Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 




The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


 


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.
 



Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.

 

 


Russia's Rise as a Great Power
 


1613-1801
 

 

The rule of the Romanov dynasty which began with the election of Michael Romanov in 1613 stabilized the turbulent political conditions in Russia following the "Time of Troubles." Supported by an absolute authority, Czar Peter the Great could push through an authoritative and broad modernization of the Empire in all fields. His successors continued this modernization and, particularly under Catherine the Great, carried out aggressive Russian expansion policies, particularly against Poland and the Ottoman Empire. Catherine ruled as one of the most powerful "Enlightened monarchs" of the eighteenth century.

 


From Peter the Great to Catherine the Great
 

Peter the Great's reforms made Russia a modern European great power. His successors, particularly Catherine the Great, carried out the expansion of the empire.

 

Fascinated by Western European culture, 7 Peter I (the Great) undertook a journey to Prussia, England, and Holland in 1697-98, where he was trained as an ordnance soldier and shipbuilding engineer.

He completed his expansion of the army and fleet and then, in the Great Northern War, conquered Swedish territory in the southwest of Finland and in the Baltic region, giving Russia access to the Baltic Sea.

Here, on the estuary of the Neva River, he founded his new capital, 8 St. Petersburg, which was designed after the European example.



Peter the Great Meditating the Idea of Building St Petersburg
at the Shore of the Baltic Sea, by
Alexandre Benois

 


8
Panorama of Saint Petersburg from Palace Bridge



St.Petersburg by Alexandre Benois
 

Internally Peter initiated comprehensive modernization. He broke the power of the Church by disbanding the patriarchy and appointing a holy synod along the Lutheran model. The economy and social order were reformed by the establishment of early manufacturing organizations, expansion of the infrastructure, recruitment of foreign workers, founding of education institutions, and regulation of the aristocracy and administration.



7
Bronze Horseman in Sankt Petersburg by Étienne Maurice Falconet


As he had had his own son killed, Peter's widow Catherine I succeeded him in 1725.



Peter I and Catherine I wedding on 19 February 1712.


In 1741 his youngest daughter 9 Elizabeth came to the throne.

She joined in alliance with Maria Theresa of Austria against Prussia in the Seven Years' War in 1756, and their forces had brought Prussia to the brink of total collapse when Elizabeth died in 1762. This alone saved Frederick the Great, as Elizabeth's successor Peter III was an admirer of the Prussian king and ended the war immediately. In order to control Peter, Frederick had negotiated his marriage to Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, the daughter of a Prussian general, in 1745.

 

 

Elizabeth


9
Yelizaveta Petrovna, Empress and Autocrat of all
the Russias (1709-62) by Charles van Loo

empress of Russia
Russian in full Yelizaveta Petrovna
born Dec. 18 [Dec. 29, New Style], 1709, Kolomenskoye, near Moscow, Russia
died Dec. 25, 1761, [Jan. 5, 1762], St. Petersburg

Main
empress of Russia from 1741 to 1761 (1762, New Style).

The daughter of Peter I the Great (reigned 1682–1725) and Catherine I (reigned 1725–27), Elizabeth grew up to be a beautiful, charming, intelligent, and vivacious young woman. Despite her talents and popularity, particularly among the guards, she played only a minor political role during the reigns of Peter II (reigned 1727–30) and Empress Anna (reigned 1730–40). But when Anna Leopoldovna assumed the regency for her son Ivan VI (1740–41) and threatened Elizabeth with banishment to a convent, the young princess allowed herself to be influenced by the French ambassador and members of the Russian court who hoped to reduce German domination over Russian affairs and reverse Russia’s pro-Austrian, anti-French foreign policy. On the night of Nov. 24–25 (Dec. 5–6), 1741, she staged a coup d’état, arresting the infant emperor, his mother, and their chief advisers; after summoning all the civil and ecclesiastical notables of St. Petersburg, Elizabeth was proclaimed empress of Russia.

