Auguste Montferrand

Auguste Montferrand

Interior of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

Auguste Montferrand is an outstanding architect of the first half of the 19th century, the author of well-known architectural constructions – the St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Alexander Column. They are among the largest monuments – the symbols of Leningrad, which are carefully protected and restored.

Montferrand lived in Russia for forty-one years, forty of them devoted to the construction of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. As some researchers rightly remarked, if he had not built anything except the cathedral and the Alexander Column, his name would have entered the gold fund of world architecture. However, Montferrand was the author of many other interesting works of architecture both in St. Petersburg and in other cities of Russia. The name of the architect is found in many studies devoted to the history of Russian architecture, which evokes the widest interest of readers. Creativity Montferrand closes the last stage of Russian classicism and at the same time opens the way to the development of architecture of modern times.
The range of literary sources about Montferrand is quite significant, although there are very few books dedicated exclusively to Montferrand. In the publications that appeared during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they wrote not so much about Montferrand as about his main brainchild – the St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which was the cathedral of the St. Petersburg diocese. It is noteworthy that the cathedral was regarded as a cult building.
These works contained detailed descriptions of its interiors, church shrines and temple utensils, as well as the activities of the church itself. Among the publications of this kind can be called the books of V. Serafimov and M. Fomin “Description of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, compiled according to official documents” (1868), A. Yablonsky “St. Isaac’s Cathedral” (1917), etc. , as well as a number of general works on the activities of the church.

Auguste Montferrand

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.

With the beginning of the construction of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the appearance of a number of publications on the extraction of granite and marble in Finland and the quarries of the north-west of Russia. These are the books of VP Sobolevsky “Geognostic Review of Old Finland” (1839), J. Zembitsky “On the use of granite in St. Petersburg” (1834). Works devoted to the architecture of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the work of Montferrand were almost never published at the time indicated, except for articles in the magazine “Architect” for 1872, 1873, 1876, 1883, 1885, mentions in the collection “Proceedings of the All-Russia Congress of Architects” for 1900 and a number of others.
O. Montferrand – one of the outstanding architects of the XIX century, whose name became world famous – did not build anything in his homeland and lived all his creative life in Russia. Here he realized his architectural plans, and here he died, having survived for one month the opening of his main creation – St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Biographical information about Montferrand is extremely scarce. From the will made by him, it is known that he was born on January 23, 1786 in France in Chaillot, a suburb of Paris. “The title of my Montferrand, which was given to me as a child by my mother and uncles, came from the fact that my family had an initial stay in Auvergne, where his father had the Montferrand estate. If there is any doubt about the validity of this act, then I take on my own names, and in particular the nickname Ricard that my father wore, “so begins the will that Montferrand signed with his full name:” Henri Louis Auguste Ricard de Montferrand.
New information on the origin of Montferrand has been revealed recently. His father was a riding teacher, then a director of the Royal Academy in Lyon. Montferrand’s grandfather Leger Ricard is an engineer, builder of bridges. The mother of the future architect Maria Françoise Louise Fiotioni, Italian, was the daughter of merchant Nicola Joseph Fiotioni and Maria Francoise Ace, Frenchwoman.
The popular version in the Montferrand literature about his noble origin is thus questioned. It can be assumed that he, like all dedicated architects, traveled extensively in Italy and took measurements of monuments of antiquity. From Montferrand’s notebook it follows that he was interested in the architectural treatises of the famous theorists of the Renaissance Palladio, Vignola, and others. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Rome was a place of pilgrimage of artists, sculptors, architects, here they completed their education, honing their taste on the study of antiques. Since the time of Louis XIV in Rome, there was a branch of the French Academy.

Auguste Montferrand

Fragment of the dismantled St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Lithograph according to the drawing of Montferrand. 1845

