Mineral Review

Where did the Amber Room go after the war?

The Amber Room is the pearl of the Catherine Palace and one of the most famous interiors created in the 18th century. There are many secrets and legends associated with its history. The Amber Room was made by the best craftsmen of Prussia; it was given by Frederick William I as a diplomatic gift to Peter I. During the Great Patriotic War, the relic was stolen by the Germans, after which it mysteriously disappeared. She has been wanted for decades. The question of finding valuable exhibits has long been exciting the minds of scientists. What was the “eighth wonder of the world”? How did the Amber Room get to Russia? Where do experts think it could be located?

Creation Amber room

The Amber Room was 7,8 meters high and had an area of ​​100 square meters. To make the cladding of three walls, 6 tons of amber from the Kaliningrad deposit were needed. The largest nugget weighing 1 kilogram was bought from a metropolitan collector for 1 thousand dollars. The Amber Cabinet is the only interior that is decorated with this unique mineral, which has such poetic names as tears of the sea and the gift of the sun. In the 1770s, during the reign of Catherine II, the creation of the amazing decoration was completed. The amber decoration was on three tiers and occupied three walls of the room. The middle tier consisted of eight vertical panels. On four of them, compositions of colored stones were installed, which were made by the great stone cutter and engraver Louis Siries according to sketches by the artist Giuseppe Zocchi in Florence in 1752. The panels, which were created using the Florentine mosaic technique from Sicilian jaspers and Marema flints, described allegories of the five senses: sight, taste, hearing, touch and smell. Mirror pilasters were placed in the spaces between them. The history of the Amber Room began at the end of the 17th – beginning of the 18th century in Prussia.

The history of the creation of the Amber Room

King Frederick III of Prussia, after ascending the throne, decided to fulfill the whim of his wife Charlotte Sophia by rebuilding a small summer palace in Litzenburg. The Queen wanted to add some splendor to the interior, making one of the rooms especially unusual. Photo: © TASS/Roland Weihrauch/DPA The architect Johann Friedrich Eosander was invited for this purpose. Amber and ivory carver Gottfried Wolfram came from Copenhagen to help him. When the queen died, work on creating amber panels stopped. They were never installed in Litzenburg Palace. The new king, Frederick William I, placed the already made panels in one of the offices of the Berlin Royal Castle. In 1716, on his way to France, Peter I stopped in Gabelberg (near Berlin) and met with Friedrich Wilhelm I. The All-Russian Emperor was fascinated by the paintings. And the Prussian monarch gave him an amber cabinet and the yacht “Liburnika” as a diplomatic gift on the occasion of the conclusion of the Russian-Prussian alliance. The amber panels were delivered to St. Petersburg in 18 boxes. There they were received by Governor Alexander Menshikov. However, the collection was missing several details, and the amber cabinet was never installed under Peter I. In 1743, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna remembered the amber panels that were kept in the Summer Palace. She ordered the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli to install them in the Third Winter Palace under construction. The master showed ingenuity and fixed mirror pilasters and amber-like paintings in place of the missing parts. In 1745, the Prussian king Frederick II wanted to win over Elizabeth Petrovna, so he gave her another amber panel, the design of which glorified the empress. The Amber Room served as a hall for official receptions in the Third Winter Palace. In July 1755, the amber interior moved to the Catherine Palace, located in Tsarskoe Selo. In 1770, Catherine II decided to add several details to the Amber Room. We made eight flat panels for the lower tier, eight panels for pilasters and many other links. Then the room took on its final form. These changes took about 450 kilograms of amber. The decoration was restored several times. The last major restoration was scheduled for 1941.

Disappearance of the Amber Room

During the Great Patriotic War, German invaders stole the Amber Room and sent it to Konigsberg (Kaliningrad). There she was part of the exhibition in the hall of the Koenigsberg Museum for many years. On April 6, 1945, during the retreat of German troops, the amber panels were dismantled and taken out of the city in an unknown direction. There are a large number of versions about where the unique panels are located, but it still remains a mystery. Photo: © RIA Novosti/Rudolf Kucherov Restoring the amber decoration began in the late 70s. The work lasted almost 24 years. 7,85 million dollars from the Russian budget were allocated for this, and another 3,5 million dollars were allocated by the German concern RuhrGas. In May 2003, the Amber Room was opened to visitors. It is also called the eighth wonder of the world.

