by Asya Lazar ARDOVA



Listen to the soundtrack “MASCARONS — MASKS — FREAKS” (Buxtehude, Jewish songs, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, Poulenc, Casella) performed by Asya Lazar ARDOVA (piano) on the page ardSOUND of






Their mimicry features are exaggerated under the load of duties, for they are guards called forth to be terrifying and disgustable. You can’t look at them without the feeling to stop doing it immediately. But the moment you turn away from MASCARONS, you start throwing stealthy glances at them, for these stony monsters attract you, like figures-talismans on the ship rostra (petrifying medusas, outraged lions, infatuating serenes), like painted freaking out faces of hippies in the middle of the 20th century — all this for the aim of épater la bourgeoisie as the French decadent poets used to say in the end of the 19th century. Freaks they are — terrifying, charming and unforgettable.

Stucco moulding of the façades has attracted me this time. Relief is the stone’s reaction to the events around, because of the lack of voice, but not the opportunity to outburst and conceal. Mascarons seem to be the states of the building’s mind. Lions, or female and male faces – they are not just decorations, but true expressions of different attitudes to the situation. Although architectural decoration implies rhythmical element, there are no two similar expressions on their faces.

Sometimes you take them as passers-by, met on your way, but never as allegories, for they are too irrational for allegories. Escaping some secluded spaces of individual perception, I chose the way of architectural history. However, my true aim was to show all the diversity of physiognomic expressions on the façades of rather restricted classical and neo-modern city buildings.

Partially I will touch the subject of inhabitants. Meanwhile just now I’m sure, there are no connection between the stucco heroes on the façades and just real people, living behind these walls. I mean hosts and tenants of these mansions. But may this connection be visible between the architects and stony personages. That was the way they embodied communications with the owners of these mansions.

Why do we never talk of architect’s individual expression? Its always hidden, or absorbed by the style and dissolved in it.

However, before travelling along the city streets and peeping into the stony faces of nymphs, satires, semi-creatures and mermaids on the façades, let’s remember about one more art of stone – jewelry bas-relief – cameo, especially the first samples. Miniatures with rather material existence – life, that can be touched through centuries, warmth of a pulsing stone – somewhere laughing, somewhere dancing and sing, or imparting passion of love.

Here I’d like to remember the story “Stereoscope” (1905) by Alexander Ivanov, the Russian writer of scientific trend in the Russian symbolism. Strange stereoscope bought by the author in the antiquarian shop (recalls Herbert’s Wells’ magic shop) contained only one photo inside and seemed to be intended for it, meanwhile the author managed to penetrate back to his youth of Petersburg dating 1877. Photos inside stereoscope were given the volume, the world of past time revived. Joy and fear casted over spectators.

Quite the other thing with cameos, when stone becomes the THEATRE OF GENRE SCENES. Bas-relief does not depend on the sunrays to evoke the sense of returned and ever breathing tangible reality under the tips of our finger.

Instruments in ancient Israel were made of stone. Architect Lishnevsky must have known it, having been already the author of the Elisavetgrad Synagogue and the true artist of the Silver Age reigning over the minds.

What ways should we choose to follow our thoughts about stony theatre of bas-reliefs? Meanwhile, we come out to the Zverinskaya Street and Eclecticism stirs our imagination: floral pseudo-classicism reminds of cosy petersburgian salons, where perle piano technique matched with sentimental Russian romances.

Mascarons appear together with the spirit of Modernism, when we pass to Bolshaya Pushkarskaya Street. And suddenly the cold Northern sounds pierce your heart, for this is Skriabin, sometimes so close to Grieg and Sibelius.

Following further through the Voskova, Monetnaya and Mira Street we find the traces of the Lutheran tradition, but mascarons have no confession. They are fair guards engaged by the architects, creators and the only ever-keepers of the buildings.