Upon ascending the throne, Elizabeth abolished the Cabinet council system of government that had been employed by her predecessors and formally reconstituted the Senate as it had been created by her father. As a result of this and similar measures, her reign has been generally characterized as a return to the principles and traditions of Peter the Great. In fact, Elizabeth’s restoration of the Senate as the chief governing body was only nominal (the country really being ruled by her private chancery), and the empress actually abolished some of her father’s major reforms. Furthermore, rather than assume a dominant role in government as Peter had done, Elizabeth occupied herself with splendid court and church activities and the purchase of stylish Western clothing. She also encouraged the development of education and art, founding Russia’s first university (in Moscow) and the Academy of Arts (in St. Petersburg) and building the extravagant Winter Palace (also in St. Petersburg). She left control of most state affairs to her advisers and favourites, under whose leadership the effectiveness of Russia’s government was handicapped by continual court intrigues; the country’s financial situation deteriorated; and the gentry acquired broad privileges at the expense of the peasantry.

Simultaneously, however, Russia’s prestige as a major European power grew. Guided by Aleksey Bestuzhev-Ryumin, who enjoyed Elizabeth’s complete confidence, the country firmly adhered to a pro-Austrian, anti-Prussian foreign policy, annexed a portion of southern Finland after fighting a war with Sweden (1741–43), improved its relations with Great Britain, and successfully conducted hostilities against Prussia during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63).

Before Russia and its allies, France and Austria, could force Prussia’s collapse, however, Elizabeth died, leaving her throne to her nephew Peter III, who was a great admirer of Frederick II the Great of Prussia and who withdrew Russia from the war.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 


Promenade of Empress Elizabeth through the Noble Streets of St Petersburg by
Alexandre Benois

 


Elizaveta Petrovna in Tsarskoe Selo, 1905. Painting by Eugene Lanceray

 

Peter's reign was brief, however, as his wife, aided by a military putsch, disposed of him and took the throne as 10 Catherine II within the year.

Influenced by Enlightenment ideas, Catherine II (the Great) communicated with many of the most significant thinkers of Europe, yet also gave away thousands of serfs as presents to her numerous lovers and favorites.

Catherine adopted strongly imperialist policies and conclusively turned Russia into a great power. In the Russo-Turkish War, Russia destroyed the Turkish Fleet in 1770 and conquered the northern Caucasus, ensuring Russian access to the Black Sea. Crimea, which had less than a decade earlier become independent, was annexed. In the three partitions of Poland in 1772,1793, and 1795, Russia pushed its boundaries gradually west.

Catherine's son, 11 Paul I, took part in the Second Coalition in the Revolutionary Wars against France.

In 1801, his plans for the conquest of India led to his murder by military officers.


10 Catherine II


11
Paul I

 

 

Catherine II



Catherine II of Russia  by F. Rokotov


empress of Russia
Russian in full Yekaterina Alekseyevna, byname Catherine the Great, Russian Yekaterina Velikaya, original name Sophie Friederike Auguste, Prinzessin (princess) von Anhalt-Zerbst

born April 21 [May 2, New Style], 1729, Stettin, Prussia [now Szczecin, Poland]
died November 6 [November 17], 1796, Tsarskoye Selo [now Pushkin], near St. Petersburg, Russia

Main
German-born empress of Russia (1762–96), who led her country into full participation in the political and cultural life of Europe, carrying on the work begun by Peter the Great. With her ministers she reorganized the administration and law of the Russian Empire and extended Russian territory, adding the Crimea and much of Poland.

Origins and early experience
Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst was the daughter of an obscure German prince, Christian August von Anhalt-Zerbst, but she was related through her mother to the dukes of Holstein. At age 14 she was chosen to be the wife of Karl Ulrich, duke of Holstein-Gottorp, grandson of Peter the Great and heir to the throne of Russia as the grand duke Peter. In 1744 Catherine arrived in Russia, assumed the title of Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseyevna, and married her young cousin the following year. The marriage was a complete failure; the following 18 years were filled with deception and humiliation for her.

