One of the state rooms in the Catherine Palace is the opulent Lyons Hall, one creation of two architects: Charles Cameron and later Ippolito Monighetti. Decorated with lapis lazuli and a luxury silk wall-lining from Lyons (hence the name), the hall was finished by Cameron in the eighteenth-century Classical style in 1781-83. It derivied its name from the silk lining by the Lyons-based Lamy et Giraud weaving factory, now the Prelle Manufactory. The combination of golden silk and lapis lazuli in its interior design produced an aura of remarkable sophistication.
The lining underwent numerous changes after the time of Catherine the Great. In the middle of the ninteenth century, the Lyons Hall became a gala reception room and the golden fabric was replaced by crimson silk with floral garlands. It was reworked in 1848-61 by Monighetti who treated Cameron’s work with great delicacy, intensifying the visual impact of the room by adding new furnishings: mirrors above the fireplaces, flanked by white marble cupids, and lapis-lazuli sconces on the walls. The room was filled with tables, jardinières, cachepots, screens, pedestals and desks.
Monighetti designed a gorgeous chandelier for 84 candles made of lapis lazuli and gilded bronze, which beautifully completed the exquisite ceiling décor.
In 1866, the walls were reclad in yellow silk of a hue called Golden Bud. That version of the interior was immortalized in Luigi Premazzi’s watercolour of 1878 (see pic.1/11 above).
The architect’s highlight for the Lyons Hall is the gilt-bronze and lapis-lazuli furniture set with such a unique feature as the monogram of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, spouse of Alexander II. The initials are an indication of the owner for whom these pieces were specially commissioned in 1856 from the Peterhof Lapidary Works to spruce up the empress’s favourite interior of the palace. Its Afghan lapis lazuli of rich deep colour with golden speckles is superbly set off by the gilded bronze surroundings.
The Hall was destroyed in the Second World War. The items saved by evacuation included twenty five pieces of the furniture and silk samples, as well as the palace inventory records, archival documents and photographs. The parquet floor was looted but later found in Berlin and returned to Tsarskoe Selo in 1947.
The Lyons Hall recreation project was drawn up in 1983. However, it was not until 2005 that the first step was made by bringing the room back to its original dimensions. Work was carried out on a step-by-step basis because recreating an entire room is extremely costly and time-consuming. Three lapis-lazuli portals framing the Hall’s doorways have been restored so far, thanks to the backing of art patrons.
A new stage in the project was launched in 2018 with financial support from Russia's Gazprom and the ENGIE Foundation of France. Historical records were used to recreate the ornate plafond, lapis-lazuli mosaic panels, braided trims and silk walls and curtains. 320 metres of the Golden Bud fabric (Lampas bouton d'or Louis XVI) were required for the walls, furniture and curtains. The silk was remade at the Prelle Manufactory by French masters, whose predecessors were commissioned by the Russian Imperial Court in the 1860s.
Besides the marvellous furniture set, also saved by the evacuation in 1941–44 and featured on the current display are the two paintings: Raphael’s Death by Felice Schiavoni and The Sibyl of Libya by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino).
The Lyons Hall's reconstruction is not finished yet. What lies ahead is the completion of restoration of the original parquet and the remaking of two fireplace stoves, lapis-lazuli framed mirrors with console tables between the windows, lapis-lazuli portals of the balcony doors, and three entrance doors' panels encrusted with mother of pearl like the floors.