Alexander Vitberg the talented creator of the disappeared cathedrals

A. L. Vitberg. Praying for the cup. early 19th century.
A. L. Vitberg. Praying for the cup. early 19th century.

Alexander Vitberg (Carl Magnus Witberg; born January 15, 1787 died January 12, 1855) Russian artist of the XIX century, who came from the family of a Swedish emigrant. The work of Alexander Lavrentievich Vitberg is a vivid example of the universality of genius. His talent manifested itself equally in paintings and architectural projects. Alexander Vitberg created the first grandiose project of the temple in commemoration of the victory over Napoleon in Moscow, and unfinished for reasons beyond his control. He worked hard for the cultural development of the city of Vyatka. Despite his Swedish origin, until the end of his life he remained an ardent patriot of his new homeland Russia.


Biography of Alexander Lavrentievich Vitberg

Alexander Vitberg (born Karl) was born on January 15, 1787. His father was one of the many foreigners who, since the time of Peter the Great, found a new home in Russia. He moved to St. Petersburg 8 years before the birth of his son. Young Karl did not immediately realize his talents and first began to study mining. As a fifteen-year-old teenager, he showed zeal for painting and moved to the Art Academy. Science was given to him easily, the young man received all possible medals, and after completing his studies, he remained to teach.

For his artistic talent, Karl Vitberg received an honorary medal, having painted in 1809 the painting “Andromache mourning Hector.” Having highly appreciated the abilities of the young man, he was recommended to Professor Grigory Ivanovich Ugryumov, a famous representative of the Russian classical school. 1813 Vitberg spent in Moscow, taking a sabbatical. Here he showed himself as a skillful author of ornaments dedicated to the events of the last war. Then, on the advice of the Minister of Education, the artist began to study architecture. When Emperor Alexander I announced a competition for the best design of a cathedral celebrating the victory of the Russian troops, Vitberg enthusiastically set to work.

E. (M.F.) Andriolli. The pier of the city of Vyatka. 1869 paper on cardboard, pencil, ink.
E. (M.F.) Andriolli. The pier of the city of Vyatka. 1869 paper on cardboard, pencil, ink.

Many world architects competed for the right to become the authors of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, but the emperor liked the version of the unknown Karl Vitberg out of twenty projects submitted. The monumental structure was planned to be three times larger than the modern one, it had a pantheon with many monuments to commanders, a colonnade of 600 columns, and a place for displaying captured weapons.

Alexander Vitberg , Evdokia Viktorovna Puzyrevskaya, the second wife of the architect

On October 12, 1817, the foundation was laid on a vast free area of ​​the Sparrow Hills.

Many donations were received, 16 million rubles were allocated from the treasury. Another 24 thousand were spent on organizing the ceremony. At the same time, the author converted to Orthodoxy, baptized by Alexander, in honor of his crowned successor. Alas, the glorious architect turned out to be a poor organizer. The result of his activities was seven wasted years and a million of stolen money.

The new ruler of Russia, Nicholas I, demanded a report. Everyone who supervised the work was arrested. For almost 11 years, the proceedings went on, as a result of which the perpetrators were fined for the stolen million. The author of the project was exiled to the provincial town of Vyatka in 1835.

Alexander Vitberg engraving from the Witberg Notes.
Engraving from the Witberg Notes.

Information about how the province received Alexander Vitberg varies greatly.

According to some sources, the architect who came with his family and children was in poverty. According to others, he was warmly received by the governor, he made friends with the exiled A.I. Herzen, settled in a good house and got the opportunity to do what he loved. He was looked at as a metropolitan celebrity.

The result of a new creative upsurge was the city’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (stood until 1937, after which it was destroyed by the Bolsheviks). Vitberg gladly set about ennobling the main attraction of the city, the Alexander Garden. A forged lattice and an entrance portal were made according to his sketches. The creation of the brilliant master adorns Vyatka to this day.

Alexander Vitberg , Lavrenty Samoilovich Vitberg, father of the architect

The exiled life continued until 1840, when, after the petition of V.A.Zhukovsky, the architect was allowed to move to St. Petersburg. In the capital, Alexander Vitberg lived on retirement, supported (according to various sources) from 8 to 12 children from two wives. The first died before the Vyatka exile, the second in 1851.

In 1854, the architect was paralyzed. This happened after a fire that destroyed almost all of his papers. The sick master did not last long, leaving for another world on January 12, 1855. His ashes found rest at the Volkovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg, and a stone tombstone was stolen during the Soviet period.

The most famous paintings by Alexander Vitberg

Alexander Vitberg’s paintings and his architectural projects are created according to the classical canons. The most famous of his works:

  1. The Annunciation (early 19th century) is a sketch in which the author depicted the moment of the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Theotokos, accurately capturing the dynamics of movements.
  2. Andromache mourning Hector (1809) is the first significant work of the artist to receive the highest award from the Academy.
  3. “Prayer for the Chalice” (1816) was planned for the painting of the future cathedral. One of the classic images of the gospel story.
  4. “The project of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow” (1817) on the basis of the surviving drawing, the “Reception House” is now being built in Grozny.
  5. “Portrait of Evdokia Viktorovna Vitberg” (1830s) the picture shows the second wife of the painter during exile.
  6. “Portrait of Alexander Herzen with his son” (1836) the artist depicted his friend with a baby born in Vyatka.
Alexander Vitberg , Vitberg rotunda in the Alexander Garden. Vyatka
Vitberg rotunda in the Alexander Garden. Vyatka
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