Z.G. Morozova's Mansion. Reception House of the Russian Foreign Ministry
The last years of the 19th century saw the foundation of two mansions by the architect Fyodor Schechtel: Stepan Ryabushinsky's House and Zinaida Morozova's Palazzo, both in Spiridonovka. Contemporaries came up with the saying: “Two beautiful daughters of one dad argue about the love of a passing young lad.” It refers to the mansions of Stepan Ryabushinsky (2 Spiridonovka Street) and Zinaida Morozova (17 Spiridonovka Street).
The street's crown jewel is building No. 17, Zinaida Morozova's mansion, which is considered a masterpiece of early Moscow Art Nouveau (1890s). However, the first references to the house with this address date back to the mid-18th century. Back then, the estate was larger and belonged to Privy Councilor Illarion Vorontsov.
In 1812, the big fire severely damaged all local buildings and adjacent sites; they were subsequently acquired by a poet and statesman I.I. Dmitriev. Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol stayed as guests at the newly built homestead.
Zinaida Morozova, one of the most influential women in Moscow of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was the owner of the beautiful mansion at 17 Spiridonovka Street. The gorgeous house was the fulfilled promise of businessman and philanthropist Savva Morozov. The merchant's word was given at the matchmaking, and a decade later, Savva Morozov erected a house of exceptional beauty in honor of his wife.
Zinaida Morozova hosted the most lavish receptions in the Spiridonovka mansion. Zinaida Morozova hosted the most lavish receptions in the Spiridonovka mansion. Minister Sergei Witte, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, writer Anton Chekhov, painters Isaac Levitan and Alexandre Benois visited this place. Feodor Chaliapin performed here, and Prince Sergey Shcherbatov left an entry in his diary: “The newly-built palace of enormous size and unusual splendor in the English Gothic style on Spiridonovka Street was such an attractive phenomenon... The hostess, Zinaida Morozova, of great intelligence, with a natural tact, dressed with beautiful pearls, received her guests with royal grandeur.”
The mansion on Spiridonovka was among the first sizeable individual projects by architect Fyodor Schechtel. He offered the house owners three styling options: French Renaissance, Rococo, and English Neo-Gothic. The Morozovs had long-standing ties with textile manufactures of Manchester, Savva Morozov himself studied at the University of Cambridge; he was a known Anglophile and therefore chose the latter option.
The new structure was set back from the frontage line to accommodate all back-of-house services.
Strict geometric boundaries of the mansion create an asymmetrical contrast with its tower-like corner part. The main entrance, a protruding porch with three arched portals, is located on the right side. The left side overlooks a small garden offering more privacy.
Main interiors, which recreate a romantic atmosphere of knights and Middle Ages, look opulent in contrast with the quite austere appearance of the façades.
However, there are also Renaissance, Rocaille, and Empire halls.
The rooms were decorated by artist Mikhail Vrubel. He sketched Returning of Victorious Knight, an image for a stained glass window, which adorned the staircase end wall. At the base of the stairs, Vrubel placed a sculptural composition based on Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Robert the Devil. The same artist painted allegoric panels for the drawing room.
A grand housewarming party took place on February 8, 1897, but family happiness did not last long. In 1898, Savva Morozov bought a principal share of Moscow Art Theater, where he met actress Maria Andreeva. In 1905, Morozov's dead body was discovered in a hotel room in Cannes with a Browning gun and a suicide note nearby. Zinaida never believed that her husband killed himself. Some time later, she married again – to the Moscow town governor, Major-General A.A. Reinbot. In 1909, she sold the mansion to Mikhail Ryabushinsky. She claimed that Savva’s spirit wouldn’t let her alone and haunted the house: she could hear him clearing his throat, shuffling around, and moving items on the desk.
Ryabushinsky moved in Spiridonovka with his family and his magnificent collection of paintings by Russian and European artists. The new owner did not introduce any alterations; he merely ordered three panels from the artist K.F. Bogaevsky to decorate the Royal Drawing Room in 1912.
The October Revolution stripped the house of its owners. After nationalization, the mansion first housed a Provincial Food Committee, then an orphanage for refugees from Bucharest; its outbuilding was a seat of Joseph Stalin Uzbek Institute of Education.
In 1929, the mansion was put under the management of GlavUpDK, and a decade later, MFA's House of Receptions opened here.
The mansion walls witnessed many meetings of top public officials and signings of major declarations and agreements.
Ordered by A.A. Gromyko, USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs, a large-scale reconstruction of historical interiors took place there from 1973 to 1987.
