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The Stereo-Daguerreotypes of Princess Zinaida Yusupova’s Palace in Saint Petersburg

Fantasies of a European Lady.
The Stereo-Daguerreotypes of Princess Zinaida Yusupova’s Palace in Saint Petersburg

An outstanding series of ten stereo-daguerreotypes from the early 1860s shows the interiors of a most fashionable palace at 42 Liteyny Avenue in Saint Petersburg, then capital of the Tsarist Empire. The building was owned by Princess Zinaida Yusupova (1810–1893), a descendant of the noble Moscow boyar family, the Narishkins (A). In 1827, while still very young, she had married Prince Boris Yusupov (1794–1849), an important official of the imperial court. The couple bought a palace on the Moika River in 1830 and had it rebuilt and expanded several times. The princess was known for her beauty, intelligence and knowledge of poetry and art, as well as for various affairs and her proximity to Tsar Nicholas I. After her husband’s death, Zinaida had the palace built on Liteyny Avenue and moved there after her only son Nikolai Yusupov (1827–1891), to whom she left the palace on the Moika River, married in 1856. Zinaida Yusupova was one of the capital’s richest aristocrats at the time, and her prominent status in Russian high society is still reflected in her magnificent palace, built between 1852 and 1858 by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt (1822–1885).

The eye-catching two-story building is located on one of the main boulevards of the city center, which runs north-south from Liteyny Bridge to Nevsky Avenue, and is best seen from Belinsky Street, at the end of which it is located (B). On the one hand, the façade, strictly structured with large round-arched windows, is inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture. On the other hand, the façade’s lavish architectural and sculptural decoration – such as columns and pilasters, caryatids, atlantes, putti and vases – is more reminiscent of Baroque architecture. This way, the palace represented the latest fashion: the amalgamation of different stylistic models of past epochs was characteristic of the so-called “eclecticism” in 19th-century architecture. The somewhat imposing décor, however, seems to have suited the princess’s taste rather than the architect’s artistic convictions. A peculiarity of the palace is that its façades are completely faced with stone, unlike most other buildings of this era in Saint Petersburg, where brick walls were plastered and decorated with cheaper stucco. The main façade and all its decorations are carved from light-colored “Bremen sandstone” which was one of the reasons why the palace was considered a culmination of taste and splendor at the time.

Zinaida Yusupova, proud of her new residence, had the palace and its interiors documented in various media. Around 1860, Vasily Sadovnikov (1800–1879) painted the palace in a series of detailed watercolors, and apparently photographs also existed of the building at that time. Highlighted are the preserved stereo-daguerreotypes presented here. Using a camera with two lenses, the interiors were photographed from two slightly different angles side by side on one plate. When these images are looked at through a simple optical device, an illusion of three-dimensional depth is created, and the viewer can be literally immersed in the image.

The ten stereo-daguerreotypes measure 8.5 x 11 cm each and are subtly hand-tinted with dust and watercolor paints. They are mounted under a protective glass plate in a cardboard passepartout covered with gold foil and carrying the imprint of the manufacturing company: “T. SCHNEIDER UND SOEHNE” [T. SCHNEIDER AND SONS]. Also preserved is the original wooden storage box with ten compartments and a sliding lid, and a leather-bound wooden viewing case lined with red velvet. A daguerreotype inserted into this case could be viewed through the integrated fold-out lens plate. This way, the desired perception of spatial depth was easier to achieve and the viewing experience improved.

The Age of the Daguerreotype

The Daguerreotype, first viable photographic method, developed by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), was introduced to the public in August 1839 at the French Academy of Sciences in Paris and changed the world of imagery forever. Daguerre’s cameras and equipment sold quickly and many enthusiasts learned the profitable technique which made it possible to depict the world in a relatively simple but entirely new and lifelike way. After further technical improvements to the process, even portraits of living people could be taken. To make a daguerreotype, silver-plated and polished copper plates first had to be made light-sensitive with iodine vapor. Then they were inserted into the camera and exposed. Subsequently, the plates were developed using mercury vapor, and finally they had to be fixed in a specific solution.

