Where Sirin sings and the snowdrop blooms all year round. Six mansions with ornaments on facades

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Where Sirin sings and the snowdrop blooms all year round. Six mansions with ornaments on facades
Photo by Yulia Ivanko, Mos.ru
Exploring mosaics, tiles, and other decorative elements that can share many interesting facts.

A walk in the center of Moscow can be as good as a visit to a museum. Why not treat facades of the mansions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as exhibits? They can give you a lesson on the history of Russian architecture and design; and while looking at the decorative elements on the facades, take a guess about the character of former owners. For hot spots, refer to the article on mos.ru.

M.V. Sokol’s Tenement Building in the Moscow Secession Style

Feel like in Vienna while staying in the center of Moscow. The former tenement building of Maria Sokol at the beginning of the Kuznetsky Most Street is a piece of architectural art in the Secession style, or Viennese Art Nouveau. Ivan Mashkov, the architect, who designed the house (built in 1904), was apparently inspired by the works of Otto Wagner, the leading member of the Vienna Secession movement.

The facade of the Sokol House is crossed by vertical blades (ledges). It features rectangular bay windows and decorative windows, as well as forged elements typical for Art Nouveau architecture in general and for Wagner's buildings in particular, such as smoothly curved lines outline the balconies, gate, and an entrance door overhang.

In the center, we see a large smooth volute (curl) with slotted sculptural details and an open-work metal lattice. Just a bit lower, in the attic (a solid high parapet above the cornice), there is perhaps the main decorative element represented by a triple mosaic depicting a soaring falcon. The huge bird soars either above the clouds, or above the mountains, and beneath the flowering valley stretches.

The majolica panel was created by Nikolai Sapunov, an apprentice of Valentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin, a theater scene designer and member of the World of Art association. The panel was made after his sketch at the Butyrka Ceramic Factory “Abramtsevo”. Its style has something in common with a panel on the Metropol Hotel located a few quarters away from the tenement building. The “Princess of Dreams” mosaic panel decorating the hotel building was made after the sketches of Mikhail Vrubel; his own relief tiles (depicting fish) adorn the Sokol Apartment House.

Until 1917, landlady Maria Sokol rented apartments from the third to the fifth floor; the first and second floors were occupied by shops and offices. Among them were the Italian publishing house “Dante Alighieri”, the photo company “Sherer, Nabgolts & Co.”, Pemov's shop of ladies hats, and Jacobson's shop of ready-made dresses.

The Pertsova Tenament House: Mythological Scenes

On Prechistenskaya Embankment, you can feel like a guest from the future in medieval Russia. However, the fairytale red brick tower house (also called the fairytale house or the house with crocodiles) was built comparatively recently, namely in 1907. The neo-Russian style project was elaborated by artist Sergei Malyutin; Nikolai Zhukov, the Moscow Art Nouveau master, was the architect, and Boris Shnauberg was the engineer who supervised the construction.

Their work combined canons of Old Russian architecture and canons of Art Nouveau: asymmetrically located balconies and windows, tower-like ledges. Peaked roofs, arched window openings, a lattice with lions on the crest, a steeple with a rooster, snake-formed and dragon-formed (some, however, see crocodiles) brackets under balconies contribute to the fairy tale appearance. The main decoration of the house is majolica mosaics depicting fantastic representatives of the Slavic folklore flora and fauna: from owls to Gamayun prophetic birds. One of the frontals is decorated with a panel that depicts bull and bear fighting. The Sun (Yarilo God) overlooks them. This is one of the ancient Slavic mythological scenes, where the bear personifies Veles, the god of wealth and harvest, and the bull — Perun, the god of thunder.

The mosaic was made after the drawings of Malyutin who gave advice to make the majolica at the Murava workshop established by young artists of the Stroganov School. At that time, the workshop was short of orders and about to close. After making the mosaic for Pertsova's tenament house, the artists successfully run their business for as long as 10 years.

The house was ordered by railroad engineer named Pyotr Pertsov for his wife Zinaida. It was conceived specifically for the artistic intellectuals: Robert Falk, Aleksandr Kuprin, Vasily Rozhdestvensky, Nathan Altman, and others, who lived there at different times. In 1908 - 1909, the basement housed the legendary cabaret “Bat”, a favorite location of Moscow bohemia attended by such habitués as Feodor Chaliapin, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, and many actors of the Moscow Art Theater.

