Giacomo Quarenghi (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒaːkomo kwaˈreŋɡi; -ˈrɛŋɡi]; Russian: Джа́комо Кваре́нги, tr. Džákomo Kvaréngi, IPA: [ˈdʐakəmə kvɐˈrʲenʲɡʲɪ]; 20 or 21 September 1744 – 2 March [O.S. 18 February] 1817) was the foremost and most prolific practitioner of Palladian architecture in Imperial Russia, particularly in Saint Petersburg. He has been described as "the last of the great architects of Italy".
Born in Rota d'Imagna near Bergamo to an Italian noble family, Quarenghi was destined by his parents for a career in law or the church but initially was allowed to study painting in the Bergamo studio of G. Reggi, himself a student of Tiepolo. Young Quarenghi was well educated and widely read. Traveling through Italy he visited Vicenza, Verona, Mantua and Venice, the places where he made the longest stays. He made drawings of the Greek temples at Paestum (Loukomski 1928) and finally arrived in Rome in 1763, at a moment when Neoclassicism was being developed in advanced artistic circles. He studied painting with Anton Raphael Mengs, then with Stefano Pozzi, later moving to study architecture (1767–69) with a traditionalist Late Baroque architect Paolo Posi.
Then he came upon a copy of Andrea Palladio's Quattro Libri d'archittetura. "You could never believe," he wrote to his friend and long-term correspondent Marchesi, "the impression that this book made. Then it struck me that I had every reason to consider myself badly guided" before that point (Loukomsky 1928). He turned for new, Neoclassical instruction from Antoine Decrezet, a friend of Winckelmann, and the former's pupil Niccola Giansimoni, measuring and drawing the antiquities of Rome.
In Venice (1771–1772), where he was studying the works of Palladio, Quarenghi came into contact with a British lord passing through there on the Grand Tour. It was through him that the architect secured a few minor English commissions, such as garden pavilions, chimneypieces (Loukomsky 1928), an altar for the private Roman Catholic chapel of Henry Arundell at New Wardour Castle. Designs for a country house for Lord Whitworth were exhibited at Venice 1967. His first major commission (1771–7) was the internal reconstruction of the monastery of Santa Scholastica at Subiaco. For the Venetian cardinal Rezzonico, the nephew of Pope Clement XIII, he designed a decor for a Music Room in the Campidoglio, and designs for Clement's tomb (later executed by Antonio Canova).
His work in Italy and for English clients formed enough of a reputation that in 1779 he was selected by the Prussian-born count Rieffenstein, who had been commissioned by Catherine II of Russia to send her two Italian architects to replace her French ones (Loukomsky 1928). Despite having just designed a manege in Monaco and a dining hall for the Archduchess of Modena, 35-year-old Quarenghi seems to have felt himself underemployed, given the number of architects then working in Italy and the dearth of commissions from the church and nobility. He accepted Rieffenstein's offer without hesitation and left with his pregnant wife for St Petersburg.
Quarenghi's first important commission in Russia was the English Palace in Peterhof, a magnificent rectangular edifice with a Corinthian portico. The structure, which pleased the Empress immensely, was blown up by the Germans during World War II and was later demolished by the Soviet government. In 1783 Quarenghi settled with his family in Tsarskoe Selo, where he would supervise the construction of the Alexander Palace, the most ambitious of his undertakings to date.
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