The Bronze Horseman

Public Art : The Bronze Horseman (originally named Peter the Great statue) also known as The Copper Horseman.

Sculptors : © Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716 - 1791) and Marie-Anne Collot (1748-1821). Collot created the face for the statue, modelling it from Peter the Great's death mask and various paintings she found of him. Collet would later become Falconet's stepdaughter.

Date Unveiled : August the 9th, 1782.

Description : A bronze 6 m (20 feet) tall statue of Peter the Great astride his rearing stead with his right outstretched arm pointing towards the River Neva in the west. Falconet wanted the horse to appear to be rearing on the edge of a cliff ready to crush the serpent that lies in wait. Arguably the serpent can be seen as depicting treachery, evil or the enemies of Peter and his reforms. The statue stands on an enormous rock called the Thunder Stone, which is an impressive 7 m (25 feet) tall and believed to be the largest stone ever moved by man.

Location : Decembrists Square (formerly the Senate Square), Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Inscription : There are two inscriptions on the statue one in Latin and one in Russian, they both translate to mean 'Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782'. So who was a little egotistical then ?

Petro Primo Catharina Secunda MDCCLXXXII (Latin)

Петру первому Екатерина вторая, лето 1782 (Russian)

Background of Catherine the Great: Okay, place yourself in Catherine the Greats shoes for just a moment. There she was, a minor German princess, with the opportunity to marry into the right royal Russian Romanov family. The only problem was, she didn't speak Russian and she only had a smidgen of Russian ancestry. Not a problem, with her mother's scheming and some diplomatic wrangling, she manages to marry Peter of Holstein-Gottorp (Peter the Great's son) in spite of the many issues. Peter, who by all accounts was impotent and not about to consumate the marriage anytime soon, was quiet happy to go along with the arrangements, so too Catherine (as they both had their own lovers). Seventeen years later, When Empress Elizabeth (Peter's mom) dies in 1762, Peter takes over the throne as Peter III of Russia and Catherine becomes Empress Consort of Russia. Catherine, always conscience of her lack of Russian blood, had been for seventeen years, doing what any ladder climbing consort must. She learnt the language, chin wagged with the elite and basically did  everything in her power to make herself as Russian as possible. So imagine Catherine's utter shock when 6 months as Empress consort,  her hubby decides to up and retire to Oranienbaum, leaving Catherine high and dry in Saint Petersburg. Well, the personal guards of the monarchy (Russian Imperial Guards) were none too happy about Peter's behavior and they proclaimed Catherine the ruler of Russia (despite her having no legal claim to it). Three days later Peter was dead and so too any potential claimants to the throne (surely the ladder climber wasn't behind this? Or was she?). Despite a few possible coups, Catherine the Great managed to remain ruler of Russia until her death in 1796.

So who was Peter the Great ? : The self proclaimed Peter the Great was Tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725. The enormously tall Tsar (nearly 7ft) was instrumental in leading Russia out of the medieval times by centralising government, modernising his army and creating a navy. Peter the Great was the first Tsar to travel to Europe, where at the age of 25, he went to study shipbuilding. He was the founder of St Petersburg in 1703 when looking for a port with unrestricted passage to the Baltic. This eventually led to war with Sweden. After defeating Sweden at the battle of Poltava, St Petersburg was named the capital of Russia in 1712.

History Behind The Bronze Horseman : So what was Catherine the Great thinking, having a monument built in honor of her husband's relative? Smoke and mirrors, my friends, smoke and mirrors. Catherine had to appear to the public as the rightful heir to the throne, thus she needed to show her love for Russia. What better way than to create an enormous monument to Peter I whose policies helped in modernizing Russia. But she wasn't about to let him have all the glory,however, the inscription reads 'Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782'.

In 1766 she had her first meeting with French sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet, on the advice of friend Denis Diderot. It would take 9 years from the first meeting before the statue would actually be cast. The casting would prove to be a challenge. The first attempt ended in near tragedy when the mould broke (following the pouring of the molten bronze). Fires broke out everywhere and everyone, except the caster Yemelyan Khailov, ran for their lives. Khailov attempted to save the casting. The bronze had to be remelted and then recast. 

During the WWII the statue was protected with sand bags and a wooden shelter. Remarkably during the 900 day Siege of Lenigrad which included heavy bombing and artillery fire the statue remained unscathed.

Poem Changed everything : Originally the statue was just known as the monument to Peter the Great, that was until poet Aleksandr Pushkin decided to write a poem in honor of the statue in 1833. Now, who would have thought a poem about a statue would have created so much attention?  The poem, The Bronze Horseman, was set during the flood of 1824 and was about a poor man named Yevgeny. At the time, many people were suffering as a direct result of Tsar Peter's legacy. Despite his policy of Westernization and expansion (through trade, rebuilding and military might) to make St Petersburg a great capital, the poor were ignored and many died from diseases and the hardships of living (seems like nothing ever changes). The poem highlighted the struggle between State and the common people. A frustrated Yevgeny blamed his woes on Tsar Peter, after his fiancee's home and village are washed away by the flood. Crazed, Yevgeny curses the grand statue of Peter the Great and with this the statue breaks from its pedestal and chases Yevgeny through the city. Yevgeny dies a short time later (I presume from sheer shock) and his body is washed up on a little island at the entrance of a ruined house. Following the publication of Pushkin's poem the statue was forever known as The Bronze Horseman.


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