numerous visits and messages between the two countries. The strongest Italian influence in Moscow was observed in the 15th century, when Italian architects invited by the Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan the Greatruled from 1462 until 1505 basically created the image of the Kremlin that is recognisable around the world today.
THE GREAT ITALIAN ARCHITECTS OF THE MOSCOW KREMLIN
At the end of the 15th century, Ivan the Great gathered all the Russian duchies under the control of Moscow and made Russia one of the most powerful countries in Europe. Ivan initiated large-scale construction in Moscow, his main aspiration being to build a majestic and invincible fortified palace. He married Sophia Palaiologina, the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, who lived in Rome after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. She may have been the one who advised her husband to invite Italian architects to build the Kremlin. These architects mostly came from Northern regions of Italy, namely Venice and Lombardy.
ARISTOTELE FIOROVANTI (BOLOGNA, 1415–MOSCOW, 1485).
Aristotele Fioravanti was one of the first Italian architects in Moscow. He was from a renowned family of Bologna architects and engineers mentioned in Moscow chronicles since the 14th century. The 60-year-old architect came to Moscow with his son in 1475. He enthusiastically constructed a new cathedral on the site where the Dormition Catehdral had crumbled. These works were finished in 1477 however it took another two years before the interiors were completely furnished. Fioravanti’s success paved the way for other Italian masters to add to the Grand Duchy of Moscow. His most famous colleagues include:
MARCO RUFFO / MARCO FRYAZIN (PLACE OF BIRTH AS WELL AS BIRTH AND DEATH YEARS UNKNOWN)
Achievements: Construction of the Beklemishevskaya TowerRussian: Beklemishevskaya bashnya or Беклемишевская башня of the Moscow Kremlin (1487–1488) and the Palace of FacetsRussian: Granovitaya palata or Грановитая палата (1487–1491).
Marco Ruffo probably came from Milan and worked in Moscow from 1485. Like many Italian architects, he is known in Russian chronicles under the surname Fryazin, which Muscovites would apply to all masters invited from abroad.
Ruffo took part in the construction of the new walls and towers of the Moscow Kremlin (he designed SpasskayaRussian: Спасская, Beklemishevskaya, and NikolskayaRussian: Никольская Towers). The gorgeous Palace of Facets (1487–1491) is the most recognised of Ruffo’s surviving works. This chamber was constructed to host royal diplomatic receptions and was the largest of its kind in Rus’ throughout two centuries. Its surface of 495 sq. m, which was huge at the time, is covered by four intersecting vaults, and the chamber itself is built around a square pier. The Palace of Facets takes its name from the northern wall fronted with white stone, carved to represent diamond—the so-called ‘diamond rustication’ typical of Italian architecture of the Renaissance (similar to that of Palazzo dei Diamanti (Diamond Palace) in Ferrara). Originally, the Palace of Facets was part of Ivan the Great’s palace, which included a whole complex of ceremonial buildings (NaberezhnayaEmbankment, SrednyayaMiddle, ZolotayaGolden Chambers), not all of which still exist.
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PIETRO ANTONIO SOLARI / PYOTR FRYAZIN (1445–1495)
Achievements: Seven of 20 towers of the Moscow Kremlin: BorovitskayaRussian: Боровицкая (1490), Konstantino-YeleninskayaRussian: Константино-Еленинская (1490), Spasskaya (1491), Nikolskaya (1491), SenatskayaRussian: Сенатская (1491), and Uglovaya ArsenalnayaRussian: Угловая Арсенальная (1492); completion of the construction of the Palace of Facets (1491) started by Marco Ruffo.
Pietro Antonio Solari came from the town of Ticino in the south of Switzerland. He lived and worked in Milan before arriving in Moscow in 1490. He is credited with designing the churches San Pietro in Gessate, Santa Maria del Carmine, Santa Maria Incoronata, and Santa Maria della Pacе in Milan. In Russia, he is first of all renowned for completing the Palace of Facets and erecting a good deal of the Kremlin towers, of which Spasskaya is the most remarkable one, recognisable by its familiar chimes. A memorial plate above the tower’s gate reads in Latin that the tower was built by Petrus Antonius Solarius.
