New Zealand Embassy, Moscow, Russian Federation

Architectural features

The external appearance of I.A. Mindovsky’s mansion on Povarskaya Ulitsa, unlike many other earlier buildings by L.N. Kekushev is entirely free of eclectic elements and represents one of the purest examples of Moscow Art Nouveau. As a matter of fact, it was exactly this feature that attracted the sympathies of contemporaries, and, in the long run, made it a textbook example of Russian Art Nouveau included in all serious comtemporary publications about Moscow architectural monuments of this time. The harmonic general composition, the relief frieze, the window openings and casements, the shoulder pieces and keystones, the rich sculptured dйcor, the balcony parapets, the fencing and the gates – all these perfectly embody the very specific “Kekushev Art Nouveau", the style developed fully in the creative work of the Moscow master at that time.

The building very organically anchored the corner of the block between Povarskaya Ulitsa and Skatyatinsky Pereulok. It is simply impossible to imagine the structure somewhere in the country, beyond urban development, its external appearance intentionally emphasizes profoundly urban features. Incidentally, this feature of Kekushev’s mansions was noted at the beginning of the century, “his houses as compared with others, look more sityish", Boris Nikolaev wrote. And indeed, in terms of its scale and the characteristics of volume/ dimensions, the mansion is very accurately included in the milieu of Arbat side streets. At the same time, it bears no resemblance to the patriarchal mansions of the epoch of Classicism, still preserved in this part of Moscow. It has no harden of any significance, its completely paved small courtyard is strictly functional – the main entrance to the house is located here facing the stables (the sculpted head of a horse above the entrance testifies to this) and the outbuildings which were evidently turned quite quickly into garages. The building occupies a corner location between street and side street and interacts with the two in a different manner – the facades visible from Povarskaya and the side street and the ones facing them are rendered differently. It is worth mentioning, by the way, that the architect worked without customer’s dictates and made provision for establishing the grand entrance directly from the side street, which is indicated by the side window opening in the vestibule easily convertible into a door opening.

In this building Kekushev departs completely from the traditional order system. The house “body" – a closely compacted prismatic volume cut with two rows of windows, sunk in the wall and varying in size and contour – is somewhat stronger than usual, as always with Kekushev. The structure seems to be “ingrown" into the earth, which is achieved by another technique typical of the architect – the socle faced with French plaster broadens somewhat downwards be means of a deviation from the vertical.

Only the plans of the author’s original project have survived, but they are not illuminated and therefore the significance of the majority of the rooms is not known. Collating these with existing planning, one realizes that in the course of construction the original concept was subject to some changes, although the main idea though remained intact. The first floor was designed to be the grand floor of the erected building. The very compact and balanced general composition is characterized by the rationality and forethought so typical of the architect. The building volume is as if made of equidimensional prisms set against each other, which is one of a number of traditional regular Kekushev techniques. Such positioning makes it possible to do without dark corridors and passages, with all groups of rooms have windows facing the street. The unwritten law of architectural space organization is maintained – the moment you are in the house, you should always move “towards the light", the connection with the outer world as it were orientating you in the interior.

In the building you are constantly reminded of the architect’s mastery and his individual language of volumes and shapes. On the shole, the asymmetrical composition of the mansion contains individual symmetrical elements punctuated in the silhouette by the two attics and the very distinct curvilinear canopies, as if growing our of the deep cornice contouring the upper part of the structure. Such techniques are also typical of the master. The upper parts of his Nikolskie Shopping Arcades (1899-1900), V.D.Nosov’s mansion (1903), I.P.Isakov’s Apartment House in Ostozhenka (1904-1906), and Bykov’s Apartment House in 2nd Brestskaya Ulitsa (1909-1910) are finished in the same manner.

Window openings, traditionally of varying height and width, are done in an absolutely specific “Kekushev way". The architect places them somewhat deeper than usual and arranges around them original multiplayer relief compositions that remind one of perspective portals in ancient Russian architecture. In the given case it is hard to call their appearance “kokoshnik" platbands, although the link to this traditional form of finishing facades is undoubtedly present. Window framing in I.A. Mindovsky’s mansion does not stand out above the wall plane but on the contrary – it sinks into it, which is also as, too, the sculptural dйcor that upwards reminds of keystones and downwards, of rosettes. The viscosity of the sculptural ornament which is mostly sunk in the wall and increscent toward the crowning cornice stresses the solidity of the building volume even more.

Mention should be made of the curvilinear window crosswork, typical for Kekushev that distinctly shows three-dimensionality. For example, the intensely bent crossbar of the glazed door above the balcony on the first floor that faces Povarskaya Ulitsa protrudes significantly and throws a shadow like an architectural detail of full value. Very sculpturesque and expressive are not just decorative elements, like for example, the marvelous framing of the oval in the bay window at the corner, but also the shaped shoulder pieces that visually support the bay windows and balcony. Their sofr expression is the very essence of Art Nouveau plasticity – at the same time both showy and objectively expressing the energy conceded in the work of construction.

Among Kekushev’s tricks of the trade is the lavish use of sculptural decoration, including wall-mounted relief and round sculptures. As a rule, they are allegoric or symbolic. Literally all his structures are decorated with statuary lions of masques of lions. The Mindovsky mansion is no exception – leonine masques lavishly decorate the railing of the grand staircase. In such a manner, Lev Kekushev (“lev" means “lion" in Russian!), loyal to an each inclined to read-in latent meanings and employ multipurpose architectural details, usually encoded his authorial signature.

