for the project "The End of History" at COSMOSCOW'22, booth Nikolay Evdokimov Gallery
The largest Italian painting in Russia, the plafond depicting Mount Olympus, decorates the ceiling above the Jordan staircase of the Winter Palace. It was painted by the 18th-century Venetian artist Gaspare Diziani on canvas, to be precise, on many canvases put together because the size of the painting is 19 by 6 meters.
The plafond, alongside other Venetian artworks, was bought
in 1760 by Empress Elizabeth of Russia for the decoration of her main residence that was still under construction. For a while, the acquisition was not used but rolled up and stuck away into one of the palace's storages. There it was fading and soaking dust until 1836, when a huge fire almost burnt down the Winter Palace and the famous architect Vasily Stasov got the order to lead the restoration of the main building. The plafond was pulled out, cleaned, refurbished, and fixed on a ceiling to stay there for good.
The "Olympus" by Diziani, a great painter, though not so famous, crowned the main staircase of Russia bearing the name of Jordan in honour of the sacred Jordan River in Palestine, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
The rite of the consecration of water in the rivers of Russia, this predominantly Orthodox country, is traditionally performed on the eve of Epiphany in January. In the old days a major celebration took place in the capital. After the liturgy members of the imperial court and the emperor's family gathered round an ice hole made on the Neva River right across from the Spit of Vasilyevsky Island, and the Patriarch himself performed the Blessing of Water. The annual procession up the Jordan staircase was an important element of the sacred ceremony. The staircase got its name precisely after the ceremony – pagan Gods were hovering above the heads of the Orthodox believers who hardly felt embarrassed. May be only some altar boys or other church people in the crowd would cross themselves.
The story is very much related to St. Petersburg, it is the story of the Fourth Rome that was cursed by Avdotya Lopukhina, the wretched wife of the city founder, Peter the Great. Dmitry Sirotkin's project "The End of History" deals with the Fourth Rome concept, though the title reads as a direct reference to the famous 1992 book under the same name by Francis Fukuyama. The book is widely criticised now because the scientist's predictions turned out to be largely wrong. However, Fukuyama wrote about the "The End of History" using capital letters – in Sirotkin's project we have a big and beautiful story, yet written in low case letters. It is about the history of the cursed Fourth Rome which at Avdotya's will should be exterminated. Andrey Bely, in my view, the author of the best novel about this city, said as follows: "If St. Petersburg is not a capital, let it go. It only seems that it exists".
Sirotkin's project presents peculiar illusiveness of St. Petersburg. As a staff Hermitage photographer, Dmitry was able to access and shoot the plafond above the Jordan staircase. Its fragments inspired the project.
The Olympus torn into patchwork fragments, Empire style reliefs with Roman armour, the pioneers of Stalin's era, a fallen chair of a museum attendant and stone balls, with which St. Petersburg stone lions have been playing football for four centuries now, form an elegant installation. It is accompanied by a series of hand drawings of the loneliness of ancient Hermaphrodite, the Renaissance "Crouching Boy" and Roman ornaments from Raphael's Loggia. The Roman spleen of Petersburg. Exquisite in a way that would befit a museum cabinet or a boutique show-window on Rome's Via dei Condotti. The empire looks its best there.