PHOTO: The Gothic Library of Emperor Nicholas II in the Winter Palace, as it looks today
The Gothic Library of Emperor Nicholas II in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, remains one of the most beautiful interiors to have survived to the present day. In addition, the library is the only interior of the Emperor’s private apartments in the Winter Palace to have retained its historical appearance without undergoing any changes.
This library was created in 1894-95 by the Russian architect Alexander Fedorovich Krasovsky (1848 – 1918). Krasovsky embodied the restrained spirit of old English castles: an abundance of wood trim, a ceiling with caissons and openwork chandeliers, bookcases placed along the walls as well as a massive fireplace. For it’s decoration, the architect made extensive use of the English Gothic style.
This interior with its decorative panels of tooled and gilded leather, monumental fireplace and tall windows with tracery carry visitors back to the Middle Ages, thus creating an incredible historical ambiance. It also features a coffered walnut ceiling embellished by quatrefoils. On the desk is a porcelain sculpture portrait of Nicholas II, an identical copy of the original the biscuit porcelain bust of the Emperor completed in 1896 by the Russian sculptor Léopold Bernstamm.
The library was located in a separate wing of the private apartments of Nicholas II. To accommodate the vast library, an upper balustrade and staircase were added. The walls above the bookcases were decorated with panels of embossed gilded leather.
An important element of the interior was the Gothic fireplace decorated with images of griffins and lions – heraldic figures of the family coats of arms of the House of Romanovs and the House of Hesse-Darmstadt, to which the empress belonged.
PHOTO: Furniture for the Gothic Library of Nicholas II, designed by N. V. Nabokov, made by N. F. Svirsky
The furniture which decorates the room was designed by the architect Nikolay Vasilyevich Nabokov (1838 – after 1907), and made by Nikolai Fedorovich Svirsky, at his workshop located at 45/47 Borovaya Street in St. Petersburg. The Russian State Historical Archive [RGIA] has preserved Svirsky’s furniture design drawings to the present day. Some of his creations for the Gothic Library were displayed in a temporary exhibition held in the State Hermitage Museum in 2018.
In 1905, Nicholas II and his family moved to Tsarskoye Selo, where they took up permanent residence in the Alexander Palace. Following his abdication in February 1917, the Imperial Residences were all nationalized under the new Provisional Government. It’s leader Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970) wasted little time in acquisitioning the Gothic Library for his own personal use.
PHOTO: Kerensky seated in Nicholas II’s Gothic Library in the Winter Palace, 1917
In March 1917, a decree was issued declaring the contents of the Winter Palace as state property. Only a portion of the library’s original book collection have been *preserved. Today’s caretakers in the State Hermitage mUSEUM confirm that the Emperor read all the books that were kept, often leaving his notes in them.
*In the 1930s and early 1940s, 10,915 titles, 15,720 volumes from Nicholas II’s library in the Winter Palace, were sold to various libraries in the United States, including Harvard, NYPL, and Stanford. In addition, about 2,800 volumes were acquired by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
© Paul Gilbert. 22 April 2021