"The Spark of Peter the Great"

Lyudmila Markina

Magazine issue: 
#4 2010 (29)


According to legend, the title of this article was coined by an associate of the reformist Tsar to characterize Elizabeth1. Kazimierz Waliszewski's testimony largely corresponds with the historical appraisal of the Russian Tsarina - Peter I's daughter - as the figure who continued the policies of her great father.

Born, like her father, in Moscow, Elizabeth could have rightly called herself a Muscovite. She was born on December 18 (in the Old Style) 1709, during the celebration of victory at the Battle of Poltava. When the Tsar was told about the birth of a healthy baby, he exclaimed: "Let us interrupt our celebration of victory and hurry to congratulate my daughter on arriving into this world, as if auguring the longed-for peace"2. The youngest daughter of Peter I and his unwed wife Catherine I was born in the "Russian Bethlehem" - Kolomenskoye, Peter I's ancestral estate, which, as legend has it, was Peter's birth place as well3. A renovated model of this village from the Shchusev Museum of Architecture was featured at the show, for the first time after a 30-year period of oblivion.

The royal father chose a name for the baby - Elizabeth (which means "God's oath" or "a woman worshipping God"). Russians worshipped several saints of the same name: Elizabeth the Wonderworker of Constantinople (on April 24), Elizabeth the Righteous of Palestine, mother of St. John the Baptist (September 5), and Elizabeth of Adria-nople, a martyr (October 22). There are few known ancient Russian icons featuring St. Elizabeth. The exhibition displayed one such rare one - "Saint Martyr Elizabeth Against the Backdrop of the Novode-vichy Convent" (from the Historical Museum, Moscow).

Peter I was a very doting father to his youngest daughter. A considerable "Collection of Letters of the Members of the Imperial Dynasty" (from the Russian Archive of Ancient Documents, RGADA) contains several letters from the Tsar addressed personally to Elizabeth. Already in May 1710, when the child was four months old, Peter asked his spouse to "give a bow to the four-month-old lovely little one". This missive, written when preparations for an assault on Vyborg were underway, was sent from a schooner called "Lizetka", in honour of the baby Elizabeth. In a letter sent from Amsterdam on May 4 1717, already addressed directly to Elizabeth, the Emperor talked "about my and Yekaterina Alexeevna's good health"4. In most cases, the royal father addressed his daughter on a tenderly humorous note: "Lizetka, my friend, hail to you... God grant it that I see you happy"5.

As an infant, Elizabeth was very pretty. The rare portraits by Ivan Nikitin and Louis Caravaque feature a good-looking blonde with rosy cheeks and a soft skin. When Lizanka was eight years old, she caught chicken pox. The grave disease all but disfigured the young girl but fortunately all ended well, "without a harm to the little face", and in 1719 a Dutchman living in Russia, Jacob Debi, remarked: "[Elizabeth] is most charming, and could have been regarded as a perfect beauty had it not been for the auburn shade of her hair, which, however, may change over the years"6. Surviving artefacts such as a locket (from the Kremlin Museum) and an envelope with a lock of hair, which Peter the Great's sister Natalya Alexeevna attached to a missive to Catherine Alexeevna (from RGADA), show the natural colour of the Tsar's daughter's hair.

For Elizabeth, Moscow was her "little homeland" where she spent her childhood and where her inner self was shaped. In her "tender age", Elizabeth was a bold and very skilful rider who spent her time racing on a horse across the fields in Izmailovo and Perovo, areas near Moscow. For a hunt the princess would put on an elegant doublet trimmed with gimp and a white chemise with lace neckwear. One of the portraits made by an unknown Russian artist (in the Tre-tyakov Gallery) shows the princess in a hunter's garb of this kind. The exhibition featured Elizabeth's hunting accessories: a personal knife with her monogram engraved on the blade; a lady's small sword with a diamond edge; an Austrian arquebus with an image of Venus and Cupid shooting at deer; and a light-weight arbalest for lady hunters chasing birds, created by German armourers.

