Swiss painter Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) was one of the greats amongst the Neoclassical artists. Through her portraits and history paintings, she...
Alexandra Kiely 30 August 2022
min Read25 March 2022
Catherine the Great (1729-1796) ruled almost the entire second half of the 18th century. Her reign was very successful on the world arena and gave solutions to a number of political problems. Take a look at these famous portraits of Catherine the Great, the woman who inspired people to call the century by her name – Catherine’s era!
Catherine the Great, born Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst, came from a small Northern German family. In 1744, Sophia Augusta arrived in Russia and married the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Peter.
However, Empress Elisabeth of Russia took a dislike to her daughter-in-law. Catherine seemed too smart, and therefore dangerous. She lived in an atmosphere of constant surveillance and hostility. However, Catherine the Great had no shortage of clothes and jewelry, as we can see in her portraits of that time.
In 1762, Catherine II was behind a palace coup and became the Empress of all the Russias. She developed the intelligence and abilities of a major statesperson. She was very educated and knew much about science. Catherine regularly corresponded with Voltaire and his associates, discussing the Enlightened absolutism and tried to make this policy stick in Russia.
Read how Catherine the Great was behind the opening of the first female educational institute in Russia!
Italian painter Stefano Torelli designed the coronation celebrations in Moscow, and then became a court painter. He painted Catherine the Great’s portrait as the goddess of wisdom, Minerva, in armor and a helmet, with an owl, a symbol of wisdom. Three female figures, as well as three cupids, represent the “three noble arts” – painting, sculpture and architecture. Two female figures on the left are allegories of peace and war, in the center is the muse of history, Cleo, who keeps historical records. Finally, there is Saturn with a scythe.
The Empress even turned to journalism. In 1769 she began to publish the satirical magazine “Anything and Everything,” the main idea of which Catherine called “satire in a smiling spirit.” The Empress wanted to divert public opinion from criticism of the state system, therefore reducing the matter to ironic ridicule at fashionistas and dandies.
As you can see from Catherine the Great’s portraits, she was quite a fashionista herself! Read a beauty guide she would have used today.
Catherine the Great herself called this portrait by Rokotov her favorite. It was timed to coincide with the coronation of the great Empress. Catherine II is depicted in profile. Her face is clearly visible against the background of classical architecture with a massive column. It looks just like the profiles of the great Roman emperors on coins and medals of antiquity.
The Danish portrait painter Vigilius Eriksen captured the 33-year-old Catherine on the day when, at the head of the twelve thousandth army, she left Petersburg to arrest the deposed emperor Peter III. But the matter did not come to military action, since Peter III voluntarily abdicated the throne.
The young Empress is depicted with a sword triumphantly raised in her right hand. This is a double portrait – in addition to the Empress, it depicts Brilliant (eng. Diamond), her beloved horse, whose appearance is very authentic and lively. He proudly arches his thoroughbred neck and expressively looks at the viewer with a clever, shiny eye.
While flirtatious and charming, the Empress still possessed a sharp mind. She did not know how to conduct secular conversations, claiming that the Parisian world would hardly have liked her since she did not know how to show the “subtlety of feelings.” But Catherine shone in conversations concerning issues of philosophy, history, and politics. Dmitry Levitsky, who equally skillfully mastered all forms of portraits, knew how to find an approach to such a difficult model.
In general, the Empress was not a fan of excessive luxury. She even issued a special decree stating that it was forbidden to make silver or gold lace on caftans more than 9 centimeters wide. As a result, most of her images present a regal person with a neat hairstyle, without excessive splendor.
All her life, Catherine wanted to become more Russian than the Russians themselves. And she succeeded! The woman, who spoke Russian with an accent, made a huge number of grammatical and spelling mistakes, really managed to become the embodiment of “Russianness.” She cultivated the national, without going into caricature.
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