For the cultural life of Russia XVIII – the first half of the XIX century. ties with France were important, and for Russian architecture were very significant. In 1716, when the construction of a new capital – Petersburg began, the French architect JB Leblon and artist N. Pino came to Russia to work. At the same time, according to the decree of Peter I, the painters L. Karavak and F. Pilman were invited, many of whom worked in Peterhof, in particular, on the decoration of Monplaisir. The draft master plan of St. Petersburg created by Leblond, although not implemented, contained urban development ideas important for the further development of St. Petersburg, and the model projects of city houses that he developed for many years determined the face of the capital being built. Characteristic of Leblond and the direction that he represented, the trend of rationalism coincided with the basic ideas of Russian architecture of the early XVIII century. and therefore favorably affected its development.
In the period from 1760 to 1789 years. More than 50 Russian architects, sculptors and artists were trained and perfected in their workshops in Paris. Among them were V. Bazhenov, I. Starov, F. Volkov, who got into the studio of one of France’s leading architects Charles de Vaillie. The style of his work was consonant with the ideas of Russian classicism, which attracted domestic architects. Later, the training of Russian architects in France continued, in particular, in the workshop of J. Schalgren trained A. Zakharov.
Interest of French architects to Russia was consistent and constant throughout the XVIII century. and the first half of the XIX century, some of them intended to link their fate with Russia. The architect Tom de Tomon left France in 1799 and until his death lived and worked in St. Petersburg. Leading architects of Napoleonic France S. Persie and P. Fontaine also sought to be accepted into the Russian service, but Alexander I gave preference to Montferrand.
What prompted the young architect O. Montferrand to forever link his fate with Russia? Obviously, the main reason was the political and social atmosphere that reigned in France after the restoration of the Bourbons. Montferrand, who served in the army of Napoleon, could not count on a very successful career. He was already thirty years old, the process of forming artistic ideals was over, and he had not built anything on his own projects.
But as an architect he was brought up on the best examples of French architecture, antiquity and renaissance, and also took the ideas of French classicism and the experience of modern construction practice. A great impression on Montferrand was made by the Parisian Pantheon J. Suflo – a vivid example of classicism, formed under the influence of the ideas of the French bourgeois revolution, as well as the Maly Trianon Palace, created in Versailles Park by J. Gabriel. Montferrand did not remain outside the influence of the creative individuality of K. Ledou – the architect-innovator, utopian in his social views. Admiring the samples of the Renaissance, Ledu created grandiose compositions, in the novelty of architectural ideas ahead of his time.
The final formation of the views of the young Montferrand and the completion of his architectural education took place in the workshop of the chief architects Napoleon Bonaparte – Persie and P. Fontaine. They played a role in the formation of French classicism of the first third of the XIX century, called “Empire.”