Assumptions about the location of the Amber Room

There are several theories about where the real Amber Room went. Some claim that the Amber Room is hidden in the north of the Jutland Peninsula, others claim that the Soviet authorities gave the amber panels to the United States as payment for supplies under Lend-Lease. Many agree that the amber decoration was taken out and hidden in a cache on the territory of some country. Traces of the Amber Room were discovered by historian Sergei Trifonov in the bunker-dugout of the last commandant of Koenigsberg, Otto Lyash, allegedly the room is connected by underground passages to the Royal Castle, where the relic was previously located. In 2020, Polish divers found the steamer Karlsruhe at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, which is believed to have transported the famous Amber Room. This ship with 350 tons of cargo was sunk 75 years ago. Experts have opened boxes recovered from the sunken ship; no amber decoration has yet been found there. At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the interior, donated to Peter the Great in the 18th century, was stolen by the Nazis who occupied Tsarskoe Selo. It is known that they disassembled it, packed it into boxes and took it to Konigsberg, where they reassembled it. After that, the room disappeared without a trace.

The hunt began before the war

The Amber Room was removed from the Catherine Palace less than a month after the Nazis began occupying Pushkin. This speed suggests that careful preparations were made for its removal, and preparations began even before the start of the war. This conclusion is supported not only by the speed with which the abduction was carried out. At the end of the 30s, a group of German art historians visited the USSR under the leadership of leading expert Niels von Holst, who led the external relations of Berlin museums. “Kunstkomission”, which he led, worked in Moscow, Leningrad and Lithuania. By the beginning of the war, art historians had a secretly prepared list of cultural property from Soviet museums for export to Germany. “The Amber Room was number one on the list of 60 objects that the Germans were going to take away from Pushkin, then this list was expanded by them,” said Iraida Bott, deputy director for scientific work at the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. — And already on September 29, 1941, 12 days after the start of the occupation, two “military art historians” appeared in the Catherine Palace, whose task was to control the export. The amber room was dismantled by six people from a construction company under the leadership of a non-commissioned officer, packed and taken out, this happened on October 10, 1941.” Read more:
Palaces returning from the war. 75 years of the liberation of Peterhof from German occupation The officer who led the theft of the Amber Room was Ernst-Otto von Solms-Laubach, a count, colonel of the German army and doctor of art history. In March 1942, reports appeared in the German press that the Amber Room was located in Königsberg, accompanied by photographs of the interior. “The Germans were able to assemble it, we know about this fact from photographs from the German magazine Pantheon, published in the early spring of 1942. They had several months to restore the amber panels, they had specialists, including Solms himself, an art critic with a serious education, he even participated in the restoration of icons in Pskov. They were able to attach pieces of amber that were coming away from the wooden base. Later, to complete the impression, they demanded that three doors from this interior be sent from the Catherine Palace. These photographs are interesting for another feature: from them we learned that one of the four Florentine mosaics of the Amber Room, “Touch and Smell,” disappeared during transportation from Pushkin to Konigsberg, and was found only in the 1990s,” says Bott. It has now been returned to the museum, it is the original, and can be seen in the revived Amber Room.

