Catherine the Great was one of Russia’s most successful rulers and one of the greatest art collectors of all time.
In this exhibition from 2012, visitors to the National Museum of Scotland could explore Catherine’s reign through her own collections, which reflected her personal interests and provided a fascinating glimpse of the wealth and magnificence of the Imperial Russian court.
(All images © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg)
This is a small version of the huge painting that Eriksen undertook for the Audience Hall in the great palace at Peterhof. Catherine is depicted in Horse-Guard’s uniform on her stallion ‘Brilliant’.
François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778) was a philosopher, writer, journalist, historian and orator. He criticised all aspects of feudal relationships, despotic forms of government and clerical views. This bust was made after his return to Paris after a 20-year exile at Ferney, in Switzerland.
Jean-Dominique Rachette modelled these and other related figures on engravings in the famous traveller and explorer Johann Gottlieb Georgi’s ‘Description of All the Peoples inhabiting the Russian Empire’, published in 1776–77.
The lid and sides of the box show the new factory at Tula, which was designed by Kozma Sokolnikov, the Tula factory’s principal architect. Although the project was approved in 1782, the complex was never built. The box itself was made by Andrian Sukhanov. There were originally 80 chess pieces, but only 44 have survived.
In 1776 Catherine placed an order with the French factory of Sèvres for a 744-piece service for 60 people, as a gift to Prince Potemkin. The decoration reflected Catherine’s interest in Classical history and mythology and in cameos. The grateful Potemkin gave Catherine an angora cat in thanks. The service cost 328,188 livres, payment of which was made over 24 years.
This is a sketch for one of three paintings commissioned by Catherine in 1791, at the end of the Turkish Wars to show she was continuing Peter’s foreign policy of strengthening and expanding the empire. Catherine points to the military trophies of the battle of Chesme that have been laid before the magnificent tomb of Peter the Great, which did not actually exist.
Catherine’s two oldest grandsons are depicted as close friends, emphasised by the medallion representing the Classical heroes Castor and Pollux, who symbolise indestructable brotherly love and solidarity in battle. Alexander and Constantine are shown before a statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, probably representing Catherine herself.
This is a sketch for the central painting of Rubens’s famous ceiling in the Banqueting Hall of the Palace of Whitehall, London, commissioned by Charles I. It shows Charles’s father, James VI and I being crowned by figures personifying Religion, Faith, Justice, Victory and Minerva, on his way to heaven. Rubens’s completed painting was oval and is still in the Banqueting Hall.
Rokotov’s portrait is a version of the large portrait of Catherine by the Swedish artist Antoine Roslin, and was one of the most popular state portraits of the Empress. Her gesture with the sceptre towards the bust of Peter the Great and the inscription ‘She is completing that which was begun’ drove home the message that Catherine was continuing emperor’s work.
This painting is one of a series of views of St Petersburg which were completed between 1796 and 1803. It has been suggested that the series was created to mark the centenary of the foundation of St Petersburg.