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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

Thursday, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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