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The art of “simpleton Emperor”. The Oranienbaum displays paintings from Peter the III’s collection


Peterhof is opening a new museum in the palace complex of Oranienbaum – the Paintings House. It had been in restoration since 2008. Its interiors and private collections of its owner – Emperor Peter the III – have been renovated. The building – built in mid-18th century – hosted a theatre, a library and a collection of paintings. Mariya Marchenko learnt what the Tsar liked.


Mariya Marchenko, reporter: “Lazy, limited, uneducated. Emperor Peter the III, who was ousted by his own wife Catherine the II, had been given a lot of negative labels. But this Paintings House sheds a completely new light on the Tsar’s persona – a rather unexpected one. It turned out that he didn’t only take interest in square-bashing soldiers, but was also a very sophisticated and sensitive person – collected paintings, played violin and even directed operas”

The monarch’s main hobby was music. His wife continuously complained that it had been torturous to listen how the Tsar was practicing symphonies. Later, however, she admitted to not liking music in general.

Irina Fedotova, caretaker of the Paintings House: “According to people in his time and his mentor Yacob Shtelin, he played very well technically. He even gave solo performances, accompanied other musicians at the theatrical shows he had directed. Audiences liked his music”.

Upon Peter Fedorovich’s personal request, an opera theatre was opened at the Paintings House. Not only interiors – including wall colors – have been accurately restored, but also a segment from the 18th century show “Tsefal and Prokris” was brought to life using multimedia means.

Gleb Filshtinskiy, artist of the “Opera Theatre 1755” exhibition: “Can we switch off lights in the hall? See how it transforms. One of the spotlights of the exhibition is how a perspective decoration can transform. Initially, it’s a piece of cloth with pencil drawings on it. Curtains will move, as well as machinery of a late baroque theatre”

Tintoretto, Rembrandt and Watteau – the emperor’s personal art collection had 300 paintings. And, by the way, it was here that the “wall-board” way of hanging paintings had been used for the first time in Russia. That’s when paintings take up the entire space – from floor to ceiling. After the owner died, Catherine the II ordered the collection to be handed over to the Hermitage. Today, 200 years later, only three paintings took their historic spot in the hall. But, judging by the inventory, Peter the III knew art well.

Irina Fedotova, caretaker of the Paintings House: “The 1st painting depicts the scene from the Old Testament “Tamar and Amnon” – how King David’s son seduced his half-sister. The 2nd painting also shows the scene of seduction and violence – Josef and Potiphar’s wife”

And in this room the Tsar was researching natural sciences. Experimented with vacuum and incendiary glass, collected minerals and anatomic rarities, took interest in Chinese culture.

Such image of Peter the III – interested in many things and developed in multiple directions – would certainly surprise many. It turns out he was a typical enlightened aristocrat of his era.