THE WINTER PALACE
Zsar Peter I commissioned the Winter Palace in 1711, only eight years after St. Petersburg was founded. Initially a very modest two story building it was enlarged ten years later by the German architect Georg Johann Mattarnovi and again by Domenico Trezzini before 1731. The lasting enlargement started with Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700 - 1771) who had the limited brief of 'making modifications'. Although he started in 1732 and enlarged it by incorporating noblemen's palaces in the process, he was only able to fully rebuild it when his plans were approved in 1754. The project was so vast that Rastrelli personally had to argue for the release of the necessary funds before the Senate. The new palace with 1500 rooms was finished in 1760. A.B. Granville, when visiting in 1827, commented that the Palace occupied an area of 400,000 square feet and that upwards of 2000 people resided in the palace and even more when the Emperor lodged in St. Petersburg.
'Jacob Style' is the name given by Russians to the typical brass-mounted mahogany furniture. The name refers to the French ébéniste Georges Jacob, who popularised the extensive use of mahogany to make chairs and the fashion for 'antique' furniture. 'Jacob Style' furniture enjoyed wide success in Russia and could be found in aristocratic and bourgeois homes alike.
It is virtually certain that Heinrich Gambs (1765 - 1831), who is possibly most closely associated with the furnishing of the Winter Palace during the early 19th century, also supplied large numbers of 'Jacob Style' furniture to the court. Although not recorded at Neuwied, it is virtually certain that he was a student of David Roentgen's. He settled in St. Petersburg in the late 1780s or early 1790s and received his first Imperial commission in 1793. Gambs never signed his pieces and attributions can only be made on the basis of comparisons to furniture that can be documented to be by him. His first delivery to the Winter Palace was made in 1796 after Catherine the Great had negotiated with him to make his work simpler and cheaper (A. Chenevière, Russian Furniture, New York, 1988).