The Cameron Gallery Ensemble (the Cameron Thermae)
The wing of the Great Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, the ground floor of which was occupied by Empress Catherine II’s last favourite – Platon Zubov (the Zubov Wing), is adjoined by a complex of buildings that were created between 1780 and 1794 by the architect Charles Cameron. These buildings marked the boundary between the regular and landscape parts of the Catherine Park.
The ensemble comprises structures with different functions linked by a common artistic treatment: the Cameron Gallery, the Cold Bath pavilion with the Agate Rooms, the Hanging and Flower Gardens and the Ramp.
Back in the early 1770s, Catherine II already conceived the idea of having an architectural structure in the “Graeco-Roman style”. The Empress wrote to the sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet: “I would like to have a project for an ancient house, laid out as in Antiquity… I am in a position to have such a Graeco-Roman rhapsody built in my garden at Tsarskoye Selo.”
The idea of realizing this idea in the formal summer residence of the Russian Empress attracted many distinguished architects. Charles de Wailly proposed putting up a building devoted to the sciences and arts and their patroness Minerva. The expert on antiquity Charles-Louis Clérisseau came up with a design for an “ancient house” based on the composition of the Roman thermae (baths) of Diocletian. The Empress did not approve this project, but it was Clérisseau who first came up with the idea of creating thermae – a typical Ancient Roman structure – at Tsarskoye Selo to allow the Empress to “play” at life in the Ancient World.
Catherine was unhappy about the excessive funding the French artist required, but she did not abandon the idea. Her wishes were met by Charles Cameron, a Scottish architect invited to Russia. The Empress wrote of him to Melchior Grimm: “Now I have gained possession of Mister Cameron, a Scot by birth… a great draftsman who is imbued with the study of the Ancients and known for his book The Baths of the Romans. He and I are contriving here at Tsarskoye Selo a garden with terraces, with baths below and a gallery above. It will be delightful.” Thus the customer’s desire to have “an ancient house” coincided with the interests and work experience of the architect and resulted in the creation of the unique edifice that is known as the Cameron Thermae.