Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Catherine looks Great

Now you just don't get a "the great" after your name for doing nothing. Catherine II of Russia's story is quite a...well, great, one when you think about it. So when you see that ever so slight look of smug on her lips, you should smile back and give her a wink.

Let's review a small history of Catherine first. She was actually born with the name of Sophia but changed it when she converted to the Eastern Orthodox religion. She was a minor German princess who (like Marie Antoinette) wholeheartedly embraced her new country's culture when she married the heir to the throne. Her husband was a little wacky and not the nicest person to her. He lasted about six months on the throne before he was assassinated. Since Catherine took the throne after him (as more than just a regent) there were a few fingers pointing at her involvement in the assassination. But it was all for the best since Catherine turned out to be an AWESOME sovereign. She concentrated on catching Russia (or at least the court) up with the rest of Europe and before long the Russian Court became the "It Court" to travel to.

However, Catherine's ascension to the throne was a bit questionable, especially to those outside Russia, and she had to be very careful about her public appearance. The empress was very conscientious about how she was depicted in portraits. She walked a tight line for a while since not only was she a female ruler but a possible tyrannical one. Hmm, was there another woman in history with a similar background who was beloved by the people? How about the goddess of wisdom and sometimes war, Minerva. There are multiple depictions of Catherine as this strong Roman goddess. In an equestrian depiction Catherine is en militaire brandishing a sword to show that despite being a woman she could hold her own just like the former emperor, Peter the Great whom Catherine aspired to. Her state portraits hold to the same standards as those to the European monarchies. She is presented as a fashionable, Enlightened and modern leader with panniers that could take out two courtiers at once. The portraits sent out a powerful message. Catherine wasn't a consort or a regent, or even a queen. She was the empress of Russia, and that was not a birthright, it was a privilege.


  1. Excellent post Heather- love it! I never read enough about this lady. Thanks:)

  2. Might one beg you for a follow-up article on her reforms, correspondance with intellectuals, and family life? S'il vous plait?

  3. ...or the *somewhat* smutty anecdote about how she died. Or maybe not. Bleh.

  4. "...with panniers that could take out two courtiers at once." Hee-hee! Excellent post.... makes me want to find out more.