cathy3.jpg

The Enlightenment: Hermitage at AGO, Pt 3/5


The cult of celebrity ain’t new. The sections on the Enlightenment and
Neoclassicism in the Catherine the Great: Arts for the Empire show
at the AGO prove that. The exhibition, running now until January 1,
2006, features a collection of items having to do with Catherine the
Great
brought to Toronto from the State Hermitage Museum in St.
Petersburg, Russia.

Long before preteen girls set up shrines to Marky Mark or the
bobby-soxers swooned over Ol’ Blue Eyes, Catherine the Great had a
whole series of paintings of the famous French philosophe Voltaire.

See Voltaire ride a horse! See Voltaire play chess! See that and more
at the AGO! They’re hardly Raphaels, but they give an interesting
perspective on celebrity worship. Catherine even had a scale model
made of Voltaire’s house at Ferney, France.

Interestingly, Catherine never met Voltaire. But as with many
celebrities, sometimes it’s easier to like them that way. Busts
not only of Voltarie, but of Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
and other thinkers kept Catherine company, too.

The Neoclassical segment has some intriguing parallels. Studies
of Roman ruins from Catherine’s collection are offset by drawings
and plans for Catherine’s retreat at Tsarskoye Selo (“The Tsar’s
Village”), outside St. Petersburg.

Catherine’s desire to have a Roman-style villa begs one question,
though—what did they do when it snowed? You’d never know
looking at the plans, which show nothing but blue skies and
greenery in the gardens.

Cicero never was big on sleigh rides or vodka shooters.

Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the most impressive loot
from the Catherine the Great exhibition.

Image: Voltaire Taming a Horse (detail)
Jean Hubert
1750-1775
oil on canvas
© The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2005


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