Catherine the Great’s audacious power grab in 1762 marked a watershed in imperial Russian history.Â During a momentous 34-year reign, her rapacious vision and intellectual curiosity led to vast territorial expansion, cultural advancement, and civic, educational and social reform. In this pioneering book, Rosalind Blakesley reveals the remarkable role women artists played in her pursuit of these ambitions. With challenging commissionsÂ for an elite cast of Russian patrons, their work underscores the extent to which cultural enrichment co-existed with the empress’s imperial designs.Â
Catherine’s acquisitions propelled renowned artists to new heights. The history paintings that she purchased from Angelica Kauffman brought the Swiss artist to the attention of keen new patrons, while Elisabeth Louise VigÃ©e Le Brun found in Russia safe refuge from the horrors of revolutionary France. Just as important were Catherine’s relationships with lesser-known artists. The young sculptor Marie-Anne Collot made the arduous journey from Paris to St Petersburg to assist on the equestrian monument to Peter the Great and enthralled Russian society with her portrait busts, while Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna, wife of Catherine’s troubled son Paul,Â sculpted cameos which the empress sent to distinguished correspondents abroad. With stories of extraordinary artistic endeavour intertwined with the intrigue of Catherine’s personal life, Women Artists in the Reign of Catherine the GreatÂ uncovers the impact of these and other artists at one of Europe’s most elaborate courts.Â
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