The fire of August 4, 1995 was an ordeal for Schechtel's masterpiece. The flames partly destroyed decorations of staterooms; however, most interiors survived intact.
Using archived drawings and photographs, GlavUpDK could quickly return the mansion to its initial condition.
Currently, Morozov’s palazzo remains under GlavUpDK’s management. The organization makes every effort to preserve its historical appearance and regularly performs comprehensive repair and restoration. The building continues to house the Reception House belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Morozov's palazzo has not lost its status of a political and social activities hub.
Restoration (1996, 2021)Twice laureate of the competition of the Government of Moscow "Restoration-96" for the best restoration, reconstruction of architectural monuments and other objects of the historical and urban environment of Moscow.
After the tragedy, companies from the United States, Poland, Turkey, and Slovenia offered to help rebuild the artwork. Materials came from Germany, China, Austria, Finland... The furniture was ordered from Italy, Hungary and India. Sixty-seven different construction and restoration firms from Russia and abroad, selected on a competitive basis, were given the right to work on the mansion. Dipkomfort, a subsidiary of GlavUpDK, coordinated all the work. 180 to 300 people simultaneously worked three shifts a day, seven days a week, on “Object 1”, hidden by the yellow and white covers.
They did powerfully, quickly, and all at the same time. The mansion has been reconstructed from a set of old drawings provided by the Museum of Architecture. They all had the personal signature of the architect of the project: Fyodor Schechtel. The MFA kept the construction site under constant review.
The daily struggle to save the masterpiece continued for almost a year. The highest-level renovation work on the façades and interiors was performed by experts from Preobrazhenie JSC, Stroyservis-5, SMS-5, KVIO, Stark Kamen, Antik, Warsaw Heritage Restoration, and other companies. The team of restorers from the State Tretyakov Gallery headed by the Honored Art Worker of Russia A. P. Kovalev brought back to life M. A. Vrubel's panels Morning, Noon and Evening in the Small Drawing Room. A life-size stained-glass window by M.A. Vrubel, The Knight, was recreated from the sketch. The sketch was made by M. Razanov, an assistant professor at the Strongman Institute. Under his supervision, a British company Goddard & Gibbs with over a century-long history of stained glass manufacturing, produced the stained glass window.
K.F. Bogaevsky's panel had to be basically re-created after the fire. The Interregional Scientific and Restoration Art Department of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and a group of restorers were commissioned to undertake the reconstruction: В. Stukov, Yu. Pakhomov, M. Chistyakov, under the leadership of A. Kuznetsov, took on the work. The special tapestry-weave canvases were made at the Gavrilov-Yam Linen Factory, but there were no machines left at the factory for this width, almost 4.5 meters, and the restorers had to stitch crafty the canvases together. The overall work lasted for seven months.
Completed by August 1996, the mansion restoration was a unique event in Russian restoration practice. The work was highly praised by professionals and the general public alike. In 1996, work on the restoration of this architectural monument was awarded a diploma by the Moscow government.
Laureate of the Moscow Restoration 2021 competition: For the best organization of repair and restoration work at cultural heritage sites.
In 2021 the Department of Major Construction of GlavUpDK has completed the restoration of the façade of the Zinaida Morozova mansion.
In the history of the building, one of the most prominent cultural heritage sites in Moscow, this was the first such large-scale restoration of the façades. GlavUpDK, together with specialized organizations, worked on the mansion’s façades, roof, and fence.
The work began in late 2019 to thoroughly restore more than 60 percent of the surface of the entire façade. In particular, numerous decorative elements have been restored and reinforced: stained glass windows, gargoyles of spelter, and chimeras. The complex parapet decoration on the balcony, terraces, and machicolations of the main tower (donjon) on the east façade have been restored, together with the finials shaped as tiny castles.
The roofing material has been replaced by modern and durable zinc-titanium, which is ductile enough to preserve the roof’s sophisticated shape. "For the roof, we used not just galvanized metal, but an alloy of titanium-zinc, a material suitable for making durable and still sophisticated decorative roof elements. We decided to do this, because we realize that with quality installation the roof’s lifespan is about 30 years. The same is true of the other materials used," says Dmitry Drachev, Head of the Department of Major Construction, GlavUpDK under the MFA of Russia. The drainage system has also been recreated.
The mansion’s unique ensemble is completed with the restored fence along Spiridonovka Street and new architectural lighting, which spectacularly highlights the shapes and details of the building in the evening, staying almost invisible during the day.
The experts who took part in the restoration noted the highest quality of the mansion's construction and the good condition of the core structures and some of the materials used, such as high-quality concrete of the late 19th century.