The statue of The Bronze Horseman (= Peter the Great, the inspired hero, rash, speedy, proud, majestic, handsome, and yes, six and a half feet tall in real life!) symbolized a powerful upsurge in Russian energy (and the horse and his rider are pointed westward). Indeed it is the subject of many a frontispiece in our holdings of St. Petersburg travel literature, and is immortalized in Pushkin’s poem, “The Bronze Horseman.”
Statue of Peter the Great: Frontispiece from Augustus Bozzi Granville’s St. Petersburg.
A Journal of Travels to and from that Capital. 2nd ed., carefully revised and with considerable
additions. London: H. Colburn 1829. 2 vols. Call Number: C9755, v.1. Click image to enlarge.
French sculptor Étienne-Maurice Falconet was commissioned by Catherine II on recommendation of Diderot to erect a memorial to Peter I. Falconet apparently had only unhappy experiences during his Russian years and never came back to see his masterpiece in place and ready to leap into the no longer frozen future. Falconet knew that Catherine abhorred allegory, and he himself did not want a “Peter in Roman armor.” On this matter he locked horns with Ivan Betskoi of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. In the end he had his way artistically, but we have seen no images amongst our holdings that do it justice for display. Obviously this is one statue that must be seen “in the flesh.”
The story of the hauling from Finland of the granite block on which this saddle-sore Peter and his horse are erected is as dramatic as the story of obtaining the rock and wooden underpinnings of St. P., the city, in 1703. Both were the death of many a good Russian.
The biography of Granville, from whose travel journal the above frontispiece illustration is taken, reads like Candide: his Cornish mother’s death-bed wish was that he take a British last name, but in fact he was an Italian patriot and political rabble-rouser, journalist, actor, and eventually physician. He first visited Petersburg in 1827, a second time in 1829 as physician, when he predicted Nicholas would die before July 1855.
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.