Spasskaya Tower has always served as the main entrance to the Kremlin, and it is the gate through which all foreign ambassadors were admitted. Its name comes from the icon of Spas NerukotvornyThe Saviour Not Made by Hands above the gates, which was rediscovered in 2015.
Among other Italian architects of the Moscow Kremlin walls and towers, one man in particular deserves a special mention. This is Aloisio da Carcano, known as Aleviz Novy (the New), and Antonio Gilardi, known as Anton Fryazin. Gilardi built TaynitskayaRussian: Тайницкая and VodovzvodnayaRussian: Водовзводная Towers, and de Carcano completed the Kremlin fortifications in 1494–1499 and erected a wall on the side of the Neglinnaya RiverRussian: reka Neglinnaya or река Неглинная (now Alexander GardenRussian: Aleksandrovskiy sad or Александровский сад). He also designed some of the Kremlin buildings that have not survived.
ALOISIO NUOVO, BIRTH AND DEATH YEARS UNKNOWN
Before coming to Moscow, Aloisio the New worked in Venice. He became nicknamed the New by Russians to distinguish him from his namesake (Aloisio Fryazin), who had been working at the Kremlin at that time. Ivan the Great commissioned the construction of the Cathedral of Archangel MichaelRussian: sobor Arhangela Mihaila or собор Архангела Михаила, the reliquary of Moscow dukes, to Aloisio the New. Just as all the preceding buildings created by Italian architects, the cathedral preserves the old Russian structural layout, but the façades are richly decorated in the Venetian Renaissance style: magnificent scallop-shaped gables, richly ornamented portals, Corinthian orders, pilaster, rosettes, round and Venetian-style windows.
BON FRYAZIN, REAL NAME AND BIRTH AND DEATH YEARS UNKNOWN
The Ivan the Great Tower is one of the supreme masterpieces of world art in terms of the simplicity of design, size, proportionality, and laconism. It was built to a height of 60 metres as per the Italian architect’s instructions. Later, in the 16th century, Tsar Boris Godunov ordered the enlargement of the bell tower, and its height reached the present-day 81 metres. It was the highest building in Moscow up until the 19th century, dominating the whole city. The bell tower owes its extraordinary lightness and gracefulness to the structural solutions used by the architect: the tower consists of three octagonal drums, narrowing towards the top. The name was lent from Saint John ClimacusIoann Lestvichnik in Russian, to whom the church in the ground floor was dedicated. The title ‘great’ indicates the unusually great height of the tower.
The Ivan the Great Bell Tower is neighboured by the Church of the AscensionRussian: tserkov' Vozneseniya or церковь Вознесения (1532–1552) built by Pietro Annibale / Little Petrok, which was later transformed into a campanile (Campanile of the AscensionRussian: Uspenskaya zvonnitsa or Успенская звонница). The latter was blown up by French troops in 1812, only to be re-edified in the 19th century. The construction of the Kitay-gorod wall and the Church of the Ascension in KolomenskoeRussian: Коломенское is also attributed to Pietro Annibale.
THE SECOND WAVE OF ITALIAN ARCHITECTS, 18TH–19TH CENTURIES
The 18th century saw the second ‘invasion’ of Moscow by architects from the Apennines. Italian architects were invited to design both capitals, the new one of Saint Petersburg and the old one of Moscow. Moscow had construction sites under the commands of Giovanni Maria Fontana, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, Francesco Camporesi, Giacomo Quarenghi, and Giuseppe Bové, who changed his name to Russian ‘Osip’.