Unlike Peter the Great, who rejected old Muscovite customs and habits in favour of the new European ones, Elizabeth remained loyal to the old capital throughout her 20-year rule (1741-1761). She did much to foster banking and light industry, theatre and opera, and academia and education in Moscow.

A "Chronicle" of Elizabeth's life in Moscow was compiled using official annals of the court and other publications of that period. Among the numerous published edicts, researchers identified those directly concerning Moscow. As early as in the first year of her rule (May 1742) Elizabeth issued a directive "to build homes in Moscow according to set guidelines", which also prescribed the width for streets (eight sazhens) and side-streets (four sazhens). In 1748 this directive was followed by another (of July 2) requiring that houses built "on sites burnt out by fire" also conform with "the set guidelines". These orders streamlined traditional town development in Moscow and brought discipline to the construction of residential housing.

Unlike St. Petersburg, where the Winter and Summer palaces were built to Bartolomeo Rastrelli's design during the reign of Elizabeth, Moscow did not become a site of construction projects of such magnitude. As for the building of new landmarks, there were few such projects accomplished in Moscow. When such projects were carried out, the sites were chosen inside the Kremlin or near Kitai-Gorod, and construction took place in the 1750s. It was supervised by Dmitry Ukh-tomsky, appointed as the head of the team of Moscow architects in 1747. Ukhtomsky set about his task without delay, and designing the Kuznetsky Bridge (1751-1757) he said his objective was the "regularity and splendour" of Baroque, so much favoured by Elizabeth. In 17531757, under Ukhtomsky's leadership, the new Krasniye Vorota (Red Gates) were built in stone, to a similar design, by Mikhail Zemtsov, as the old coronation timber archway, erected in 1742, which it replaced. However, the decoration of the gate showed new stylistic trends. All architectural projects conceived by Ukhtomsky - a belfry above the Voskresensky Gate in Kitai-Gorod (1753), buildings of a hospital and a shelter for invalids (1757-1759), a church dedicated to the Metropolitan of Moscow St. Alexius (1748-1751) and a church dedicated to St. Nicetas the Goth on Staraya Basmannaya Street (1751) - were designed in Rastrelli's style.

The show had a special section focused on Moscow's architecture of the Elizabethan period. On view were rare drawings and drafts made by Ukhtomsky, loaned by GIM and RGADA. The Architectural Museum loaned a model of the Red Gates, which were torn down in the 1930s, and fragments of a statue that adorned this masterpiece of Moscow's Baroque architecture. The exhibition organizers' aim was to show off the image of the old Russian town and to make visitors share their admiration for the beauty of the ancient capital city, a beauty preserved for posterity in the works of visual art of the age of Elizabeth. These items include rare panoramic views made by Ivan Michurin, featured on a 1739 map of Moscow, and "A View from Za-moskvorechye (Beyond the Moscow River)" on a lithograph by Ivan Sokolov. The lively atmosphere of Moscow is captured in several drawings made for the Coronation Album by the engravers Grigory Kac-halov and Johann Shtenglin.

Considering that most buildings in the old capital were made of timber, the edicts issued by the authorities placed a special emphasis on prevention of fires. On May 5 1752 a horrendous fire broke out in Moscow, destroying much of the city, causing irreparable harm to its residents and killing many. In the wake of it, in June, a directive was issued concerning "safety measures against fire in public places", "supply of water pipes for different governmental agencies and courts of justice, and for the streets" and "supervision thereof by the police"; it was also mandated that each police team have "six sailcloth screens". The following year, there was another fire, which demolished a palace in Lefortovo and a German "Wooden Comedy" theatre on Novaya Basmannaya Street. The authorities responded with edicts "prohibiting henceforth to build up squares and requiring that structures standing thereupon be razed" and "forbidding to cover roofs with straw in co-achmens' neighbourhoods in Moscow". Ponds had to be dug "in commoners' courtyards", and smitheries, where naked flame was used, had to be transferred far away from the city. In this respect, on May 27 1753 a prohibition was issued against "building timber houses inside two town areas: the Kremlin and Kitai-Gorod". The regulations provided for fire victims and beggars as well, prohibiting them from "idling about" and ordering to go to "the agencies and shelters" in charge. Of great importance for Muscovites were the edicts "forbidding raising the prices for timber and all manner of supplies and materials".

