Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as the new capital of his empire – a showcase of Russia’s power and its aspirations to become a modern westernized state. The ambitious city project featured a rational urban plan with monumental Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. Its massive scale necessitated a special law that temporarily prohibited all masonry construction throughout the rest of the empire so that all available resources could be applied to the new city.
Plan stolichnago goroda Sanktpeterburga s izobrazhenīem znatn︠i︡eĭshikh onago prospektov, izdannyĭ trudami Imperatorskoĭ akademī︠i︡a nauk i khudozhestv v Sanktpeterburg︠i︡e, 1753 was published at the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Arts in Saint Petersburg on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the capital, and its map and accompanying views show Saint Petersburg as it appeared only a half-century after its founding. The volume was considered a masterpiece of Russian engraving and copies of it were sent as gifts to major libraries and royal establishments throughout Europe. The work was reprinted several times during the 2nd half of the 18th century, the plates being struck from the same copperplates with reset index text.
The map along with its detailed index indicates not only existing structures, the more prominent ones being represented in axonometric drawings, but also locations for future construction. There are indications that some buildings had already been demolished at this time. Elizabeth, Empress of Russia, is depicted with allegorical figures and a dedication in the lower left corner. The coat of arms of Saint Petersburg along with the attributes of the sciences, arts, commerce, and warfare is depicted in the upper right corner.
The CCA’s copy includes 16 accompanying views – 12 of Saint Petersburg, and four of the nearby island Kamennyi Ostrov. Of note is the fact that most of the drawings have been drawn from life with the help of a camera obscura, a simple image-making device consisting of a box with a single small opening, lens, and a mirror that allows the image in front of the camera to be projected on paper.