Russia at the time was ruled by Peter the Great’s daughter, the empress Elizabeth, whose 20-year reign greatly stabilized the monarchy. Devoted to much pleasure and luxury and greatly desirous of giving her court the brilliancy of a European court, Elizabeth prepared the way for Catherine.

Catherine, however, would not have become empress if her husband had been at all normal. He was extremely neurotic, rebellious, obstinate, perhaps impotent, nearly alcoholic, and, most seriously, a fanatical worshipper of Frederick II of Prussia, the foe of the empress Elizabeth. Catherine, by contrast, was clearheaded and ambitious. Her intelligence, flexibility of character, and love of Russia gained her much support.

She was humiliated, bored, and regarded with suspicion while at court, but she found comfort in reading extensively and in preparing herself for her future role as sovereign. Although a woman of little beauty, Catherine possessed considerable charm, a lively intelligence, and extraordinary energy. During her husband’s lifetime alone, she had at least three lovers; if her hints are to be believed, none of her three children, not even the heir apparent Paul, was fathered by her husband. Her true passion, however, was ambition; since Peter was incapable of ruling, she saw quite early the possibility of eliminating him and governing Russia herself.

The empress Elizabeth died on December 25, 1761 (January 5, 1762, New Style), while Russia, allied with Austria and France, was engaged in the Seven Years’ War against Prussia. Shortly after Elizabeth’s death, Peter, now emperor, ended Russia’s participation in the war and concluded an alliance with Frederick II of Prussia. He made no attempt to hide his hatred of Russia and his love of his native Germany; discrediting himself endlessly by his foolish actions, he also prepared to rid himself of his wife. Catherine had only to strike: she had the support of the army, especially the regiments at St. Petersburg, where Grigory Orlov, her lover, was stationed; the court; and public opinion in both capitals (Moscow and St. Petersburg). She was also supported by the “enlightened” elements of aristocratic society, since she was known for her liberal opinions and admired as one of the most cultivated persons in Russia. On June 28 (July 9, New Style), 1762, she led the regiments that had rallied to her cause into St. Petersburg and had herself proclaimed empress and autocrat in the Kazan Cathedral. Peter III abdicated and was assassinated eight days later. Although Catherine probably did not order the murder of Peter, it was committed by her supporters, and public opinion held her responsible. In September 1762, she was crowned with great ceremony in Moscow, the ancient capital of the tsars, and began a reign that was to span 34 years as empress of Russia under the title of Catherine II.



Empress Catherine II of Russia by Johann-Baptist Lampi



Early years as empress
Despite Catherine’s personal weaknesses, she was above all a ruler. Truly dedicated to her adopted country, she intended to make Russia a prosperous and powerful state. Since her early days in Russia she had dreamed of establishing a reign of order and justice, of spreading education, creating a court to rival Versailles, and developing a national culture that would be more than an imitation of French models. Her projects obviously were too numerous to carry out, even if she could have given her full attention to them.

Her most pressing practical problem, however, was to replenish the state treasury, which was empty when Elizabeth died; this she did in 1762 by secularizing the property of the clergy, who owned one-third of the land and serfs in Russia. The Russian clergy was reduced to a group of state-paid functionaries, losing what little power had been left to it by the reforms of Peter the Great. Since her coup d’etat and Peter’s suspicious death demanded both discretion and stability in her dealings with other nations, she continued to preserve friendly relations with Prussia, Russia’s old enemy, as well as with the country’s traditional allies, France and Austria. In 1764 she resolved the problem of Poland, a kingdom lacking definite boundaries and coveted by three neighbouring powers, by installing one of her old lovers, Stanisław Poniatowski, a weak man entirely devoted to her, as king of Poland.

