The Jordan Staircase of the Winter Palace, by Konstantin Ukhtomsky (1866)
The principal or Jordan Staircase of the Winter Palace, St Petersburg is so called because on the Feast of the Epiphany the Tsar descended this imperial staircase in state for the ceremony of the "Blessing of the Waters" of the Neva River, a celebration of Christ's baptism in the Jordan River. The staircase is one of the few parts of the palace retaining the original 18th-century style. The massive grey granite columns, however, were added in the mid 19th century.
The staircase was badly damaged by a fire that swept the palace in 1837, but Nicholas I ordered the architect in charge of reconstruction, Vasily Stasov, to restore the staircase using Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli's original plans. Stasov made two small changes: he replaced the original gilt bronze handrails with white marble and the original pink columns with gray granite.
The stair hall, which has an 18th-century ceiling depicting the Gods at Olympus, is decorated with alabaster statues of Wisdom and Justice by Mikhail Terebenev (1795-1866); Grandeur and Opulence by Alexander Ustinov (1796-1868); Fidelity and Equity by Ivan Leppe; and Mercury and Mars by Apollon Manyulov. At the centre of the first landing is an anonymous 18th-century marble sculpture, Allegory of the State.
During state receptions and functions the Jordan Staircase was a focal point for arriving guests. After entering the palace through the Ambassadors' entrance, in the central courtyard, they would pass through the colonnaded ground floor Jordan Hall before ascending the staircase to the state apartments. Following a ball at the Winter Palace in 1902, The Duchess of Sutherland wrote: "The stairs of the palace were guarded by cossacks, with hundreds of footmen in scarlet liveries, I have never in my life seen so brilliant a sight—the light, the uniforms, the enormous rooms, the crowd, the music, making a spectacle that was almost Barbaric." Today, as part of the State Hermitage Museum, this room retains its original decoration.
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