The Bronze Horseman
Public Art : The Bronze Horseman (originally
named Peter the Great statue) also known as The Copper Horseman.
Sculptors : © Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716 - 1791) and Marie-Anne Collot (1748-1821). Collot created the face for the statue, modelling it
from Peter the Great's death mask and various paintings she found of him. Collet would later become Falconet's
Date Unveiled : August the 9th, 1782.
Description : A 6m (20
feet) bronze statue of Peter the Great astride his rearing stead with his right outstretched arm pointing
towards the River Neva in the west. Falconet wanted the horse to appear to be rearing on the edge of a
cliff ready to crush the serpent that lies in wait. Arguably the serpent can be seen
as depicting treachery, evil or the enemies of Peter and his reforms. The statue stands on an
enormous rock called the Thunder Stone, which is an impressive 7 m (25 feet)
tall and believed to be the largest stone ever moved by man.
Location : Decembrists Square (formerly the Senate
Square), Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Inscription : There are two inscriptions on the
statue one in Latin and one in Russian, they both translate to mean 'Catherine the Second to Peter the First,
1782'. So who was a little egotistical then ?
|Petro Primo Catharina Secunda MDCCLXXXII (Latin)
|Петру первому Екатерина вторая, лето 1782 (Russian)
Background of Catherine the Great: Okay, place yourself in Catherine the Great's shoes for just a moment. There she was, a
relatively minor German princess, with the opportunity to marry into the right royal Russian Romanov family.
The only problem was, she didn't speak Russian and she only had a small amount of Russian ancestry. Not a
problem. With her mother's scheming and some diplomatic wrangling, she managed to marry Peter of
Holstein-Gottorp (Peter the Great's son) in spite of the many issues. Peter, who by all accounts was impotent
and not about to consumate the marriage anytime soon, was quiet happy to go along with the arrangements, so too
Catherine (as they both had their own lovers).
Seventeen years later, when Empress Elizabeth (Peter's mom) died in 1762, Peter
took over the throne as Peter III of Russia and Catherine became Empress Consort of Russia.
Catherine, always conscience of her lack of Russian blood, had been for seventeen years, doing what any ladder
climbing consort would do. She learnt the language, chin wagged with the elite and basically did everything
in her power to make herself as Russian as possible. So imagine Catherine's utter shock when 6 months after
becoming Empress consort, her husband decided to up and retire to Oranienbaum, leaving Catherine high
and dry in Saint Petersburg. Well, the personal guards of the monarchy (Russian Imperial Guards) were none
too pleased about Peter's behavior and they proclaimed Catherine the ruler of Russia (despite her having no
legal claim to it). Three days later Peter was dead and so too any potential claimants to the throne (surely the
ladder climber wasn't behind this? Or was she?). Despite a few possible coups, Catherine the Great managed
to remain ruler of Russia until her death in 1796.
So who was Peter the Great ? : Pyotr
Alexeyevich Romanov (9th June, 1672 – 8th February 1725)the self proclaimed "Peter the Great" was Tsar of Russia from 1682 to
1725. The enormously tall Tsar (6ft 8") was instrumental in leading Russia out of the medieval times by
centralising government, modernising his army and creating a navy. Peter the Great was the first Tsar to
travel to Europe, where at the age of 25, he went to study shipbuilding. He was the founder of St
Petersburg in 1703 when looking for a port with unrestricted passage to the Baltic. This eventually led to
war with Sweden. After defeating Sweden at the battle of Poltava, St Petersburg was named the capital of
Russia in 1712.
History Behind The Bronze Horseman : So what was
Catherine the Great thinking, having a monument built in honor of her husband's relative? Smoke and
mirrors, my friends, smoke and mirrors. Catherine had to appear to the public as the rightful heir to the throne,
thus she needed to show her love for Russia. What better way than to create an enormous monument to Peter I, whose
policies helped in modernizing Russia. But she wasn't about to let him have all the glory, the inscription
reads 'Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782'.
In 1766 she had her first meeting with French sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet, on the advice of
friend Denis Diderot. It would take 9 years from the first meeting before the statue would actually be cast. The
casting would prove to be a challenge. The first attempt ended in near tragedy when the mould broke (following the
pouring of the molten bronze). Fires broke out everywhere and everyone, except the caster Yemelyan Khailov, ran for
their lives. Khailov attempted to save the casting. The bronze had to be remelted and then recast.
During the WWII the statue was protected with sand bags and a wooden shelter. Remarkably during the
900 day Siege of Lenigrad which included heavy bombing and artillery fire the statue remained unscathed.
Poem Changed everything : Originally
the statue was just known as the monument to Peter the Great, that was until poet Aleksandr Pushkin
decided to write a poem in honor of the statue in 1833. Now, who would have thought a poem about a statue would
have created so much attention? The poem, The Bronze Horseman, was set during the flood of 1824 and was
about a poor man named Yevgeny. At the time, many people were suffering as a direct result of Tsar Peter's legacy.
Despite his policy of Westernization and expansion (through trade, rebuilding and military might) to make St
Petersburg a great capital, the poor were ignored and many died from diseases and the hardships of living (seems
like nothing ever changes). The poem highlighted the struggle between State and the common people. A
frustrated Yevgeny blamed his woes on Tsar Peter, after his fiancee's home and village are washed away by the
flood. Crazed, Yevgeny curses the grand statue of Peter the Great and with this the statue breaks from its
pedestal and chases Yevgeny through the city. Yevgeny dies a short time later (I presume from sheer shock) and his
body is washed up on a little island at the entrance of a ruined house. Following the publication of Pushkin's poem
the statue was forever known as The Bronze Horseman.