Her attempts at reform, however, were less than satisfying. A disciple of the English and French liberal philosophers, she saw very quickly that the reforms advocated by Montesquieu or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which were difficult enough to put into practice in Europe, did not at all correspond to the realities of an anarchic and backward Russia. In 1767 she convened a commission composed of delegates from all the provinces and from all social classes (except the serfs) for the purpose of ascertaining the true wishes of her people and framing a constitution. The debates went on for months and came to nothing. Catherine’s Instruction to the commission was a draft of a constitution and a code of laws. It was considered too liberal for publication in France and remained a dead letter in Russia.

Frustrated in her attempts at reform, Catherine seized the pretext of war with Turkey in 1768 to change her policy; henceforth, emphasis would be placed above all on national grandeur. Since the reign of Peter the Great, the Ottoman Empire had been the traditional enemy of Russia; inevitably, the war fired the patriotism and zeal of Catherine’s subjects. Although the naval victory at Çeşme in 1770 brought military glory to the empress, Turkey had not yet been defeated and continued fighting. At that point, Russia encountered unforeseen difficulties.

First, a terrible plague broke out in Moscow; along with the hardships imposed by the war, it created a climate of disaffection and popular agitation. In 1773 Yemelyan Pugachov, a former officer of the Don Cossacks, pretending to be the dead emperor Peter III, incited the greatest uprising of Russian history prior to the revolution of 1917. Starting in the Ural region, the movement spread rapidly through the vast southeastern provinces, and in June 1774 Pugachov’s Cossack troops prepared to march on Moscow. At this point, the war with Turkey ended in a Russian victory, and Catherine sent her crack troops to crush the rebellion. Defeated and captured, Pugachov was beheaded in 1775, but the terror and chaos he inspired were not soon forgotten. Catherine now realized that for her the people were more to be feared than pitied, and that, rather than freeing them, she must tighten their bonds.

Before her accession to power, Catherine had planned to emancipate the serfs, on whom the economy of Russia, which was 95 percent agricultural, was based. The serf was the property of the master, and the fortune of a noble was evaluated not in lands but in the “souls” he owned. When confronted with the realities of power, however, Catherine saw very quickly that emancipation of the serfs would never be tolerated by the owners, whom she depended upon for support, and who would throw the country into disorder once they lost their own means of support. Reconciling herself to an unavoidable evil without much difficulty, Catherine turned her attention to organizing and strengthening a system that she herself had condemned as inhuman. She imposed serfdom on the Ukrainians who had until then been free. By distributing the so-called crown lands to her favourites and ministers, she worsened the lot of the peasants, who had enjoyed a certain autonomy. At the end of her reign, there was scarcely a free peasant left in Russia, and, because of more systematized control, the condition of the serf was worse than it had been before Catherine’s rule.

Thus, 95 percent of the Russian people did not in any way benefit directly from the achievements of Catherine’s reign. Rather, their forced labour financed the immense expenditures required for her ever-growing economic, military, and cultural projects. In these undertakings, at least, she proved herself to be a good administrator and could claim that the blood and sweat of the people had not been wasted.



Empress Catherine II of Russia by Dmitry Levitsky
 


Influence of Potemkin
In 1774, the year of Russia’s defeat of Turkey, Grigory Potemkin, who had distinguished himself in the war, became Catherine’s lover, and a brilliant career began for this official of the minor nobility, whose intelligence and abilities were equalled only by his ambition. He was to be the only one of Catherine’s favourites to play an extensive political role. Ordinarily, the empress did not mix business and pleasure; her ministers were almost always selected for their abilities. In Potemkin she found an extraordinary man whom she could love and respect and with whom she could share her power. As minister he had unlimited powers, even after the end of their liaison, which lasted only two years. Potemkin must be given part of the credit for the somewhat extravagant splendour of Catherine’s reign. He had a conception of grandeur that escaped the rather pedestrian German princess, and he understood the effect it produced on the people. A great dreamer, he was avid for territories to conquer and provinces to populate; an experienced diplomat with a knowledge of Russia that Catherine had not yet acquired and as audacious as Catherine was methodical, Potemkin was treated as an equal by the empress up to the time of his death in 1791. They complemented and understood each other, and the ambitious minister expressed his respect for his sovereign through complete devotion to her interests.

