cathy2.jpg

The Russian Empire: Hermitage at AGO, Pt 2/5


Catherine the Great: Arts for the Empire at the AGO puts treasures
from Russia’s State Hermitage Museum on display for
Torontonians. The show, featuring items related to the reign of
Catherine II “The Great”, runs until January 1, 2006.

The exhibition begins with a sparing chronicle of Catherine’s coup
d’état and some of her immediate family. But it’s not surprising that
the portraits and memorabilia of Catherine’s husband, Peter III (who
was probably murdered), and her son and successor, Paul I (who
was definitely murdered), wouldn’t be copious.

More interesting is the section on the expansion of the Russian
Empire under Catherine. There, fine portraits of Catherine’s
favourites Potemkin and Orlov are surrounded by memorabilia of
their conquests. Samples include an antique globe, a silver tray
gilded with a map of the Black Sea, and a huge, ostentatious inkwell
that would put most coffins to shame.

Two of Catherine’s uniform dresses, modelled on army uniforms, are a
treat. They’re a reminder that autocrats have been dressing up like
soldiers as a propagandistic show of “support for the troops” long
before George W. Bush ever put on a flak jacket.

Finally, merging the themes of family and empire, there’s a section
dedicated to a statue of Peter the Great. Looking to link her reign to
that of her illustrious predecessor, Catherine commissioned the huge
equestrian monument. Obviously, the statue itself didn’t come to
Toronto, but contemporary drawings of its construction, models, and
a big photo on the wall show its scope.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Catherine’s contribution to
Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment.

Image: Portrait of Catherine II in travelling costume (detail)
Unknown artist, after Mikhail Shibanov
oil on canvas
© The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2005


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