The daguerreotype soon spread to Russia, and in the 1840s and 1850s, the decades considered the “Age of the Daguerreotype”, many photographic studios opened in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. French, Italian, German, and Russian daguerreotypists worked there, producing mainly single and group portraits. In the 1860s, the daguerreotype, whose primary disadvantage was the non-reproducibility of the resulting unique prints, was rapidly replaced by various negative processes that allowed the photograph to be duplicated.

Trupert Schneider and the Schneider Brothers

In the early 1860s, however, daguerreotypes taken as stereo images were Schneider and Sons’ area of expertise, setting them apart from other photographers. Trupert Schneider (1804–1899), a skilled carpenter from the Duchy of Baden, completely changed his career in his 40s after discovering the technique of the daguerreotype. First, he assisted Joseph Broglie (*1810), an itinerant daguerreotypist from Huningue (Alsace), but soon acquired the necessary equipment to work on his own. From 1848, Schneider and his son Heinrich (1835–1900) traveled as daguerreotypists, undertaking extensive trips to Italy and Austria. In 1856 Trupert’s younger son Wilhelm (1839–1921) joined them and from mid-1858, the brothers traveled on alone, establishing themselves for periods in Hamburg and Berlin, where they mainly portrayed local society. After a two-month stay at home, they returned to work in Berlin and Prussian Silesia in March 1860. Now, for the first time, a “Bilderkästchen” [picture box] and a “Stereoskopkasten” [stereoscope box] – presumably a storage box and a viewing case for stereo-daguerreotypes – are mentioned in their commission book in connection with interior photographs of a building. It is quite possible that the stereo-daguerreotypes were an innovative proposal devised by Trupert Schneider and his sons in view of the threatening decline of the daguerreotype. In this case, the spectacular illusion of three-dimensional depth of stereoscopic images – particularly suitable for the representation of architecture and interiors – could counterbalance the lack of reproducibility of the image. On May 1 1861, Heinrich and Wilhelm Schneider left Ehrenstetten in Baden for Russia, arriving in Saint Petersburg on May 21. After having taken only a few pictures, the bad weather prompted them to travel on to Moscow. Here they spent more than two weeks photographing the Kremlin, the tsar’s residence, totaling around eighty stereo-daguerreotypes. Back in Saint Petersburg, prominent residents of the city posed in front of the camera and the Schneider brothers documented their castles, villas and dachas in great detail. In winter, they were forced to pause for about three months due to the lack of daylight before returning to work in Saint Petersburg and Moscow (C). According to the commission book, they worked in Zinaida Yusupova’s (then Countess Chauveau) palace during their partnership with Carl Hedler, which began in mid-April 1862. After fourteen months in Russia, the Schneider brothers left the country in early August 1862. Only a few years later, now young millionaires, they settled in Krotzingen, where they built a house with a studio and laboratory. They adopted the more modern wet plate and later the dry plate techniques, but at the same time continued to work with daguerreotypes even until 1880. Their legacy has not survived and their photographs are now either lost or dispersed in collections and museums throughout Europe. The few stereo-daguerreotypes held in the collections of the State Russian Museum in Moscow and the State Hermitage in Saint Petersburg are all works of Heinrich and Wilhelm Schneider, made in 1861 and 1862, and show mainly interiors.

Stylish Interiors and Colorful Illusions of Depth

The stereo-daguerreotypes of Zinaida Yusupova’s palace show nine locations of its vast premises. All rooms are lavishly decorated with stucco, gilding and decorative painting and equipped with many gas-powered lamps. The princess, who had spent a lot of time in Paris in recent years, had the palace furnished according to the taste of the time, strongly influenced by the eclectic Second Empire style, also known as Napoleon III style. The rooms vary in design depending on their function, creating a kaleidoscope of artistic impressions, historical and literary associations, and resulting in stylistic codes that could easily be deciphered by contemporaries. The architect Andrei Zhukovskii commented in 1859:

The entire furnishing altogether produces a magnificent effect; the most fanciful architectural fantasies of female taste could not be more successfully and more satisfactorily executed; the most exquisite conditions of a European lady’s quarters seem to be fulfilled in perfection in this building.