The annexation of the Crimea from the Turks in 1783 was Potemkin’s work. Through that annexation and the acquisition of the territories of the Crimean khanate, which extended from the Caucasus Mountains to the Bug River in southwestern Russia, Russia held the north shore of the Black Sea and was in a position to threaten the existence of the Ottoman Empire and to establish a foothold in the Mediterranean. Catherine also sought to renew the alliance with Austria, Turkey’s neighbour and enemy, and renounced the alliance with Prussia and England, who were alarmed by Russian ambitions. Yet, during Catherine’s reign, the country did not become involved in a European war, because the empress scrupulously adhered to the territorial agreements she had concluded with several western European nations.

Catherine’s glorification reached its climax in a voyage to the Crimea arranged by Potemkin in 1787. In a festive Arabian Nights atmosphere, the empress crossed the country to take possession of her new provinces; the emperor of Austria, the king of Poland, and innumerable diplomats came to honour her and to enjoy the splendours of what became known as “Cleopatra’s fleet,” because Catherine and her court traveled partly by water. She dedicated new towns bearing her name and announced that she ultimately intended to proceed to Constantinople.



Portrait of Catherine II by Dmitry Levitsky


Effects of the French Revolution
Catherine, like all the crowned heads of Europe, felt seriously threatened by the French Revolution. The divine right of royalty and the aristocracy was being questioned, and Catherine, although a “friend of the Enlightenment,” had no intention of relinquishing her own privileges: “I am an aristocrat, it is my profession.” In 1790 the writer A.N. Radishchev, who attempted to publish a work openly critical of the abuses of serfdom, was tried, condemned to death, then pardoned and exiled. Ironically, the sentiments Radishchev expressed were very similar to Catherine’s Instruction of 1767. Next, Poland, encouraged by the example of France, began agitating for a liberal constitution. In 1792, under the pretext of forestalling the threat of revolution, Catherine sent in troops and the next year annexed most of the western Ukraine, while Prussia helped itself to large territories of western Poland. After the national uprising led by Tadeusz Kościuszko in 1794, Catherine wiped Poland off the map of Europe by dividing it between Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1795.

Catherine’s last years were darkened by the execution of Louis XVI, the advance of the revolutionary armies, and the spread of radical ideas. The empress realized, moreover, that she had no suitable successor. She considered her son Paul an incompetent and unbalanced man; her grandson Alexander was too young yet to rule.
 


Catherine II Setting out to Hunt with Falcons by
Valentin Serov
1902


see also collection: 
Valentin Serov



Assessment
Russians, even Soviet Russians, continue to admire Catherine, the German, the usurper and profligate, and regard her as a source of national pride. Non-Russian opinion of Catherine is less favourable. Because Russia under her rule grew strong enough to threaten the other great powers, and because she was in fact a harsh and unscrupulous ruler, she figured in the Western imagination as the incarnation of the immense, backward, yet forbidding country she ruled. One of Catherine’s principal glories is to have been a woman who, just as Elizabeth I of England and Queen Victoria gave their names to periods of history, became synonymous with a decisive epoch in the development of her country.

At the end of Catherine’s reign, Russia had expanded westward and southward over an area of more than 200,000 square miles, and the Russian rulers’ ancient dream of access to the Bosporus Strait (connecting the Black Sea with the Aegean) had become an attainable goal. At the end of her reign Catherine claimed that she had reorganized 29 provinces under her administrative reform plan. An uninhibited spender, she invested funds in many projects. More than a hundred new towns were built; old ones were expanded and renovated. As commodities were plentiful, trade expanded and communications developed. These achievements, together with the glory of military victories and the fame of a brilliant court, to which the greatest minds of Europe were drawn, have won her a distinguished place in history.

