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History has long recognized Catherine the Great's lavish reign (1762-96), exceptional accomplishments and political savvy. This immigrant German princess, who came to Russia at the age of fourteen, took to her adopted nation with a passion and became one of history's most important monarchs. The Empress was also an avid collector and enlightened patron who understood the political power of art and grasped the role it could play in the modernization of Russia begun by her predecessor, Peter the Great. Guided by her prescient advisers and demonstrating stunning extravagance, Catherine acquired entire art collections from across Europe, which provided the foundation of the Hermitage. The Empress established a new model for Russian cultural life and transformed Saint Petersburg by commissioning works from pre-eminent European artists and architects, and by bringing these artists, as well as writers, craftsmen and musicians to her court. As well, she established and patronized Imperial academies and manufactories, which attained further fame for her nation. Catherine's aesthetic vision was unbounded; yet above all, she responded to classicism with a profound nostalgia, for the grandeur of its decorative and monumental forms, and for its symbolism of imperial power. She cast herself as a modern Minerva in public and became a fervent disciple of antiquity in private. Encompassing all domains of art and including some 300 illustrations, this catalogue brings together numerous scholars who provide an in-depth examination of Catherine's engagement with classicism, revealing the pivotal role of her patronage in the establishment of a fundamentally modern relationship between Russia and Europe.
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