This year marks forty years since the restored Great Hall of the Catherine Palace opened for visiting in 1980.
The over 1,000 sq m “hall of two lights”, lit with sunlight at day and 696 electric candle lamps at night, was almost completely destroyed like the rest of the palace during the Nazi occupation in 1941-44.
Half of the plafond (painted ceiling) and gilded woodcarvings were lost, while the remaining decorations were in poor condition. In July 1945 eyewitnesses recalled the sky visible through the burnt roof trusses.
Designed by Alexander Kedrinsky, Tsarskoe Selo head architect and mastermind behind the Amber Room’s revival, the Great Hall restoration project started in 1960 and took twenty years.
The woodcarvings were reconstructed after their surviving fragments by sculptor Lilia Shvetskaya and a team of carvers led by Alexey Kochuev. The parquet floor was remade after Rastrelli’s drawings and a surviving oak fragment by the team of Evgeny Kudryashov.
The damaged plafond was replaced by Giuseppe Valeriani’s canvas which had been attached to the ceiling of the Great Hall until 1783. Removed from the Catherine Palace by Emperor Paul I, the canvas’ two side parts named Allegory of Peace and Allegory of Victory were discovered during the restoration of St Michael’s Castle in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1953-54. After three years of archive research and detailed sketching started in 1968, the missing middle of the Triumph of Russia plafond was repainted by 1976. The work carried out by the artists Boris Lebedev, Vitaly Zhuravlyov, Ivan Alekseev and their supervisor by Yakov Kazakov, was unprecedented in terms of complexity and scale.
The restoration of the Great Hall, a.k.a. the Light Gallery in the eighteenth century, was accomplished on 10 July 1980.