Coming to the Maly Prospekt from the Lenin Street, I feel some vague sense of wild nature, for there is the haut-relief with winged lions and gargoyles being just on the start to jump down and fly. The House with cats, but rather angry ones, (built by Alexander Lishnevsky), as if looking from Nikolai Gumilyov’s stories about Africa. The Silver Age was full of passions, hardly close to mere poetry. It was fashionable to describe unexplored wild continents, life of animals and societies never touched by civilization. Rather perilous in reality, but, oh, those wonderful singers of Africa were only dreaming of it, leaving their striving for freedom and nature on the bas-reliefs of Petersburgian streets. «How wonderful is the sunrise on the Senegal River, when the Jungle devil roars and the echo of this bestial scream gives a start to graceful panther, this wild cat…»

I learn not long ago, that the grand building at the Maly Prospekt and the Pionerskaya Street is known as the House with the Angel (built by Alexander Vladovsky). I would have called it the ode to Modernism. Modernism seems to me the new gothic in urban architecture. What made the architects turn to narrow gothic plainness, semblance to medieval castles and fortresses, instead of classical balanced space?.. The same thirst for freedom inside primitive thinking bound with mysticism and sternness. Why Middle Ages – because this woman in long dress resembles Uta on the bas-relief of the Naumburg Cathedral.

Faces are so different, male ones are balanced as classical Greek and Roman, although sometimes reminding suffering satires, female are tense and alarmed, like the ones of Medusa. Lions are like some ornament, reminding traditional symbolic figures, not beasts. I invite you to visit strange lion above the arch at the corner of the Pioneer Street. Turbid eyes, rambling glance, desperate and vague askance features, craziness, but turned inside the soul… The arch reminds classical architecture, only this strange lion reveals Modernism of the decadent epoch, so uneasy, mutinous is this glance of a mascaron, searching for clearness, but does not find it.

Modernism in the Petersburgian architecture refers to the border of the 19th – 20th centuries. It was the time of miraculous forms in literature and music. Personages from legends became the heroes of stucco mouldings (bas-reliefs, haut-reliefs etc).   “Northern Modernism”, the representative of which was Fyodor Lidval, resembled some stern Scandinavian epic poem with its flowing lines serving simultaneously for decoration and practical purposes. Greyish-stony body of the sounding city, full of vibrating impulses, or sudden silence of the lost streets. Walls were like theatre scenery for the stony actions of stucco-mouldings. It was something from Diaghilev’s “World of Art”, and hence it was most conventional and expressive to reflect different national cultures on the façades. Imagine again the Petrograd side, where glorious House with the Angel attaches to the modernistic houses with oriental ornamentation, looking like some cakes, because human faces are forbidden to be depicted in oriental religions. Two streets near the mosque – Long and Short Posadskaya Streets – were connected with Tatar merchantry. There were fish-houses and restaurants and different shops. Poor citizens among Petersburgian Tatars were very often yard-keepers. Yard-keeper that time was the kind of a guardian protecting inner lands of the city buildings. He wore a metal badge on his uniform and was keeping order on his land. People used to call him a Prince (Knyaz’), remembering thus former power of the medieval Tatars over the Russian lands.

St. Petersburg would have been rather a severe northern city, if there were no KOLOMNA – its most spacious and good-humoured district, filled with the spirit of sea freshness. This district has imbibed the spirit of freedom together with diverse confessions and architectural styles. St. Nicholas Cathedral, Synagogue, New Holland – everything is mixed here – spiritual, naval, theatrical. Cozy gardens and broad squares remind of the way to the sea journeys around the world, and the same most clear warm style of a narrator, as if of the writer Alexander Goncharov, describing his sea voyage around the world.

We start walking from the Theatre Square along the Decembrists’ Street, the inhabitants of which were naval men on service from the far 18th century.

The St. Apostle John Estonian Lutheran Church built according to the project of Harald Bosse and the house of the Estonian Lutheran Community attached to the church from the Masterskaya Street was built by the architect Mikhail Dubinsky at the beginning of the 20th century form real ensemble. The house bas-relief is a scene from some epic poem.  

