The display of the Catherine Palace (known until 1910 as the Great Palace of Tsarskoe Selo) covers the 300-year history of this outstanding edifice and presents the work of architects involved in its construction and decoration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and also with the achievements of the restorers who returned the palace to life after the Second World War. Of the 58 halls destroyed during the war years, 32 have been recreated.
In 1717, while St Petersburg was being created on the banks of the Neva, the architect Johann Friedrich Braunstein started supervising the construction of the first masonry royal residence at Tsarskoe Selo that has gone down in history as “the stone chambers” of Catherine I. During the reign of Empress Elizabeth (the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I) in late 1742 or early 1743 it was decided to enlarge the building. From late 1748 until 1756 the construction of the Tsarskoe Selo residence was directed by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700–1771), the chief architect of the imperial court. On 10 May 1752 Empress Elizabeth signed a decree on the complete reconstruction of the old building and on 30 July 1756 Rastrelli was already presenting his new creation to his crowned mistress and foreign ambassadors.
The next stage in the decoration of the state rooms and living quarters came in the 1770s. The new mistress of the residence, Empress Catherine II, was fascinated with the art of the Ancient World and wanted to have her apartments finished in keeping with current tastes. She entrusted the task to the Scottish architect Charles Cameron (1743–1812), an expert on ancient architecture. The interiors that he created in the Zubov Wing and the North Part of the Palace are marked by refined beauty, austere decoration and especially exquisite finishing. In 1817, on the orders of Emperor Alexander I, the architect Vasily Stasov (1769–1848) created the State Study and a few adjoining rooms that are finished in a commons style – all these rooms were devoted to extolling the brilliant victories that the Russian army won against Napoleon in 1812 and afterwards.
The last note in the symphony of palace state rooms was struck by the new Main Staircase created in 1860–63 by Ippolito Monighetti (1819–1878) in the “Second Rococo” style.