Imperial St. Petersburg: Architectural Visions

Academy of Fine Arts

William C. Brumfield. Academy of Arts. Neva River.. 1979. Photograph. 12 x 18 in..

1764 – 1788.  Architects:  J.B. Vallin de la Mothe, and Alexander Kokorinov

Founded in 1757 under Empress Elizabeth, the Academy of Arts was one of the great European art schools patronized by ruling monarchs. Catherine II conferred the title and privileges of an Imperial establishment on the Academy, turning it into the country’s major center of education, sponsorship and expertise in the arts. In 1788 the Academy of Arts moved into an immense new building on the riverfront designed in the neoclassical style. The two Egyptian sphinxes dating to the fourteenth century B.C. were later installed in front of the Academy’s main entrance on the Neva embankment. 

During the reign of Catherine II, the ornate baroque style was gradually replaced by neoclassical designs signaling a return to the austere simplicity of ancient Greece and Rome. A friend of Voltaire and Diderot, the Empress took pride in being an ‘enlightened monarch.’ She pursued reforms inspired by the French Enlightenment and was an admirer of the principles of reason expressed in classical art and philosophy. Catherine ordered the construction of numerous public buildings, saying that she had inherited a wooden city and left one of stone. Monumental in scale and appearance, neoclassical architecture sought to emulate the symmetry and basic geometric forms of classical antiquity.