A first stereo daguerreotype shows the view from below of the impressive red-carpeted staircase leading to the upper main floor (1). The garlanded pilasters, steps and handrail are carved from marble, while the walls and ceilings are decorated with stucco. On the upper floor, the most important halls where the princess would receive her guests, are arranged around the staircase. Two daguerreotypes depict the pink drawing room facing Liteyny Avenue in the northwest corner of the building (2). It features pink fabrics, gilded pilasters, and a large oval mirror above a dark marble fireplace. Two other daguerreotypes show the two adjoining rooms to the east. The image of a smaller drawing room, furnished with light blue upholstered and gilded chairs and a large chandelier, is the least successful of the series (3). The camera was set up slightly inclined and the room is poorly lit, which is why the fireplace next to the door and the painting on the left wall disappear in the dark. The daguerreotype of the following narrow, elongated room, which served as a gallery for paintings, miniatures, majolica and Chinese porcelain, is again well accomplished (4). Thanks to the windows facing the winter garden and the first courtyard the lighting is better here. The picture gallery, where further paintings, portraits and small statues and busts are exhibited, and which is located on the opposite side of the courtyard, can be seen in the following daguerreotype (5). Between the two galleries extends a very particular space, accessible from the main staircase through a glazed door: The winter garden under a sloping glass roof was one of the largest in Saint Petersburg at the time and displays a lush vegetation, clearly visible in another daguerreotype (6). Such winter gardens, which took visitors off to warm and exotic destinations, were very popular at that time in the often winter cold city.

Two other daguerreotypes show interiors, which are probably located on the first floor of the palace. One photograph shows a Renaissance-style room with a stucco ceiling decorated with large painted medallions (7). On one side of the room, a buffet is set up, containing drinking vessels, platters and table centerpieces. The other photograph reveals Zinaida Yusupova’s bedroom (8). It is decorated entirely in blue and white, and not only by coincidence resembles her former bedroom in the palace on the Moika River, The furniture was brought – as well as other fixtures suitable for the princess’s new house – from the Yusupov’s Moika Palace. The last daguerreotype shows the private church, established with the approval of the Synod on the third floor of the palace’s south wing (9). Consecrated in 1861, the church is arranged according to a design by Alexey Gornostaev (1808–1862). It is covered with a dome and vaults and decorated with portraits of saints and scenes from the gospel, as well as gilded stucco decoration and a carved iconostasis.

Zinaida Yusupova spent little time in her palace. In May 1861, she married the much younger officer Charles Chauveau (1829–1889), whom she had met in France, in her palace’s newly completed church. Fallen out of favor with Tsar Alexander II because of the mésalliance, the princess acquired the title of Count Chauveau and Marquis de Serres for her husband and soon left the country. She settled with Chaveau in a chateau in Brittany and spent the years after his death mainly in Paris, without being able to return to her homeland.

A Set of Exceptional Value

The stereo-daguerreotypes of Zinaida Yusupova’s palace are an important heritage in several respects. Since daguerreotypes are very sensitive to humidity and temperature, relatively few have survived to this day. The well-preserved stereo-daguerreotypes of the palace on Liteyny Avenue, each of them unique, are among the few existing Russian photographs by the Schneider brothers. They bear witness to the history of early photography in Russia and to the above-average quality and the distinctive characteristic of the work of Heinrich and Wilhelm Schneider, who were still very young at the time. Another unique fact is that not only the daguerreotypes, but also the original wooden storage box and the viewing case have been preserved. Both the format of the daguerreotypes and the storage box differ from the usual standards and demonstrate the inventiveness and craftsmanship of Trupert Schneider. Originally specialized in manufacturing exclusive small objects such as sewing boxes and jewelry boxes, he later not only produced his own photographic equipment, and also supplied his traveling sons with the necessary wooden boxes and viewing cases for stereo-daguerreotypes. Furthermore, the pictures are historical documents that provide extremely precise information about the housing needs of the nobility of the time and their preferences in interior design. They show a snapshot of the newly built palace of a most important Saint Petersburg lady of the time. Today, some of the depicted interiors are still preserved – albeit without the movable furnishings – but others have long since been lost, among them the church and the winter garden, which had to make way for a theater hall in 1908. For these rooms and for the lost furnishings, the stereo-daguerreotypes are significant and detailed sources that reproduce the palace’s initial atmosphere. Finally, the stereo-daguerreotypes commissioned by Zinaida Yusupova testify to the princess’s enthusiasm for the new possibilities of photography as well as her love for the arts.  

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