Many such measures were taken to improve the mores of Muscovites. On January 25 1744 an edict was issued "prohibiting fast rides across the town and utterance of expletives, the violators to be fined". The sale of wine, as well as the "Russian amusement" - fist-fighting -were prohibited during liturgies and church processions carrying the cross.

The Empress also took care of ecological problems in the city. Evidence of this is an edict of September 3 1747 "on prohibiting, in areas around Moscow, the construction of wineries and glass works not provided with water supply lines". It was also required that construction materials be brought from remote places, "not from nearby locales"; felling trees in nearby forests was forbidden. Elizabeth abolished the so-called "bozhedomkas" - the huge pits where bodies of murdered people were buried. In 1743, near Maryina Roshcha, a special burial "barn" was built, financed by the Head Office of the Moscow Gover-norate from the Office's "irregular revenues". Five years later, behind the Meshchanskaya Sloboda (Commoners' Borough), a large open area was allocated for a cemetery.

During Elizabeth's rule, economic considerations began to play a more important role in Moscow politics than before. Inland custom houses throughout the country were abolished, and so was the Customs Court. It was replaced by a Merchants' Court of Oral Adjudication, established in Moscow in 1754. Several days later, Russia opened its first State Lending Bank, which had a branch in Moscow called the Noblemen's Bank. At nearly the same time (on May 15) the commission in charge of collecting inland port duties was relocated to the old capital. The mint was moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow in June 1742. Light industry received a boost from a 1744 decree allowing the merchant M. Gusyatnikov to establish a hat-making workshop, and a 1753 decree allowing another merchant A. Fedotov to open a leaf-gold and silver plant.

It should be noted that while some decrees touch on important political and economic matters, others sound funny. One such example is an enactment "prohibiting private individuals from keeping bears in towns". Whenever the Empress came to Moscow, measures of unprecedented force to bring order to the town and to safeguard royalty were introduced. A special edict from the police chief's office required to keep Moscow clean and its pavements in good repair. In 1744, this office employed convicts (except those convicted for grievous crimes) for the hurried removal of piles of garbage around the Kremlin and for "the cleaning of the streets". Moscow's noblemen whose family members "have caught measles or smallpox" were strictly barred from the royal residences. Out of concern for Elizabeth's peace of mind, the authorities forbade burials along the path of her journey from the Kremlin to the Golovinsky Palace (formerly the An-nenhof Palace, designed by Rastrelli and renamed by a decree of February 29 1744) by the Yauza river.

The exhibition, alone among the three shows, introduceda section devoted to "The Church and the Tsarina". Since Elizabeth was a deeply religious person, this subject is very relevant. During Elizabeth's reign, for the first time after Peter I's reforms, which abolished the church patriarchy, the ruler of the state had the interests of the Russian Church close to her heart. The Tsarina, who was a Christian Orthodox believer, regularly attended the ceremonies of sanctifica-tion of new churches, church services and the weddings of her courtiers, and made pilgrimages to monasteries. She often visited the Voskresensky and New Jerusalem monasteries as well as the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.