Reliably recreated

Evidence of how the Amber Room was removed has not been preserved, but the authors of three-dimensional panoramas about the war from the Nevsky Battalist association decided to restore the moment of the abduction with a high degree of historical accuracy. The story of the theft of the Amber Room will be part of a new exhibition at the Victory Museum in Moscow. “We wanted to reveal the image of the removal of valuables from the country, and we could not ignore the image of the Amber Room,” said the author of three-dimensional panoramas, Dmitry Poshtarenko. In Kaliningrad, the Nevsky Battalist association created a three-dimensional panorama “Konigsberg-45. The Last Assault”, which shows the situation on the city streets in April 1945 – barricades, destroyed houses, abandoned military equipment, the interiors of an old cafe and, among all this, boxes in which elements of the Amber Room were packed after dismantling. To create a new story about the Amber Room, the authors of the panorama raised historical materials and consulted with specialists from the Tsarskoe Selo State Museum-Reserve. “The fact that this will be shown in reconstruction is the right thing to do, although it will not entirely accurately reflect the historical situation. But it is important to show this, because the Amber Room immediately after the war became a symbol of the loss of cultural property,” says Iraida Bott. The restorers of the Amber Room shared with the authors of the panorama the sketches that were being prepared to recreate the amber panels, and showed several small test samples. “We will recreate the panels based on the examples provided by the Tsarskoye Selo amber workshop. There were a few plaster “drafts” left for the actual panels. Before carving from amber, they made rough panels from plasticine, cast them in plaster, and they completely replicate the design of the original panel. We also removed the mold from these ingots, and several panels will be one to one; the artists simply cut out several from photographs. Of course, this is not amber – an imitation, but we try to convey the pattern and colors as much as possible, so that a person immediately understands what we are talking about – so that there is a recognizable image of the Amber Room,” explained Ulyana Mazurova, a specialist in exhibition activities of the Nevsky Battalist association. .

It is acceptable to deviate from history.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the work is to compose such a composition in order to tell a story in one moment. “There is a small fragment: the corner of the Amber Room, where an officer stands – an official who was responsible for the removal of valuables in the Leningrad region. We show not only an artistic line, but also a historical one, and using the example of this person, other topics can be raised. One of the officers removes a panel from the wall, the second stands with a list. I’m still working on his gesture, I think I want to make it interesting. Maybe to have a piece of amber fall from his hands, maybe to make it with a camera. We will continue to refine the plot,” Poshtarenko said. In this scene, the creators of the composition plan to take into account the details reported by the museum-reserve staff. At the time when German troops occupied Tsarskoye Selo and gained access to the Catherine Palace, the Amber Room did not look like a ceremonial interior. As Iraida Bott said, the decorative panels, which could not be removed from the walls in advance for evacuation, were covered with cloth, rags and gauze to prevent scattering. “Why didn’t our people dismantle the panels? Because they tried to remove them – and they fell off, since the properties of the glue had been lost by that moment. They wanted to restore the room in 1941, but the war got in the way. Pieces of these mosaics have already crumbled, and if they were dismantled in a hurry, they would simply take away the fragments of these panels in a bag. So we left them and glued them,” Bott said. Ulyana Mazurova said that in the panorama the decoration of the Amber Room itself will be practically not visible, because they will show the camouflage of the walls, but the amber panels will be in the hands of German officers – at the moment when they remove them and put them in boxes. It is impossible to judge how accurately this will repeat events from history. “The evidence has not survived. There were no eyewitnesses who would leave their story “How I participated in the dismantling.” We know that German art experts arrived here, they were officers, their task was to evaluate, select works of art and prepare them for shipment to Germany,” noted the deputy director of Tsarskoe Selo.

If she were found

In April 1945, the room disappeared without a trace. New versions regularly appear about her whereabouts, but none have been confirmed yet. “Many people believe, and even we sometimes expect, that something will be found from these interiors. We discuss every piece of information about the alleged discovery of the place where the Amber Room was hidden. But we no longer react as much as before. We also believe that it can be in different places,” Bott said. At the same time, museum staff do not rule out that if discovered, the elements of the original amber room will be in a deplorable state, taking into account their pre-war condition and storage conditions, which are most likely far from ideal. The amber interior was restored by Russian craftsmen in the Catherine Palace for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg and opened on May 31, 2003. It was recreated based on surviving historical images from amber brought from Kaliningrad. Six tons of selected amber and almost $8 million were spent on this work. The work on recreating the amber cabinet lasted about 25 years. “Today’s Amber Room is a scientific reconstruction that united the efforts of specialists from various professions, who helped restore both the height of the relief and the nature of the material. And we found a method of coloring amber that had been lost over the years. We now believe that this reconstruction is scientific and very closely corresponds to what it was,” noted the deputy director of the museum-reserve. Nowadays, the Amber Room is the most popular object among tourists in Tsarskoe Selo. It is visited by up to 3,5 million people a year. Ekaterina Andreeva, Yulia Andreeva

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