I.A.Mindovsky’s mansion is also decorated with an embossed panel with naked putti as an allegory of the arts – one is playing a pipe, another is sculpting vase, and the third one, with a pair of compasses, is thinking of something over a sheet of paper. Previously, there were pieces of statuary over the curvilinear attic facing the street – a representation of a young woman with two small children playing at her feet. It is hard to tell what the group meant, whether it was a symbol of happy family life, an allegory of maternity of patronage of arts (putti-infants). The quality of the faзade sculptural dйcor varies but its role as an important unifying component in general composition goes without saying.

Among the works of Kekushev, the I.A. Mindovsky mansion occupies a special place not only because it was created without taking into account the requirements of an actual customer. Basically, working like that was nothing out of the ordinary for Kekushev. Having built his own mansions in Glazovsky Pereulok and Ostozhenka, the architect sold them almost at once and probably envisaged their sale from the very beginning. While working on those buildings, he was not only free of diktat of future owners but could implement his creative ideas. The only limitation in these works was the availability of materials for finishing work. And from that perspective, the mansions in Povarskaya Ulitsa afforded him an opportunity to show his skill in the field of synthesis of arts. Conceived by Ya.A.Rekk, the buildings had to attract buyers both by their stylish external appearance but also by the lavish interior decoration, on which The Moscow Trading-and-Construction Joint Stock Company did not spare money.

Taking into account the uncertainty of the tastes of an imaginary customer, the interior ensemble of the future I.A.Mindovsky mansion was made intentionally multi-style. Nest to interior in Art Nuveau, we find rooms finished in respectable classical forms. After the vast quadrangular area of vestibule, the main focus of which was the magnificent geometrical stained-glass panel and the beautiful finished leaves of the entrance door, visitors found themselves on the grand half-pace stair – the key element of the inner space arrangement of the house and a happy combination of Art Nouveau and Classicism. The leading role in the staircase finishing was the huge coloured stained-glass window with plant ornament. Its colour palette is such that no matter what the actual weather it looks as if the sun is shining and sky is blue. The stained-glass window has been restored: the middle and upper parts are original, whereas the lower one is a replacement of the lost original made stylistically close and added in the times of the Embassy.

The stairs, railing piers and balustrade of the grand staircase are made of natural marble of beautiful texture in a golden-and-brown colour, perfectly matching the bronze railing of the stairs, with leonine masques in the middle. The sculptural frieze of the grand staircase in the likeness of a procession and alluding to archetypes from antiquity consisted of three major groups repeated on each side.

The plafond above the staircase was probably made similar by the author to the complexly organized paneled ceilings of Italian palazzo. In the bas-relief he depicted subtle, refined arabesque painted in warm, earthly colours. In the center of the ceiling, where the chandelier was attached, painting – a small, created the illusion of a rectangular aperture open to the blue sky with little clouds floating by, but original pointed plafond, which emphasized the heavenward aspiration of the entire staircase space.

Upstairs, the grand rooms were arranged in the shape of a horseshoe along the side street, and the tiny garden that separated the building from the neighbouring site. Leftward, there was a grand hall connected to two charming reception rooms. The rooms situated on the corner and looking out simultaneously on the street and the side street was not large in area but was striking for the abundance of light coming through four large windows. The other reception room with its oval oriel located at the other end of the hall possibly was originally a single whole with it – gold-coloured marble columns with bronze bases and chapiters enclosed into a partition between the premises make us think of a different spatial configuration. This reception room had rich decorative finishing. Its high tripartite window faced the side street and a huge coloured stained-glass window depicting Pan, the nature-god – an important character of symbolist mythology and arts, faced the yard. Later, the stained-glass window was enclosed from the inside by a blind wall. Currently, a fragment of the stained-glass window is exposed and will be followed by a full-scale restoration supported by the Main Administration for Service to the Diplomatic Corps.

The huge plafond in relief in this room of the building also represents an allegory. The probability is that it depicts kingdom of Flora, since its characters – young cheerful women and chubby putti-infants – are drawing in a set of flowers. All that fairytale idyllic disorder is counterposed by the close-tongued unsmiling figure of a seated sphinx, a symbol of eternity and unrevealed mystery. There is no telling what the artist who created this sculpture meant. Perhaps, it is a hint at the mystery of life and human happiness that always remains a riddle. At each end of the plafond are small bowshaped stained-glass panels/ leaves depicting ducks in flight (the panels are whitewashed now).

The finishing of the central hall was intended to be modest. Its walls of warm yellowish colour with shallow paneling combine well with the gold colour of the doors that connect the grand hall with the staircase hall and the reception rooms which are finished with Karelian birch. The central attraction in the grand hall is a mirrored fireplace, faced with delicate natural stone of a mossy green colour with aureola.

Also entirely original is the finishing of the so-called “lantern" that perhaps initially was a little green house. It occupies the southern corner of the building and has glazing from floor to ceiling. Originally the glazing was absolutely unique – it was made of glass with typical Art Nouveau ornament produced by acid etching. Unfortunately, not all of it has survived. That finishing detail was quite unique, and we are unlikely to find it anywhere else in Moscow. It may well be that certain elements of coloured stained-glass panels were also used to decorate the ceiling in this room.

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