The exhibition prominently featured pictorial representations of Elizabeth; overall, more than 100 images survived. Of all the female monarchs in Russia, Elizabeth was rightfully considered the most attractive. She inherited from her parents a superb physique: from her father, her height and beautifully shaped lean arms and trim legs, and from her mother, an ample bosom and thick hair. Nearly all contemporaries remarked on the empress's extraordinary look. A Lady Rondo, wife of an Englishman in the Russian court of Anna loannovna, described her thus: "Princess Elizabeth, who, as you know, is daughter of Peter I, is a beauty. She's very fair-skinned; her hair is not very dark, her blue eyes big and lively, and she has good teeth and a pretty mouth"7. The young Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, the future Grand Duchess Yekaterina Alexeevna (Catherine II), shared her impressions from a meeting with the Russian Empress which took place in Moscow on February 9 1744: "Indeed, you could not have looked at her for the first time without admiring her beauty and stately carriage. She was a tall woman, very portly, albeit this portliness did not in the least detract from her handsomeness, nor was there any sign of self-consciousness in her demeanour; her head was very beautiful too; that day the Empress was dressed in a gigantic pannier, which she was fond of wearing, although she put it on only on occasions of public appearances. Her dress was made of silver-wefted brocade with a gold trim; her head was graced with a black feather secured on the side of the head, in a straight position, and the hair, elaborately coiffed, was adorned with dozens of diamonds."8

It appears that the French painter Louis Caravaque (1684-1754) was her favourite artist from childhood. In 1716 Caravaque settled as an employee of the Russian court and had priority over other artists when it came to painting portraits of Peter the Great and his family, including the young Elizabeth. Favoured by the general public, Cara-vaque's works, in Rococo style, were rightfully acclaimed by connoisseurs as well. The court artist's high reputation and perhaps Elizabeth's old childhood allegiance secured for Caravaque the commission to create a portrait of the Empress on the occasion of her coronation. The portrait was so good that the "Caravaque canon" was made the official standard for portraying Elizabeth, used many times by painters and lithographers9.

During the 1740s Caravaque together with his assistants produced a series of the Tsarina's portraits which were sent to Russian diplomatic missions in European countries. Not marked by great depth or insight, the Caravaque canon relied on the ideas of regal greatness and dignity common in European art, while also emphasizing her beauty, the feature that the Empress herself found most endearing. Some of the important images of Elizabeth were created by a "Hofmaler" (court painter) Georg Christoph Grooth (1719-1749), who was in the employ of the Russian court from 1741 onwards. The German painter created several "minor pictorial portraits" featuring the Russian Empress in different guises and garbs: as the colonel of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, as a noblewoman at a fancy-dress ball with a mask in her hand, and as the goddess of beauty Flora. Grooth proved capable of accurately capturing Elizabeth's tastes and reflecting the singularities of court life during her reign. The image of the Russian Tsarina who was so fond of "laughter and amusements" was fashioned in the Rococo style. It agrees very well with the description given by one of the Tsarina's contemporaries, Ivan Galenevsky, whose "laudatory odes" are on view at the exhibition:

She evinces an endearing joy
And pours sweetness with her
sugary hand

The Tretyakov Gallery rightfully prides itself on the fact that the masterpieces in its possession reflect the versatile image of Elizabeth. The exhibition displayed this collection including the unique portrait of the Empress within an ornament of flowers, created by the Austrian artist Georg Caspar Prenner, as well as intimate portraits by Pietro Ro-tari and Louis Tocque.

The letters and Elizabeth's personal signatures on state documents were exhibited too. Nearly all of the documents signed by the Tsarina are held in Moscow, at RGADA. Out of the spotlight, Elizabeth remained very much herself. Childless, she was especially fond of a nephew, Grand Duke Pyotr Fedorovich and, initially, his fiancee, Grand Duchess Yekaterina Alexeevna (the future Catherine the Great). When this assiduous little girl in wintry Moscow was "learning by heart a handful of" Russian prayers, in order to convert into Orthodox Christianity, she "caught pleurisy" and nearly died. When, barely returned home from a visit to the Trinity Monastery, Elizabeth learned about the princess's disease, she did not even set foot in her own room before hurrying to Catherine's quarters, accompanied by Alexei Razu-movsky, Jean Armand de L'Estocq and a surgeon. Seated by the bed where the unconscious girl was resting, she held her head while the doctor performed a bloodletting. The Empress was the first person the girl saw when she regained consciousness. To lift her spirits, Elizabeth literally showered her with expensive gifts11. One of the sections at the exhibition was devoted to the "minor court" and its day-to-day activities in Moscow.