Auguste Montferrand

Panorama with a view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

In France, the new direction was joined by such architects as J. Gonduin – author of the Vendôme Column (1806). A. Bronyar, who built the Paris Stock Exchange in 1808; architect J. Schalgren is the author of the Arc de Triomphe on the Place de la Zap and P. Vignon, who received the assignment from Napoleon in 1806 to build the “Temple of Glory” in honor of the complete conquest of Europe, which was to occur within four to five years. The character of the architectural style of Empire was determined by the motives of Greco-Roman, Etruscan and even Egyptian architecture, the desire to identify clear volumes, smooth walls, using a small number of decorative elements. The ceremonial representation of individual buildings and architectural ensembles in the Empire style was combined with high and solemn decorativeness, elegance and subtle detail elaboration.
Subtlety of details and artistic taste distinguished the creativity of Persie and Fontaine, who aspired to raise the French decorative art and the art industry to a high level. This was promoted both by their architectural creativity, and by the publication of projects performed in the classical spirit. The strengths of their skills were mainly in the execution of decorative motifs and details, in which, in particular, Percier showed a rich artistic fantasy and delicate taste. Both masters had a profound influence on their contemporaries and French art of the first half of the 19th century. They had many students who were given graphic skills, ability to own watercolor, developed fantasy in the development of ornamental motifs.
As the architects Persie and Fontaine created a little, the largest of their constructions is the Carousel arch in Paris, built in 1806. They showed themselves mainly in the field of decorative and applied art, finishing the suburban palaces belonging to Napoleon.
The period of Napoleon’s rule was marked by the demands of the stressed grandiosity and monumentality. Architecture was to glorify the military and civil feats of the empire. The first decade of the XIX century. in Paris was characterized by the design and construction of columns, obelisks, triumphal arches to commemorate the military victories of Napoleon the commander. In addition, the reconstruction of the former royal palaces – the Louvre, the Tuileries, Fontainebleau, Malmaison, etc., was widely carried out. Montferrand was also a witness to, and to a certain extent, a participant in the creative workshop of the leading architects of France.
Along with the design and construction of triumphal structures in Paris at this time erected buildings that are interesting from the point of view of the development of technical constructive thought. Thus, the dome of the Parisian bread market, erected in 1811 by the architect JB Belange and the engineer J. Brunet, was made of iron and copper with a structure of radially arranged farms with a diameter of 48 m. It is possible that this original innovative structure could not but note the young architect Montferrand.
However, this brilliant period in the development of French architecture was not lasting. After the fall of Napoleon in the war-ravaged France, construction fell sharply. Before Montferrand, the question arose about the possible prospects for further work at home. Concerned by these thoughts, he used the stay of Alexander I in Paris in 1814 and presented him with a folder of his projects with a calligraphic inscription in French on the title page of the album: “Various architectural projects presented and dedicated to His Majesty the Emperor Alexander I August Monferrand, member French Academy of Architecture. Paris. April, 1814 ».
The album in red binding with gold embossing was decorated in the same way as the album of P. Fontaine and S. Perseus, presented to Alexander I. Submission of albums with dedication to their reigning people was one of the techniques by which architects sought to draw attention to their creativity. Thus, in 1773, Charles de Vaillie performed for Catherine II an album consisting of eleven drawings for the Pavilion of Sciences and Arts, which was to be built in the Park of Tsarskoe Selo. Architect K. Ledu devoted a large album “Architecture” to Pavel I, who during his stay in Paris in 1781 became interested in his works.
Album Persie and Fontaine did not impress on Alexander I, but inspired Montferrand in the same way to attract the attention of the king. There was a certain tradition in this: the architect’s appeal to the monarch with his proposals was not seen as a manifestation of the author’s excessive arrogance, but was a natural act of a man who wants to show his interest and get an opportunity to implement the proposed ideas.
Montferrand’s album contained eight projects for various buildings: the Public Library, the obelisk, the Triumphal Column, the Monument to General Moreau, the equestrian statue of Alexander I, and others. The author prefaced his projects with the preface, calling it “Preliminary Discourse”, the text of which was supposed to interest Alexander I and so to achieve their goals. However, in it, Montferrand made a reservation that all these are only ideas that can be implemented later.
Further, the author drew the attention of Alexander I to the fact that the estimated cost of construction of the presented buildings will not be high. It is quite possible that the architect willingly or unwillingly understated these costs, afraid to scare off the alleged customer. Under each project, brief instructions are given on the production of work, the consumption of materials and estimated estimated costs. In artistic terms, these projects can not be considered interesting independent works. Montferrand stressed this circumstance, bringing on each sheet the corresponding antique original.
In the project “Fountain of public use for the glory of His Majesty the Emperor Alexander” the architect portrayed Alexander I in the costume of a Roman emperor, seated on the throne, at the foot of which there is a fountain with four dolphins and a pool surrounded by figures of four lions with balls under his right paw. In general, the project is abstract, but, looking ahead, we can say that the sculpture of lions with a paw on the ball Montferrand placed at the entrance to the house Lobanov-Rostovsky, which he designed and built in St. Petersburg next to St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
On one of the sheets there is a suburban imperial palace. It corresponds to the text: “We did not compare this project with similar royal palaces in the vicinity of Paris, because these palaces are very far from our plans and only those in Italy are to some extent close to our project.” Indeed, the building presented by Montferrand resembles the country palaces of the Italian Renaissance and at the same time it has a resemblance to the works of Persie and Fontaine, whose influence on the formation of the architect’s creative face was so great.
Attracted Montferrand and the idea of ​​a triumphal arch dedicated to the victory of Russian arms in the war with Napoleon. This arch also has its own analogue – the arc Carousel in Paris. Montferran turned this arch into one passageway, and placed six bas-reliefs between the last columns, three on each side, depicting episodes of the war between Russia and Napoleon. On the attic inscription: “The brave Russian army.”
Not wishing to be limited to triumphal constructions alone, Montferrand introduced the Public Library project. In terms of this is a centric composition with a reading room in the center, covered with a spherical dome. From it, eight identical rooms for book storages disperse radiantly. On the facade, they correspond to eight six-columned porticoes, expressively plastered against the backdrop of the stone wall. The whole building is surrounded by a low stone fence with thoroughfares. Montferrand accompanied his project with the inscription: “This building, isolated on all sides, will be built of stone and iron and covered with copper to avoid a fire, the tree will be allowed only to the extent that it is necessary for the placement of books …”. Nevertheless, the project is sufficiently conditional and schematic, in spite of the grandiosity of the plan and the boldly conceived composition. This is more a general idea of ​​the library than a specific project proposal.
The project of the monument to General Moreau – the Frenchman, who took over the Russians – is the weakest in design. It was supposed that it could be installed in Russia. An analogue for him served as a monument to General Desde on Victory Square in Paris. The composition of the monument Montferrand left unchanged.
The project “The Triumphal Column, dedicated to the Universal World” is presented on one sheet. The inscription on the pedestal says that this monument, crowned with a female figure with an olive branch of the world in hand, is dedicated to Alexander I of the allied states that participated in the war with Napoleon.
In this case, the source of direct analogies is not specified, and the artistic image was created under the influence of several samples, in particular, undoubtedly the influence of the Rostral columns in St. Petersburg, set in 1810 in front of the Exchange building. To some extent this project served as the basis for the future column on the Palace Square.
The project of the monument to Alexander I in the form of equestrian statue goes back to the well-known antique samples (in particular, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the monument to Louis XV in Paris). The background for the statue is an architectural landscape, but not concrete, but fantastic, with a monumental semicircular gallery and buildings on the hillside reminiscent of ancient architectural monuments.
The last project in Montferrand’s album – a huge obelisk standing alone in a tree surrounded by marshlands – is dedicated to “the memory of the brave men killed near Leipzig.” On the obelisk are carved nine reliefs depicting episodes of battles near Leipzig. This sheet, unlike other architectural compositions, is more likely to be solved as a landscape in which an architectural monument is a compositional center, but still has the same significance as an objective natural environment. Moreover, there is a certain lyrical mood, which is not inherent in the strict sense of the architectural project. All projects in the album are signed, executed with a pen and watercolor, effectively decorated and artistically painted.

Auguste Montferrand