The Hermitage: the setting for the court
The Russian court was characterised by Eastern luxury and European refinement. The grandeur and Baroque ornateness of the State rooms designed by Rastrelli for the Winter Palace (remodelled in a more monumental, classical style by Giacomo Quarenghi in 1790 and restored by Vasily Stasov and Alexander Briullov after the great fire in 1837) reflect the splendour of the Imperial court. Guests and ambassadors at official ceremonies ascended the Ceremonial Staircase, subsequently renamed the Jordan Staircase, which impressed them with its striking effects of light and the gleam of gilt. This staircase led up to the reception rooms where official events and solemn ceremonies took place, as well as theatrical performances and musical soirées.
In emulation of the court at Versailles, Catherine the Great built the Small Hermitage which hosted receptions where favoured guests enjoyed the arts and relaxed conversation. She also introduced the fashion for luxury clothing in the Russian style made with velvet and brocades and adorned with jewels and semiprecious stones of a type that provoked surprise among foreign visitors. Catherine's court became a meeting place for numerous European monarchs and illustrious figures of the period. All court activities were governed by strict protocol and there were rules on uniforms, dress and accessories. In the nineteenth century the Emperor Nicholas I stipulated the cut, colours, cloth and decorative motifs for the formal dresses worn by women on ceremonial occasions. These specifications were maintained with few significant changes until the demise of the monarchy in 1917.