Giovanni Maria Fontana from Ticino, the Italian canton of Switzerland, rebuilt the palace of Franz Lefort, Peter the Great’s closest associate (3 2-ya Baumanskaya StRussian: ulitsa Baumanskaya or улица Бауманская), in 1707–1708.
Francesco Camporesi (1737–1841) was also an architect in demand at the time. It is him to whom the surviving Orlov-Denisov’s estate in 14 Bolshaya Lubyanka StRussian: ulitsa Bolshaya Lubyanka or улица Большая Лубянка and the House of Lobanov-Rostovskyfrom Russian princely family in 43 Myasnitskaya StRussian: Myasnitskaya ulitsa or Мясницкая улица are attributed.
Giacomo Quarenghi (1744–1818) from Bergamo is another famous Russian architect of Italian origin. Before earning his fame in Saint Petersburg, he worked in Moscow and designed the buildings of the Old Merchant CourtRussian: Stary Gostiny dvor or Старый Гостиный двор near the Kremlin (4 Ilyinka StRussian: ulitsa Ilinka or улица Ильинка) in 1790–1830 and the Staropriimny DomRussian: Староприимный дом (a foster hospital for beggars and disabled people) in Bld. 1, 3 Bolshaya Sukharevskaya SquareRussian: Bolshaya Suharevskaya ploshchad or Большая Сухаревская площадь.
A significant contribution to the face of Moscow was made by architect Joseph Bové (Giuseppe Bova) (1784–1834). He was born into a family of Neapolitan artists in Saint Petersburg. As an architect, Bové actively participated in the restoration of Moscow after the fire of 1812 (the French invasion of Russia). In particular, his designs were used to renovate the Kremlin, construct the Theatre SquareRussian: Teatral’naya ploshchad’ or Театральная площадь with the Bolshoi TheatreRussian: Bol’shoy teatr or Большой театр, the Triumphal GateRussian: Triumfal’nye vorota or Триумфальные ворота, an exact copy of which can be seen on the nearby Poklonnaya HillRussian: Poklonnaya gora or Поклонная гора, refurbish the façades of the Moscow ManegeRussian: Manezh or Манеж (1817), and lay out Alexander Garden by the Kremlin’s walls.
Domenico Gilardi (1785–1845), born in Ticino, Switzerland, also made a name for himself in Russia contributing to the restoration of Moscow after the great fire. He designed Moscow State UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy universitet or Московский университет (9 Mokhovaya StRussian: ulitsa Mohovaya or улица Моховая), St. Catherine’s Finishing SchoolRussian: Ekaterininskiy institut blagorodnyih devits or Екатерининский институт благородных девиц (now the Central House of the Russian ArmyRussian: Tsentral’ny dom Rossiyskoy armii or Центральный дом российской армии, Bld. 1, 2 Suvorovskaya SqRussian: Suvorovskaya ploshchad or Суворовская площадь), Slobodskoy PalaceRussian: Slobodskoy dvorets or Слободской дворец (now the ‘old’ building of the Bauman Moscow State Technical UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy gosudarstvennyiy tehnicheskiy universitet im. Baumana or Московский государственный технический университет им. Баумана, 5 2-ya Baumanskaya St), the Lunins’ HouseRussian: dom Luninyh or дом Луниных, now being home to the Museum of Oriental ArtRussian: Muzey Vostoka or Музей Востока (12a Nikitsky BlvdRussian: Nikitskiy bulvar or Никитский бульвар), the estate of the Usachev-NaydenovsRussian: Усачёвы-Найдёновы (53 Zemlyanoy ValRussian: Земляной Вал), and the StudenetsRussian: Студенец Estate in PresnyaRussian: Пресня (prem. 5, Mantulinskaya StRussian: ulitsa Mantulinskaya or улица Мантулинская).
