cathy4.jpg

The Loot: Hermitage at AGO, Pt 4/5


Just try to pimp this ride: the Romanov Coronation Coach, a great
example of 18th-century style—and excess. Catherine the Great was
carried to her own coronation in it, as were some of her 19th-century
successors.

This fantastic coach is the centrepiece of the objets d’art in the
Catherine the Great: Arts for the Empire show on now at
the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s certainly the biggest item shipped
over from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia,
for the exhibition.

There’s also a good selection of fine china and porcelain cameos,
many by the famous Josiah Wedgwood Manufactory in England.
The most impressive is a large, allegorical bas-relief, Catherine II
Rewarding Art and Protecting Commerce.

It’s stuck in among some of Catherine’s jewels and ornate
snuffboxes, which, though a bit gaudy by today’s standards, give
you a good idea of what constitutes Age of Enlightenment “bling”.

The little room devoted to Russian decorative arts is a let-down,
though. Catherine encouraged Russian artisans to make luxury
items at home that were formerly imported from Western Europe.
But the few pieces on display are little more than upper-class
knick-knacks, and there isn’t much of Russia about them, aside from
the proverbial “Made in Russia” sticker.

Let’s put it in perspective with a modern-day analogy. Would
anyone want to see a Harry Potter lunchbox that they sell by the
crate at Wal-Mart as an example of Chinese decorative arts?

Next week, we’ll take a look at the final section of the Catherine the
Great
show: its paintings.

Image: The Romanov Coronation Coach
designed by Milon for the Royal Gobelin Factory, Paris,
first quarter 18th century
painted figures attributed to François Boucher (French, 1703-1770),
oak, ash, beech and walnut, silver, iron, copper, bronze, steel,
glass, leather, silk, cloth, gilt
© The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2005


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