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Breaking Bronze

Published: June 25, 2014 (Issue # 1817)



  • The Bronze Horseman stands tall over Senate Square to this day.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Bronze Horseman, the famous statue of Peter the Great immortalized by Pushkin and which stands sentinel on the southern shore of the Neva, is one of the most recognized symbols of the city. It is considered to be a masterpiece, an imposing edifice symbolizing the power of autocratic rule; a masterpiece its creator would never see finished.

In the 1760s, at the beginning of the reign of Catherine II, better known in the Western world as Catherine the Great, the Empress wanted to build a monument that physically expressed the monarchs bond to the lineage of Russias great rulers, despite her German heritage. Yet she did not believe any artist in Russia was capable of taking the lead on such a project, so she asked her ambassador in Paris to find someone willing to work for the right price.

Through the Enlightment philosopher Denis Diderot, the ambassador was introduced to Etienne Maurice Falconet, the director of a sculpture workshop in a French porcelain factory who was renowned for his small figures but had never built anything on the large scale Catherine wanted. He was not a vastly talented sculptor but he was competent and, more importantly, willing to work for less than what more accomplished artists demanded. He accepted the Empress offer and moved to St. Petersburg in 1766 to begin his work.

After three years of work, an incomplete model of the statue was revealed to the public to mixed reactions. Some did not understand why there was a serpent beneath the horses hooves and they told Falconet he should remove it, not understanding that the serpent was essential to the statues ability to stand. A finished model was presented a year later to yet more criticism. Some claimed that Peter looked more like a Roman emperor than a Russian tsar because of the clothes he wore. Catherine had to reassure her obsequious sculptor, telling him in a letter, you cant please everybody.

Despite her initial assurances, Catherine grew more and more frustrated as the project dragged on. Once the base, a 1,500-ton boulder discovered in Finnish Karelia, was put in place, it took another four years to both find a casting master and to construct the mold for the statue. There were a series of failures during the casting and as time wore on and the cost rose, relations between Falconet and Catherine, who could not understand why there were such delays, frayed. Eventually, Catherine grew tired of her sculptor and asked for two Italian architects, telling the man in charge of hiring them that, You will choose honest and reasonable people, not dreamers like Falconet; [I want] people who walk on the earth, not in the air.

After 12 years, with the project still unfinished and Falconet tired of the constant criticism and the icy demeanor of the Empress, the sculptor asked Catherine for permission to leave Russia. She agreed and paid him the money he was due, but did not see him before he left. Falconet, a broken man, returned to Paris. He never sculpted again.

It would be another four years before the finished piece was unveiled on Senate Square on Aug. 7, 1782. In all, Falconets masterpiece, which he never saw completed, took 16 years to build. The statue of Peter atop his horse, looking out at the city he built, is now one of the citys most popular tourist attractions.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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