Merchant Igumnov’s House: Orange Sirins

Another fairytale tower house is located on Bolshaya Yakimanka Street, within a walking distance from Pertsova's House. The house was built in 1895 for merchant Nikolai Igumnov, the owner of the Yaroslavl manufactory, after the project of architect Nikolai Pozdeev, a master of Russian eclecticism.

The roof with four sloping surfaces is crowned with an openwork lattice. The skillfully carved cornices are hanging above five arched window openings, the middle of which is decorated with drop ornaments, an element typical for Russian architecture of the 17th century.

The building was made of Dutch bricks, finished with natural carved stone, and decorated with tiles. These tiles, made at the Kuznetsov’s porcelain factory after drawings of ceramics artist Semyon Maslennikov, encircle the building with a continuous ribbon. The tiles depict flowers and birds, among which there are blue ones with a crown, and orange Sirins.

The time span of 2010 to 2014 saw large-scale restoration of facades and fencing, while the job on tiles appeared to be the most challenging. The slightly damaged tiles were restored on site, the lost ones were replaced with new ones made by comparison with analogues. The facility became the winner of the Moscow Government contest “Moscow Restoration” in the nomination “The Best Restoration Project”.

List’s Mansion: Marvels of Undersea

While walking along Smolensky Boulevard, be sure to turn into Glazovsky Lane. There you will come across a mansion considered to be the first Moscow building in Art Nouveau style. It was built in 1899 by architect Lev Kekushev for his family, who sold it shortly after to Moscow businessman Otto List.

The two-story building is asymmetrical, which is a typical trace of Art Nouveau. Window openings have rounded corners. A small column of black granite at the semi-recessed balcony, a massive plinth, and floral ornaments made in stone refer to stylized motifs of Romanesque architecture, while mosaic friezes and panels are decorative elements typical of Art Nouveau. Incidentally, this mansion is the only Kekushev’s building with mosaics.

The frieze depicts snowdrops against a gold background and the snowdrops form a wavy ornament. The panel reproduces an undersea scene: fish swim around the algae flowers, a whiskered crawfish comes to the foreground. In the lower right corner, you will notice a monogram W.W. Perhaps these are the initials of William Walcott, an employee of the Kekushev bureau. This way he signed some of his graphic works.

Ryabushinski’s Mansion: Giant Orchids and Irises

Four years after the first Moscow Art Nouveau building was designed, perhaps the most bizarre structure in this style was erected at the Malaya Nikitskaya Street. “Not a single straight line, not a single right angle”, this is how Maksim Gorky who was settled there by decision the Soviet government in 1931 after his return from the island of Capri, described Stepan Ryabushinski's mansion.

Everything that the proletarian writer disliked is so much delighting nowadays. Walls, entrances, and balconies protrude asymmetrically thus creating different cubic volumes; the building seems to grow to the sides and upward, like a plant. All windows are different in shape; frames and balconies' lattices echo the curls of a wrought-iron fence in the form of an oncoming wave or shell.

One of the most prominent decorations of the house is a mosaic frieze depicting orchids and irises. The flowers were giant as architect Feodor Shekhtel loved large floral details. His son recalled how the architect frequented the market in search of a particular type of orchid. Then he arranged them under different angles of a light source and made sketches. Pieces of golden smalt are introduced into the mosaic, which creates a flickering effect in the sun.

Belyaev’s Mansion: Poppies and Sakura

Admirers of floral mosaics can also go for a walk in the Tagansky District. Here, at the crossroads of Yauzskaya Street and Ryumin Lane, you will find a house with poppies. In 1903, the Art Nouveau mansion was rebuilt from an 18th-century building as ordered by haberdasher Dmitry Belyaev.

The building was designed by Aleksandr Galetsky, an apprentice of Feodor Shekhtel. The facade is tiled with grey-green ceramic tiles, two rows of window openings are decorated with a curving belt. A decorative element stretches along the entire perimeter under the cornice, where flowering sakura and mascarons of Lorelei nymphs alternate. The wrought-iron balcony railing on the corner turret is made in the form of irises and tulips.

But the most prominent flowers, that gave the house an unofficial name, are located on the mosaic panel “Poppies at Sunset” at the gable facade from the former garden side. The panel was ordered to be made at the Venetian Murano Glass Factory. It is believed that the poppies on the house symbolize the four periods of human life. From above, the panel is framed by stucco molding representing a garland of red flowers with wreaths and ribbons.