Decembrists Estonian Church  

Turning round the corner we occur at the beginning of the Pisarev Street, or at the entrance of Shafirov Court – such was the name of this exact place, which spread up to the New Holland, through the Moika and channels. Could it other way, when the Jewish merchant Shaya Sapsayev, alias Pyotr Shafirov was invited by Peter the Great to the royal service. Houses on the Pisarev street are not so high, true eclecticism, with cold classical expressions of mascarons. Mascarons of the Pisarev Street are a bit different from the ones at the Petrograd side. Their features are alikethe ones of legendary opera, beards seem to be shaggy of the sea wind. Aren’t they really sailors?

New holland

The culmination of the eclecticism is on the Moika embankment due to architect Viktor Shreter, true master of this style. Little towers, arrow-shaped windows. Such “houses-gingerbreads” resembling theatre scenery to Rimsky-Korsakov, or Borodin, or some medieval castle of Prince Desiree from Tchaikovky’s “Sleeping Beauty”.

On the other Moika bank there are mansions lost amongst the naval offices of the New Holland and the Khrapovitsky Estate in classical style of the 18th century with busts on the surrounding walls, the absolute view of the Roman villa.


Khrapovitsy was one of politicians at Ekaterina’s court; something connected him with famous count Razumovsky (known as mason in Europe). Khrapovitsky, an educative, secular chevalier, his children and wife lived in this estate, but he never undertook official marriage, that makes us suppose about some celibacy hanging over him. Viktor Shreter showed this duality by means of architecture, erecting his miniature medieval mansions in front of the absolutely classical villa as if reminding to Khrapovitsky about their family castle in Muromtsevo (Vladimir city) built in Gothic style…


The other master of neo-gothic was Karl Schmidt. Just look at his chimeras on the façade of König’s house (1912) on the Blokhin Street, and medieval cathedrals will appear before your eyes, and you’ll feel like standing on one of numerous city squares in Prague.

Mansion with Moors on the Konnogvardeysky Boulevard is also Bosse’s creation, and hence refers to eclecticism. This is also a villa, but already, the pseudo-florentine one. Even the busts of moors point to the element of theatre in all this project.

Harald Bosse was the true virtuoso of styles and singer of eclecticism. As we started the theme of eclecticism, it would be fine to remember about the other Bosse’s creations, but already decorating Tchaikovsky Street. Let’s start from the Armour Fyodorov’s Street, leading us to our aim. This mascaron is taken from real life – rather rude male face of a smith. And here is fashionable haughty Tchaikovsky Street, where the Salon of Elizaveta Buturlina (later Austrian-Hungarian Embassy). 


Buturlina’s salon must have heard music from the Russian baroque up to the avant-garde, brought here by the visitors of the Rambling Dog. Bosse built it in the middle of the 19th century. Pseudo-baroque with plentiful stucco-moulding and mascarons, nearly lost amongst other bas-reliefs.

Then walking along the street to the Tavrichesky Garden, you’ll fortune to see the gallery of interesting bas-reliefs:

- garlands formed as women’s figures;

- miraculous birds nesting above the windows;

- the Abaza House (Tchaikovsky, 26) with the small, but most magic mascaron above the entrance, like Pushkin’s Black Sea Man;

- Tchaikovsky, 34 with two cherubs above the entrance. Such entrances are peculiar to the streets adjoining Tavrichesky Garden;

-just lions and chimerical faces on the façade of the house 42;

- blend of styles with caryatides and mascarons.

Actually every house in Petersburg is architect’s emotion, and every house responds to any possible music – from baroque sentimental arias brought by Peter the first up to local rock trends. Mascarons do not plunge us into old times, on the contrary, these stony inhabitants seem to transform together with the mood of contemporaneity, accepting new outlooks, but gazing to the future sarcastically.









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