THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL TAPESTRY FACTORY
The Imperial Tapestry Factory was established in 1716 in the vicinity of St. Petersburg by Peter the Great (reigned 1682-1725). Weavers from the Gobelins manufactory in Paris came to Russia to train Russian workers in both tapestry-woven and knotted pile carpets. Woven for the use of the court, the carpets reflect the French taste in decorative arts preferred during the reign of Peter the Great and his successors during the 18th and through the 19th centuries.
In this example, the central flowering basket, the lush and abundant floral scrolls and festoons, the leafy garland encircling a crowned 'M', and the outer Greek key border all exhibit the influence of the French neo-classical taste. A tapestry-woven carpet from the same period as our carpet in the State History Museum in Moscow shares the overall neo classical feel and exhibits the same minor star medallions in the border, although ours are displayed in the corners not at the interstices (see Sherrill, Sarah B., Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1996, p. 281, plate 297).
The Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817) was invited to St. Petersburg in 1779 and designed palaces, interiors and furniture for Catherine II, the Great (reigned 1762-1796) and her successors. Another tapestry-woven carpet probably woven at the Imperial Tapestry Factory suggests his work and is similar to painted ceilings he designed for Catherine II (see Sherrill, ibid., p. 282, plate 298). Like our carpet, it has a prominent Greek key border and other neo-classical elements, but our carpet with its cream ground and emphasis on multi-flower sprays and garlands illustrates the more feminine taste of Maria Feodorovna and would have complimented the architecture and decorative style that she favored.
MARIA FEODOROVNA (1759-1828)
Maria Feodorovna was the second wife of Paul I, born Paul Petrovich to Empress Catherine II the Great. Née Sophia Dorothea of Württemburg, she married Paul in 1776. The couple had eight children, the eldest of whom, Alexander, succeeded his father in 1801.
Maria Feodorovna was a well-liked, gentle, educated and refined woman with some considerable artistic talents of her own. She was a good draughtswoman, stone-cutter and gem engraver. A number of portraits in stone intaglios and cameos executed by her are now exhibited at Pavlovsk, along with a selection of furniture pieces that Maria Feodorovna contributed in making. Like her husband, she also participated in the decoration of her residences. She and her husband famously traveled to Europe in 1781 under the pseudonyms the Comte et Comtesse du Nord, arriving in Paris in 1782 where they acquired furniture, porcelain and bronzes d’ameublement from all the fashionable shops of the day, most particularly Dominique Daguerre.
The construction of Pavlovsk Palace was begun by the great Scottish architect Charles Cameron (1745-1812) in 1781 on land given to the Prince and Princess in 1777 by Catherine the Great to celebrate the birth of their son, the future Alexander I. In 1779 Catherine the Great wrote to Baron Grimm of Cameron: "I am quite taken up at present with Mister Cameron… a great designer weaned on Antiquity and famous for his book on ancient baths." Cameron began the work on the Palladian style palace while the Prince and Princess were away on their European tour. They were kept abreast of the work through correspondence and continued to be actively involved to the end of construction. The palace was considered to be one of the finest examples of classical architecture of the late 18th century and is unrivaled amongst other Russian monuments. Cameron's relations with the Russian heir deteriorated and he did not complete the building of the palace but was replaced in 1786 by the Italian architect Vincenzo Brenna who largely followed the original plans as desired by the Grand Duke and Duchess. Completed by the Italian architect Vincenzo Brenna, the Palace became an Imperial residence in 1796 following the death of Catherine and the accession of Paul I. After a fire of 1803 nearly destroyed the palace, Maria Feodorovna had it reconstructed to the original plans so that her beloved residence would remain intact during her lifetime and beyond. She spent all her time at the palace after the death of Paul I, whose private rooms she conserved in the exact order that he had left them.
Although it has not been possible to pinpoint the room for which this elegant neo-classical carpet was supplied, the prominent display of Maria Feodorovna’s initial with the Imperial crown, and its relatively small scale, would suggest that it was used in one of her private apartments. Its restrained palette and abundant use of flowers recalls designs for seat covers at Pavlovsk with similar floral festoons on a cream ground, woven in France circa 1780 and remarkably still surviving (see E. Ducamp ed., Pavlovsk The Collections, Paris, 1993, pp. 124-6). Indeed in the beautiful portrait of Maria Feodorovna by Elisabeth Vigée le Brun (illustrated here), she is shown standing on a carpet of similar floral design, accompanied by a chair proudly displaying her initial ‘M’ and a crown, as on the present carpet. The woven Cyrillic inscription on the carpet gives a tantalizing clue to the original commission of this carpet. It transcribes as ‘Fabr. Pavlovskii Gr: Kushelevo (or Kusheleva?)’; the first part translates as ‘made for [or in] Pavlovsk’. ‘Gr.’ could stand for either ‘Grod’ (city) or Graf (Count). ‘Kushelevo’ (or ‘Kusheleva’) could refer to Count Grigorii Grigorievich Kushelev (1754-1833), Admiral of the Fleet and an important statesman under Paul I. His wife Countess Liubov Il'inichna Kusheleva, (1783-1809) became a lady-in-waiting to the Empress following Paul’s coronation in 1797, and in 1799 inherited the vast estates of her uncle Prince Alexander Andreyevich Bezborodko (1747-1799), making her one of the wealthiest heiresses in Russia. Could this carpet therefore have been commissioned by either Count Kushelev or Countess Kusheleva as a present for the Empress?