Catherine’s critics acknowledge her energy and administrative ability but point out that the achievements of her reign were as much due to her associates and to the unaided, historical development of Russian society as to the merits of the empress. And when they judge Catherine the woman, they treat her severely.



Portrait of Catherine in an advanced age,
with the Chesme Columnin the background, by Vladimir Borovikovsky
 

Her private life was admittedly not exemplary. She had young lovers up to the time of her unexpected death from a stroke at the age of 67. After the end of her liaison with Potemkin, who perhaps was her morganatic husband, the official favourite changed at least a dozen times; she chose handsome and insignificant young men, who were only, as one of them himself said, “kept girls.” Although in reality devoted to power above all else, she dreamed endlessly of the joys of a shared love, but her position isolated her. She did not love her son Paul, the legitimate heir, whose throne she occupied. On the other hand, she adored her grandsons, particularly the eldest, Alexander, whom she wished to succeed her. In her friendships she was loyal and generous and usually showed mercy toward her enemies.

Yet it cannot be denied that she was also egotistical, pretentious, and extremely domineering, above all a woman of action, capable of being ruthless when her own interest or that of the state was at stake. As she grew older she also became extremely vain: there was some excuse, as the most distinguished minds of Europe heaped flatteries on her that even she ultimately found exaggerated.

A friend of Voltaire and Denis Diderot, she carried on an extensive correspondence with most of the important personages of her time. She was a patron of literature and a promoter of Russian culture; she herself wrote, established literary reviews, encouraged the sciences, and founded schools. Her interests and enthusiasms ranged from construction projects to lawmaking and the collection of art objects; she touched on everything, not always happily but always passionately. She was a woman of elemental energy and intellectual curiosity, desiring to create as well as to control.

Zoé Oldenbourg-Idalie


Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachov



Pugachev's Judgement by Vasili Perov


see also collection:  Vasili Perov


Russian leader
Pugachov also spelled Pugachev
born c. 1742, Zimoveyskaya-na-Donu, Russia
died Jan. 21 [Jan. 10, old style], 1775, Moscow

Main
leader of a major Cossack and peasant rebellion in Russia (Pugachov Rebellion, 1773–75).

An illiterate Don Cossack, Pugachov fought in the Russian Army in the final battles of the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), in Russia’s campaign in Poland (1764), and in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74. Following the siege and conquest of Bendery (1769–70), however, he returned home as an invalid. For three years after his recovery, he wandered, particularly among settlements of Old Believers, a dissident religious group that exercised considerable influence over him.

Learning in the course of his travels of the Yaik (Ural) Cossack Rebellion of 1772 and of its cruel suppression, Pugachov proceeded to Yaitsky Gorodok (now Oral), where the Cossacks remained discontented. Although he was arrested there for desertion from the army, imprisoned at Kazan, and sentenced to be deported to Siberia, he escaped and in June 1773 appeared in the steppes east of the Volga River. Claiming to be Emperor Peter III (who had been deposed by his wife, Catherine II the Great, and assassinated in 1762), Pugachov decreed the abolition of serfdom and gathered a substantial following, including Yaik Cossacks, peasant workers in the mines and factories of the Urals, agricultural peasants, clergymen, and the Bashkirs. Planning ultimately to depose Catherine, Pugachov stormed and laid siege to Orenburg, an important commercial and industrial centre of the Ural region (fall 1773). As the landowners of the region, fearing for their lives, fled to Moscow, Catherine recognized the seriousness of the rebellion and sent an army commanded by Gen. A.I. Bibikov against Pugachov (January 1774). In the spring Bibikov defeated Pugachov at Tatishchevo, west of Orenburg, but Pugachov proceeded to Kazan and burned the city (July 1774). He was defeated again several days later, but he crossed the Volga River, intending to gather reinforcements among the Don Cossacks. He captured Saratov (August 1774) and besieged Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd), where Gen. A.V. Suvorov finally defeated him (Sept. 3 [Aug. 23, old style], 1774). Pugachov escaped but was betrayed by some Yaik Cossacks, sent to Moscow, and executed.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin



Grigory Potemkin

Russian statesman

born Sept. 13 [Sept. 24, New Style], 1739, Chizovo, Russia
died Oct. 5 [Oct. 16], 1791, near Iaşi [now in Romania]

Main
Russian army officer and statesman, for two years Empress Catherine II’s lover and for 17 years the most powerful man in the empire. An able administrator, licentious, extravagant, loyal, generous, and magnanimous, he was the subject of many anecdotes.

Educated at the University of Moscow, Potemkin entered the horseguards in 1755. He helped bring Catherine II to power as empress and was given a small estate. He shone in the Turkish War of 1768–74 and became Catherine’s lover in 1774. Made commander in chief and governor general of “New Russia” (southern Ukraine), he remained friendly with her, and his influence was unshaken despite Catherine’s taking subsequent lovers.

Potemkin was deeply interested in the question of Russia’s southern boundaries and the fate of the Turkish Empire. In 1776 he sketched the plan for the conquest of the Crimea, which was subsequently realized. He was also busy with the so-called Greek project, which aimed at restoring the Byzantine Empire under one of Catherine’s grandsons. In many of the Balkan lands he had well-informed agents.

After he became field marshal, in 1784, he introduced many reforms into the army and built a fleet in the Black Sea, which served well in Catherine’s second Turkish War (1787–91). The arsenal of Kherson, begun in 1778, the harbour of Sevastopol, built in 1784, and the new fleet of 15 ships of the line and 25 smaller vessels were monuments to his genius. But there was exaggeration in all his enterprises. He spared neither men, money, nor himself in attempting to carry out a gigantic scheme for the colonization of the Ukrainian steppe; but he never calculated the cost, and most of the plan had to be abandoned when but half accomplished. Even so, Catherine’s tour of the south in 1787 was a triumph for Potemkin, for he disguised all the weak points of his administration—hence the apocryphal tale of his erecting artificial villages to be seen by the empress in passing. (“Potemkin village” came to denote any pretentious facade designed to cover up a shabby or undesirable condition.) Joseph II of Austria had already made him a prince of the Holy Roman Empire (1776); Catherine made him prince of Tauris in 1783.

When the second Turkish War began, the founder of New Russia acted as commander in chief. But the army was ill-equipped and unprepared; and Potemkin, in a fit of depression, would have resigned but for the steady encouragement of the empress. Only after A.V. Suvorov had valiantly defended Kinburn did he take heart again and besiege and capture Ochakov and Bendery. In 1790 he conducted the military operations on the Dniester River and held his court at Iaşi with more than Asiatic pomp. In 1791 he returned to St. Petersburg, where, along with his friend A.A. Bezborodko, he made vain efforts to overthrow Catherine’s newest and last favourite, Platon Zubov. The empress grew impatient and compelled him in 1791 to return to Iaşi to conduct the peace negotiations as chief Russian plenipotentiary. He died while on his way to Nikolayev (now Mykolayiv, Ukraine).

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

   


Aleksandr Radishchev

Aleksandr Nikolayevich Radishchev

Russian author

born Aug. 20 [Aug. 31, New Style], 1749, Moscow, Russia
died Sept. 12 [Sept. 24], 1802, St. Petersburg

Main
writer who founded the revolutionary tradition in Russian literature and thought.

