Pavilions like this with a name taken from the French language were a common feature of regular gardens in the eighteenth century. They were intended to enable the owner of the estate to rest and dine in the company of a select few and were located in the “wild” area of the park. In order to avoid the inhibiting presence of servants, such pavilions were usually fitted with mechanisms that enabled the tables to be raised and lowered.
The Hermitage pavilion in the Regular Park (the Catherine Park) at Tsarskoye Selo was originally designed by Mikhail Zemtsov. The laying of the foundations began in the spring of 1744 and was completed by autumn that same year. In 1749, however, the facades of the pavilion that was by that time built were reconstructed in accordance with a new project devised by Rastrelli. The unique signature of Empress Elizabeth’s chief architect is present in the exceptionally complex aspects that the building presents to the viewer when seen from close by. See on Map
Two years later, in keeping with Rastrelli’s concept, the master stucco-workers Giovanni Battista Giani and G.-F. Partier installed 68 large and small capitals on the columns of the Hermitage and 28 more on the pilasters. The architect also included sculpture in the external decoration of the pavilion: eight statues stood on the pedestals of the balustrade at the base of the octagonal dome, while four others crowned the roofs of the cabinets. The central dome was topped by a sculptural group depicting The Rape of Proserpine. The building was further adorned by sixteen statues placed between the groups of columns on the facades of the cabinets. These stood on pedestals embellished with rocailles and, judging by what can be seen on drawings and engravings, they were all different. Statues of Glory on large pediments supported a magnificent cartouche containing the Empress’s monogram.
In 1753 the stuccowork was covered in gilding and the facades were painted: the white columns and architraves, the golden mouldings and sculpture were strikingly set off by the blue-green “salady” colour of the walls. The roof, originally green, was painted white in 1755 and the statues and garlands adorning it glistened with gold. The decoration of the facades of the Hermitage was completed at the same time as its interior decoration, which was begun in 1748.
Placed on a terrace paved with black and white marble slabs, the pavilion was encircled by an elaborately shaped moat with two small bridges. The moat was bordered by a balustrade that was also decorated with statues and vases. The moat and the wild grove were intended to inspire a mood of melancholy solitude, put people in a contemplative frame of mind and inspire recollections. In the words of Christian Hirschfeld, an expert on the theory of park design, “the mysterious gloom and darkness of a spot, deep solitude and solemn silence, the magnificent features of nature will not fail to invest the mind with a certain feeling and oblige it to serious refelction.” The moat, however, was never filled with water, of which there was a constant shortage in Tsarskoye Selo (this fact is borne out by archive documents and archaeological research carried out in 2006) and in 1777 it was filled in on the orders of Catherine II, the new mistress of the residence.
The Hermitage pavilion was never reconstructed after the mid-eighteenth century and so its interior decoration has come down to us practically unaltered. The rectangular central hall is connected by four galleries leading diagonally from it to four “cabinets” with square floor-plans. The décor of the Hermitage’s main hall, created by Rastrelli, is particularly interesting. Thanks to the wide windows that also served as doors to the balconies, the hall is transfused with light. Between the windows Rastrelli placed mirrors in carved and gilded frames that merge with the surrounds of the painted dessus-de-portes. The hall contains dining-tables with hoists, like it did originally. The purpose of the hall was indicated by the subject of Giuseppe Valeriani’s ceiling painting – Jupiter and Juno invite the celestials to a table laid and set with luxurious tableware. Valeriani took the subjects for the painted panels above the mirrors in the central hall from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Bacchus and Ariadne, Apollo Pursuing Daphne, Bacchus Crowning Daphne with a Crown of Stars and The Rape of Europa.
The ceiling paintings in the galleries running out to the cabinets were painted by Antonio Peresinotti. Their subjects echoed the bas-reliefs on the facades of the Hermitage and depicted cupids with allegorical attributes of the seasons.