Catherine the Great’s Furniture: A Regal Collection for the Modern-Day Reader
Catherine the Great was one of the most influential rulers of Russia, known for her love of the arts, culture, and sophistication. Her rule from 1762 to 1796 saw the construction of the Hermitage Museum, designed to house her extensive art collection. As one of the most well-regarded collectors of furniture and decorative arts during her time, it should come as no surprise that Catherine the Great’s furniture collection is as important as her art collection even after more than two centuries.
But what exactly did her furniture collection consist of? Let’s take a look.
Overview of Catherine the Great’s Furniture Collection
Catherine the Great’s furniture collection is a testament to her exquisite taste and her appreciation of luxury. It is an eclectic mix of styles including Rococo, Early Neoclassical, and later Empire. Her personal interest in architecture and design is visible in her selection of pieces that are representative of different periods and different cultures.
Her preference for metal and gilt bronze furniture came from her close relationship with her craftsman and designer, Matvei Kazakov, who was responsible for designing and constructing several of her palaces in St. Petersburg. Kazakov’s creations emphasize ornate baroque styling and elaborate ornamentation, with a focus on the two mediums that Catherine revered most: bronze and gilt.
Some of Catherine the Great’s most noteworthy pieces of furniture include the following:
The Catherine Palace Throne
The Catherine Palace throne is a magnificent example of Catherine the Great’s taste for luxury and grandeur. Designed by Kazakov, the throne is adorned with exotic woods, gilt bronze, and enamel. At its center is a cushion of crimson velvet with a double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Russian Empire.
This masterpiece is located within the sprawling Catherine Palace, a former summer residence of the Russian emperors in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg.
The Great Hall Sofa
The Great Hall sofa is another of Catherine the Great’s prized possessions. This sofa is a classic example of Russian Rococo design, featuring a graceful and highly embellished frame with Rococo designs, gilding, and luxurious upholstery.
It was created in 1775 by Franciszek Błądek, a leading Polish cabinetmaker of the time. This piece of furniture is now part of the collection at the Hermitage Museum.
The Malachite Room
The Malachite Room is one of the most impressive rooms in the Winter Palace, which today forms part of the State Hermitage Museum complex. Catherine the Great commissioned the Malachite Room in the early 19th century, and it was completed after her death.
The room was designed by William Gould, who was instructed to make use of rare and exotic materials such as malachite, lapis lazuli, and gilded bronze. The result is a stunning space overlooking the Palace Embankment, with walls clad in rich green malachite and furniture made of gilt bronze.
The Cameo Room
Catherine the Great’s Cameo Room is another example of the elaborate designs that were favored during her reign. The room is located within the Hermitage Museum and features a collection of cameos, as well as other decorative objects.
The central focus of the room is a large round table with a large medallion of Alexander the Great carved in relief. The table itself is engraved with portraits of the Roman emperors.
One of the most interesting pieces in the Cameo Room is a carved pedestal made of lapis lazuli, now considered one of the museum’s masterpieces.
The Bed of Alexander I
Catherine the Great was responsible for many of the pieces that adorn the famous Amber Room in the Catherine Palace, but she also commissioned her fair share of regal beds, one of which being the bed of Alexander I.
Designed in 1804 by Andre Voronikhin, the bed is characterized by its imperial eagle, silver inlay, and rich red and gold brocade work.
Despite the fact that this bed has been out of commission since the early 20th century, it remains an impressive example of the decadent styles favored by Russia’s royalty.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where can I see Catherine the Great’s furniture collection?
Catherine the Great’s furniture collection can be seen in museums across Russia, including the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, and Pavlovsk Palace. Many pieces belonging to the collection have been loaned out to museums throughout the world, such as The Getty Center in LA, California.
What is the most valuable piece in Catherine the Great’s furniture collection?
It is difficult to determine the most valuable object in Catherine the Great’s furniture collection, as many of the pieces have been dispersed and sold over the years. However, in terms of personal value, Catherine the Great’s personal writing desk is often mentioned as one of the most prized possessions.
What was Catherine the Great’s preferred style of furniture?
Catherine the Great had an eclectic style and a preference for luxury and grandeur. Her furniture collection featured an array of styles, including Rococo, Neoclassical, and Empire.
Who are some of the famous designers who were commissioned by Catherine the Great?
Catherine the Great worked with several famous designers and craftsmen, including Matvei Kazakov, Franciszek Błądek, and Andre Voronikhin.
Why did Catherine the Great choose bronze and gilt for much of her furniture collection?
Catherine the Great’s preference for bronze and gilt came from her close relationship with her craftsman and designer, Matvei Kazakov. The two worked together to create many of the palaces in St. Petersburg, and Kazakov’s creations emphasize ornate baroque styling and elaborate ornamentation, alluding to the two mediums that Catherine revered most: bronze and gilt.
If there’s one thing we can learn from Catherine the Great’s furniture collection, it’s that luxury and grandeur are timeless. Catherine’s taste for ornate furniture expressed not only her appreciation for beauty but also her status as a powerful ruler. She knew how to surround herself with beautiful things, from the bold designs of bronze and gilt furniture to the intricate carvings of the Roman emperors.
Today, her furniture serves as not only a testament to her exquisite taste but also a reminder of her legacy as a powerful leader who shaped the cultural and artistic landscape of Russia forever.