The museum of Alexander III was established by his son, Tsar Nicholas II, through the purchase of the palace from its' heirs in 1895 to house a collection of Russian works of arts. The nucleus of the collection were paintings owned by Alexander II and chosen from his collections in the Alexander, Anichkov and Gatchina palaces. Alexander III was an amateur art restorer (and an amateur musician), who enjoyed puttering around on old paintings in his free time, shut up in his private rooms away from the responsibilities of government.
The building housing the museum was originally the Mikhailovski Palace, which was built for Mikhail, the much younger brother of the cherubic and balding Tsar Alexander I, between the years 1819-25. The palace had been in the works for some time, with money being set aside for it by Mikhail's father, Paul Ist, followed after Paul's death by his brother Alexander. Every year a certain amount was added to the fund until the sum of 9 million rubles had been accumulated in 1818. The palace cost a 'mere' 7 million rubles because the architect cleverly used inexpensive materials to great and impressive effect. The architect was Carlo Rossi, who was born in Pavlovsk to an Italian ballerina and an unknown father. Rossi grew up to be a great architect, designing some of the great architectural monuments of Petersburg, including Yelagin Palace, and the great, curved General Staff Headquarters facing the Winter Palace - with its' awesome chariot-crowned arch emptying Great Morskaya Street into Palace Square.
This yellow and white palace was designed for entertaining and lavish living on an imperial scale - its' huge state rooms and halls on the Main Floor were the perfect setting for the owner to demonstrate his power, taste and position through great balls and banquets. Besides the elegant elements built-in to the palace like columns, wall paintings and gilded friezes the palace was filled by Alexander with a vast collection of precious furniture, gold and silver plate, china and glass for his younger brother. Perhaps all of the "extras" were paid for out of Rossi's 2 million ruble savings from the building fund. The palace was set in a huge park with a gorgeous pavillion built by Rossi in 1825.
After the death of Mikhail the palace passed down through his Romanov descendants as private property, as the palace had been a gift and did not belong to the Tsar or the state. It must have been something of a grand "white elephant", too big for even a Romanov budget! Palaces like the Mikhailovski were very expensive to operate. The brutal St. Petersburg climate made the necessary continual maintenance a huge expense (imagine the cost of replacing the roof of a 364ft long palace!), while just heating a vast building of this size could cost a prince his annual Romanov annuity every winter. The owners were probably thrilled to "donate" the palace to the state when it became a museum. It is a beautiful place to visit and a great museum. Off the left is the Cathedral of the Resurrection, popularly called the Church on the Spilt Blood in memory of the ghastly assassination which took place here.
Next photograph: Building of the Cathedral on the Spilt Blood
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