Radishchev, a nobleman, was educated in Moscow (1757–62), at the St. Petersburg Corps of Pages (1763–66), and at Leipzig, where he studied law (1766–71). His career as a civil servant brought him into contact with people from all social strata. Under the influence of the cult of sentiment developed by such writers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he wrote his most important work, Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu (1790; A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow), in which he collected, within the framework of an imaginary journey, all the examples of social injustice, wretchedness, and brutality he had seen. Though the book was an indictment of serfdom, autocracy, and censorship, Radishchev intended it for the enlightenment of Catherine the Great, who he assumed was unaware of such conditions. Its unfortunate timing (the year after the French Revolution) led to his immediate arrest and sentence to death. The sentence was commuted to 10 years’ exile in Siberia, where he remained until 1797.

Radishchev’s harsh treatment chilled liberal hopes for reform. In 1801 he was pardoned by Alexander I and employed by the government to draft legal reforms, but he committed suicide a year later. Though his work has slight claim to literary quality, his fame was great and his thought inspired later generations, especially the Decembrists, an elite group of intellectuals and noblemen who staged an abortive rebellion against autocracy in 1825.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Paul I



Portrait of Emperor Paul I as a Child by Fedor Rokotov

emperor of Russia
Russian in full Pavel Petrovich
born Oct. 1 [Sept. 20, Old Style], 1754, St. Petersburg, Russia
died March 23 [March 11], 1801, St. Petersburg

Main
emperor of Russia from 1796 to 1801.

Son of Peter III (reigned 1762) and Catherine II the Great (reigned 1762–96), Paul was reared by his father’s aunt, the empress Elizabeth (reigned 1741–61). After 1760 he was tutored by Catherine’s close adviser, the learned diplomat Nikita Ivanovich Panin, but the boy never developed good relations with his mother, who wrested the imperial crown from her mentally feeble husband in 1762 and, afterward, consistently refused to allow Paul to participate actively in government affairs.

Having married Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg (Russian name Maria Fyodorovna) in 1776 shortly after his first wife, Wilhelmina of Darmstadt (Russian name Nataliya Alekseyevna), died, Paul and his wife were settled by Catherine on an estate at Gatchina (1783), where Paul, removed from the centre of government at St. Petersburg, held his own small court and engaged himself in managing his estate, drilling his private army corps, and contemplating government reforms.

Despite Catherine’s apparent intention to name Paul’s son Alexander her heir, Paul succeeded her when she died (Nov. 17 [Nov. 6], 1796) and immediately repealed the decree issued by Peter I the Great in 1722 that had given each monarch the right to choose his successor; in its place Paul established in 1797 a definite order of succession within the male line of the Romanov family. Paul also, in an effort to strengthen the autocracy, reversed many of Catherine’s policies; he reestablished centralized administrative agencies she had abolished in 1775, increased bureaucratic control in local government, and sought to impose limits on the authority of the nobles. In the process he provoked the hostility of the nobles, and, when he introduced harsh disciplinary measures in the army and displayed a marked preference for his Gatchina troops, the military, particularly the prestigious guards units, also turned against him.

Confidence in his ability dropped even among his trusted supporters because of a number of actions. He demonstrated an inconsistent policy toward the peasantry and rapidly shifted from a peaceful foreign policy (1796) to involvement in the second coalition against Napoleon (1798) to an anti-British policy (1800). By the end of 1800, he had maneuvered Russia into the disadvantageous position of being officially at war with France, unofficially at war with Great Britain, without diplomatic relations with Austria, and on the verge of sending an army through the unmapped khanates in Central Asia to invade British-controlled India.

As a result of his inconsistent policies, as well as his tyrannical and capricious manner of implementing them, a group of highly placed civil and military officials, led by Count Peter von Pahlen, governor-general of St. Petersburg, and General Leonty Leontyevich, Count von Bennigsen, gained the approval of Alexander, the heir to the throne, to depose his father. On March 23 (March 11), 1801, they penetrated the Mikhaylovsky Palace and assassinated Paul in his bedchamber.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 


 
Military Parade of Emperor Paul I in front of Mikhailovsky Castle  by Alexandre Benois
1907



see also collection: Alexandre Benois

 

 

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