The exhibition displayed a locket with a lock of Elizabeth's hair, a china set and other personal items, as well as a renovated dress. An acknowledged woman of fashion, the Russian Empress regularly ordered from European countries large quantities of clothes, adornments, and toilet waters. In connection with this, a special section at the exhibition called "The Feminine Side of the Empress" was of great interest. Although handsome by nature, Elizabeth throughout her life never stopped taking care of her appearance, and knew the recipes of various beauty aids. For instance, Catherine II recalled that in the summer of 1749 the Empress noticed that Catherine's face skin had a strong tan and sent her an "ointment". The effect of the concoction ("an egg yolk with lemon juice and French vodka") was so remarkable that "I continued to apply this ointment further on" as "the best remedy against inflammation of the skin"12. The show featured a unique archival document listing "varieties of water for smelling and sprinkling"13 utilized by the Empress. It includes "jasmine water from Cyprus with ambergris", "water called bouquet", "tuberose water" and "water from violet flowers". The names suggest that Elizabeth especially favoured flower scents. She had a very fine taste and, although fond of ornamenting herself with diamonds, always chose her clothes with a sense of proportion and harmony.

The Empress loved lingerie and fabrics "of the very best variety", most of which were brought from abroad. General Ivan Glebov's elder son, on a visit to Paris, brought "two pieces of very luxurious and splendid textile"14 sent by Yekaterina Alexeevna's mother. Aware of Elizabeth's soft spot, the politic Grand Duchess presented one piece to the Tsarina as a gift. In the mid-18th century the production of silk fabrics - brocade, heavy silk and satin - began on a large scale in Russia. Fabrics in the style of Rococo were distinguished by their rich floral designs, bright colours and light-hued backgrounds. Sometimes woven ornamental patternswere complemented with handmade embroidery. The exhibition showcased a variety of textiles of the period. A document from the 1750s from the archives, the "Registry of Dresses Brought to the Ceremonial Bedroom of Elizabeth Petrovna", is certain to refresh modern viewers' knowledge about the clothes and their colour designs. The listing includes, among other things, such items as a "scarlet velvet housecoat with a bodice of white taffeta, scarlet velvet corset of white taffeta for lining, yellow taffeta housecoat, crimson taffeta housecoat, white housecoat, blue gros de Tour housecoat"15. The same archive holds a registry of bills "from the basest handcraftsmen" indicating the type of services and prices16. From 1753 through 1755 a tailor Shefler required to pay, "for the sewing of a little dress", 42 rubles and 40 kopecks, while the amount due to a tailor Kosman was enormous - 247 rubles and 17 kopecks. An artisan called Schicht had 53 rubles due to him for the manufacturing of corsets, and a valet named Bastidon - 53 rubles, for "confected wigs". It was mostly foreigners who were engaged in such trades. However, Russian names sometimes appear as well. For instance, a tailor Gra-nin asked 91 rubles "for the sewing of a little dress". The document references 40 rubles due to a "sergeant Stepan Pastukhovsky, an attendant of the wardrobe, for the money from his own funds that he expended" on ribbons and different cloths, as well as "instruments, lead and oak".

Although Elizabeth's wardrobe included plenty of dresses and other accessories suitable for a lady, many were lost during her lifetime. A fire in Moscow in 1752 "deprived the Empress of all of her huge stock of clothes". The Tsarina herself told the Grand Duchess that "the fire consumed 4,000 clothes, and of all of them, she misses only one, made of the fabric that I gifted to her and which was sent to me by my mother. The fire also consumed other precious things belonging to the Empress, including a tub with different stones bought by Count Rumyantsev in Constantinople, which cost 8,000 chervonetses."17 However, all the losses were made up and even exceeded within just ten years. Pyotr Fedorovich's tutor Jacob von Staehlin informed that after the Tsarina's death in 1761 the new Emperor discovered in her wardrobe 15,000 clothes, "some worn only once, some worn never at all, two trunks of silk stockings and ribbons, up to several thousand boots and shoes. More than 100 uncut pieces of expensive French textiles."18 Unfortunately, the Tsarina's original dresses have not survived to this day. The exhibition features a woman's dress of the mid-18th century, which a renovator from GIM fashioned from a piece of fabric that probably belonged to Elizabeth.

