Ruthless and passionate, Catherine the Great is singularly responsible for amassing one of the most awe-inspiring collections of art in the world and turning St. Petersburg in to a world wonder. The Empress of Art brings to life the creation of this captivating woman's greatest legacy
An art-oriented biography of the mighty Catherine the Great, who rose from seemingly innocuous beginnings to become one of the most powerful people in the world. A German princess who married a decadent and lazy Russian prince, Catherine mobilized support amongst the Russian nobles, playing off of her husband's increasing corruption and abuse of power. She then staged a coup that ended with him being strangled with his own scarf in the halls of the palace and herself crowned the Empress of Russia.
Intelligent and determined, Catherine modeled herself off of her grandfather in-law, Peter the Great, and sought to further modernize and westernize Russia. She believed that the best way to do this was through a ravenous acquisition of art, which Catherine often used as a form of diplomacy with other powers throughout Europe. She was a self-proclaimed "glutton for art" and she would be responsible for the creation of the Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, second only to the Louvre. Catherine also spearheaded the further expansion of St. Petersburg, and the magnificent architectural wonder the city became is largely her doing. There are few women in history more fascinating than Catherine the Great, and for the first time, Susan Jaques brings her to life through the prism of art.
Art writer Jaques (A Love for the Beautiful) portrays Catherine II of Russia (1729 1796), founder of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as a shrewd investor in this considerate biography of the art-obsessed monarch. The ambitious, German-born empress remains a rich source of material for biographers due to her legendary love life as well as her determination to "put her picture gallery on the map." Catherine, a voracious reader as well as a supporter of "enlightened despotism," deftly maneuvered her way out of a loveless marriage and carried out the expansionist mandate of Peter the Great. In an effort to match the art collection of Frederick the Great of Prussia, she engaged advisers such as French philosopher Denis Diderot. With the Parisian art scene heating up in the late 18th century, Catherine bought in bulk, often from the heirs of well-known collectors. Russia's deep pockets afforded her masses of silver, porcelain, gems, and other objects, much of which she bequeathed to her beloved grandson, Alexander. By 1791 she had outstripped her rivals, and her relentless pursuit of artwork had turned St. Petersburg into a cultural center. The Hermitage marked its 250th anniversary in 2014, and as Jaques shows, it stands as a fitting testimonial to its visionary founder. Color Photos.