We all know that in Russian history, two rulers were officially awarded the title of Great – Peter 1 and Catherine 2. And if the main monument to the emperor is located on the embankment with a gaze facing the Neva, then the monument to the empress is installed near the main street – Nevsky Prospect.
The monument to Empress Catherine II was erected in the center of St. Petersburg on Nevsky Prospect. Alexandrinsky Square was laid out around it especially for the landscape design of the monumental and sculptural composition. Ostrovsky Square (renamed Alexandrinsky in Soviet times) is framed by masterpieces of Russian architecture of different eras, in the depths of the square along the central axis is the Alexandrinsky Theater, its main pediment depicting a horse quadriga, ruled by the ancient Greek god Apollo, patron of the arts, the theater building is an example of Russian art classicism. On the right side of the square is the St. Petersburg Public Library, founded by Empress Catherine II, an architectural monument of the 18th – 19th centuries, a repository of historical artifacts expressing the ideas of world human thought. On the left side, the Anichkov Palace, a former noble estate of the 18th century, which was owned by dignitaries in different historical periods, looks out onto the square with a side facade. On the opposite side of the street is the remarkable building of the merchant Eliseev’s shop with colored stained-glass windows and sculptural images of industry and trade.
The idea to erect a monument to Empress Catherine II arose during her lifetime, but the queen rejected this venture, the decision to immortalize the image of the great Catherine II came during the anniversary date – the 100th anniversary of the accession to the throne of the most merciful Empress.
The author of the project of the monument to Catherine II and the developer of its artistic and compositional solution is a talented Russian artist, and later a sculptor, Mikhail Osipovich Mikeshin. In addition to the monument to Catherine II, M. Mikeshin created the Monument to the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus, a sculpture of the Empress in Krasnodar and several other significant works.
On the front side of the pedestal there is a bronze plaque with a dedicatory inscription “To Empress Catherine II during the reign of Emperor Alexander II in 1873”. The board is framed with objects symbolizing the directions of the empress and her associates, these are the military land-sea exploits of the commanders, the outstanding discoveries of new lands by Russian navigators, the development of sciences, art, the improvement of the state structure and the law of the Russian Empire.
The figure of the Empress is harmoniously perceived from all angles, from the front side it is in its exact portrait likeness. The Empress is depicted in a full dress with an ermine mantle, an order ribbon and the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called on a richly decorated chain. In her left hand, Catherine holds a laurel wreath, as if she is going to lay it on the hero’s head. With her right hand, the empress confidently squeezes the symbol of imperial power – the scepter, and at her feet rests the crown of the Russian Empire. With these symbols M. Mikeshin wanted to show how confidently Catherine II held the reins of government in her hands, and how easily and humbly the country submitted to her royal will.
A little below the empress, on the rim of the bell, M. Mikeshin placed nine bronze sculptures of the most significant statesmen and persons especially close to the royal person during the reign of Catherine II. All the figures are depicted sitting and standing in completely natural poses, as if the sculptor had caught them discussing pressing issues of state importance. On the main facade, as if closer to the Empress, Generalissimo A. V. Suvorov, General – Field Marshal G. A. Potemkin and General – Field Marshal P. A. Rumyantsev – Zadunaisky are discussing something.
To the right of Rumyantsev, Princess E.R.Dashkova, the first woman to become president of the Academy of Sciences, froze in thought. Further, the great poet G.R.Derzhavin reads his works to the public
General – in – chief A.G. Orlov – Chesmensky and Admiral V.Ya. Chichagov are actively arguing on the opposite side of the monument.
Behind A.V.Suvorov’s back, President of the Academy of Arts I.I.Betskoy and statesman A.A.Bezborodko are enthusiastically talking about something.
The monument to Catherine II was inaugurated on November 24, 1873 in the presence of the sovereign. The event was accompanied by a military parade and fireworks. The entire architectural and sculptural complex was built over 12 years.