The huge array of portraits, genre compositions and documentary evidence presented at the show "Tsarina Elizabeth and Moscow" enriches our knowledge about how the Russian Tsarina lived and ruled.

1 Waliszewski, Kazimierz. Daughter of Peter the Great. Moscow, 1989. p. 263.

2 Kostomarov, Nikolai. Russian History in Biographies of Its Greatest personalities. vol. 7, book 3. Moscow, 1992. p. 213.

3 "The Russian Bethlehem, Kolomenskoye village, / which brought Peter into the world, / The source and beginning of our happiness..." Sumarokov, Alexander. The Russian Bethlehem (a poem). / In: Sumarokov, Alexander. Complete works. Moscow, 1787. vol. 6. P. 303.

4 RGADA (Russian Archive of Ancient Documents). Fund 4. Collection of Letters of the Members of the Imperial Dynasty and other Persons of Highest Standing. Item 22. Sheet 2.

5 Peter I's letter to his daughter Elizabeth, written in Preobrazhenskoe village on February 2 1718.

6 Pavlenko, Nikolai. Elizaveta Petrovna (Empress Elizabeth). Moscow: 2008. P. 13.

7 Quoted from: Empress Elizabeth and Tsarskoe Selo. St. Petersburg, 2010. P. 7.

8 Memoirs of Empress Catherine II. Reprint from a 1907 publication. Moscow, 1989. P. 39.

9 The copies of paintings and the lithographs were accomplished by Alexei Antropov, Ivan vishnyakov, Christian-Albert wortmann, Ivan Sokolov, and Johann Stenglin.

10 RGADA. Fund 17. Item 171. Sheet 21.

11 Memoirs of Empress Catherine II. Reprint of a 1907 publication. Moscow: 1989. Pp. 211-212.

12 Memoirs of Empress Catherine II. London: 1859. Reprint: Moscow: 1990. P. 82.

13 RGADA. Fund 14. Chancellery of the Court. Document 61. Sheet 17.

14 Memoirs of Empress Catherine II. London: 1859. Reprint: Moscow: 1990. P. 122.

15 RGADA. Fund 14. Chancellery of the Court. Item 88. Sheet 9.

16 RGADA. Fund 14. Chancellery of the Court. Item 933. Sheet 3.

17 Memoirs of Empress Catherine II. London: 1859. Reprint: Moscow: 1990. P. 144.

18 Anisimov, Eugene. Russia in the Mid-18th Century. The Fight for Peter I's Legacy. Moscow: 1986. P. 149.

"Empress Elizabeth and Moscow"
12 Lavrushinsky Lane, Moscow. December 9 2010 – March 27 2011

Participants of the project:

State Tretyakov Gallery
Director General Irina Lebedeva Deputy Director General for Scientific Work Lydia Iovleva
Deputy Director General on Display-Exhibition Work Andrei Vorobyov
Chief Conservator of Museum Works Tatiana Gorodkova

Insurance Company OSAO Ingosstrakh
Director General Alexander Grigoriev
Vice President Ilya Solomatin
Head of VIP Service Management Department Irina Ponomareva
Head of Marketing Management Maxim Pichugin
Head of VIP Service Management Division Igor Rudenko


The organizers thank the following contributors to the project:

State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Director Viktor Gusev, Deputy Director for Scientific Work Yevgenia Petrova

State Historical Museum, Moscow
Director Alexei Levykin

Russian Archive of Ancient Documents, Moscow
Director Мikhail Ryzhenkov

Shchusev Architectural Museum, Moscow
Director Irina Korobina

State Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve"Moscow Kremlin"
Director Yelena Gagarina

State Museum of Ceramics and"The 18th Century Kuskovo Estate", Moscow
Director Sergei Avdonin


General Sponsor - INGOSSTRAKH

The catalogue of the exhibition was published with the support of Anatoly Novikov





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