ITALIAN ART AND SCULPTURES IN MOSCOW
The Pushkin State Museum of Fine ArtsRussian: Gosudarstvenny muzey izobrazitel’nykh iskusstv im. A. S. Pushkina or Государственный музей изобразительных искусств им. А. С. Пушкина is the most famous and the largest museum in Moscow, displaying European sculptural and pictorial art works. The museum displays original paintings of great Italians: Cestello Annunciation by Botticelli, Donna alla toeletta by Giulio Pippi, and many others. The museum has an Italian Courtyard, which is the hall of Medieval and Renaissance sculpture (13th–16th centuries). Its architectural forms reproduce those of the courtyard in the Palazzo del Bargello in Florence. The hall is full of (original-size!) plaster models of some renowned sculptures of that time: Michelangelo’s David, adorning a square in Florence; Donatello’s Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata and Verrocchio’s Equestrian Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, which can be seen in the squares of Padua and Venice. There is a separate hall devoted to the sculpture of Ancient Italy and Ancient Rome (8th c. BC–5th c. AD) and a few rooms with sculpture works of the 15th–17th centuries.
The museum halls exhibit nearly 200 works by Italian artists, which cover the evolution of Italian painting. The section of Italian paintings of the 17th–18th centuries is the most impressive one, displaying oeuvres by Guido Reni and Bernardo Strozzi, Massimo Stanzione and Andrea Vaccaro, Sebastiano Mazzoni and Luca Ferrari, Jacopo Vignali and Bartolommeo Ligozzi, Giuseppe Antonio Petrini and Francesco Trevisani, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini and Francesco Fontebasso, Giuseppe Nogari and Stefano Torelli, Michele Marieschi and Carlo Magini.
Portrait of Napoleon by Andrea Appiani, a leading representative of Italian neoclassicism, is the cherry on the top of the collection of Italian paintings of the 19th–20th centuries. Oeuvres of the 15th–16th centuries include paintings by Bronzino, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Paris Bordone, Lorenzo Lotto, Titian, and Giulio Romano.
The section of early Italian paintings is rather small, yet it displays a diverse collection of Sienese School art, which includes such masterpieces as Crucifix by Segna di Bonaventura (Duccio’s disciple) and Maria Magdalena and St Augustine by Simone Martini.
THE MONUMENT TO DANTE ALIGHIERI IN MOSCOW
The monument to the great Italian poet is a bust which appeared in Moscow in 2000 and is situated in Moscow Hermitage GardenRussian: Sad ‘Ermitazh’ or Сад«Эрмитаж», in the very centre of the capital (metro stations PushkinskayaRussian: Пушкинская and ChekhovskayaRussian: Чеховская). It was presented to Moscow by the Italian government in response to the monument to Alexander Pushkin installed by Russia in Villa Borghese Garden. The monument was designed by Alexey Tikhonov and Rinaldo Piras and unveiled by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the then Italian president.
THE ITALIAN EMBASSY IN MOSCOW
Italian-Russian diplomatic relations, interrupted by the October Revolution of 1917 and the execution of the Emperor’s family, were re-established between Italy and the Soviet Union in 1924. At about the same time, the Italian Embassy was granted a mansion near Old ArbatRussian: Stary Arbat or Старый Арбат (5 Denezhny LaneRussian: Denezhnyi pereulok or Денежный переулок), built by the major textile manufacturer Sergey Berg in the eclectic style of the late 19th century. The luxurious interiors of the palace have survived until today, but tourists can only see them in the pictures posted on the Embassy’s website.
ITALIANS IN MOSCOW TODAY
The Italian culture is mostly embodied in today’s Moscow in Italian restaurants and shops. Russians adore Italian cuisine, and Moscow offers hundreds of Italian restaurants and pizzerias today. Of them, Semifreddo is the most famous and expensive one. Some critics consider its chef, Nino Graziano from Sicily, to be the best Italian chef in Moscow. Before moving to Moscow, he earned two Michelin stars for his Sicilian restaurant. The Semifreddo Group already owns 17 restaurants in Moscow today, many of which work under the brand of Academiya and others under the brand of Il Giorno Gourmet.
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