Catherine the Great - Portrait by Aleksei Petrovich Antropov

Catherine the Great
Aleksei Petrovich Antropov (1716-1795) was one of the first and best known Russian eighteenth- century portrait painters. He was born, and died, in St. Petersburg. Antropov began his studies in 1732 at the Office of Buildings in St. Petersburg where he was tutored by Matveev and Caravacque. In 1739 he began his collaboration with another of the artists of the time, Vishniakov, famous for his lacquer factory. Together with Rotari, Antropov decorated the Anichkov Palace and the Opera . His work can also be found in other palaces in St. Petersburg and its suburbs, in Moscow, as well as in St. Andrew Cathedral in Kiev. When Antropov began to paint, his works reflected to a certain degree the parsuna tradition, but his more mature works show his departure from that tradition and his incorporation of the idiom of the Western portraiture of the time. His talent can be seen not only in the representation of Catherine II, but in his portraits of Peter III, A.M. Izmailova, and A.V. Buturlin, all from the Tretiakov Gallery. They are all outstanding for their directness, truthfulness, decorative splendor, and intense colors. In the portrait of Catherine the Great, the Empress is depicted in a less formal pose -- instead of standing, she is seated on her throne. But this lesser formality is amply compensated by many attributes of the Empress' imperial status. In her right hand Catherine is holding a bejeweled scepter which she has just picked up from a red pillow decorated with gold embroidery and gold tassels. Two other attributes of royalty, a crown and an orb, rest on the pillow. The crown, made especially for the coronation, is the work of Jeremie Posier (Ieremiia Pos'ie) and consists of over 5000 diamonds (about 3000 carats) topped by an enormous 415-carat red spinel. The orb, made of solid gold, is enhanced by a band of diamonds and by a 47-carat sapphire. Antropov's artistic and technical ability is well attested by his attention to the details of the Empress's dress. Her narrow-waisted silken gown with golden double-headed eagles embroidered on its skirt is partially concealed by an ermine mantle made of four thousand ermine skins and brocade covered with similar embroidered black and red double-headed eagles. The double-headed eagle appears in the painting so many times -- in embroidery, on the throne, and in the ornamental treatment of the table -- that it may be called a leitmotif of the painting. Lace sleeves of the dress barely protrude from under the ermine. Antropov's gift of observation and his technical excellence allow him to notice and render delicate pearl bracelets and a ring on Catherine's finger, as well as a diamond tiara, diamond earrings, and a diamond necklace with the large order of St. Andrew the First Called. The artist's apparent predilection for various shades of red -- from the brilliant red of the pillow, through the red spots in the embroidered two-headed eagles and the Empress's heavily rouged cheeks, to the slightly subdued carmine on the back of the throne contributes to the overall "shimmering" and sumptuous effect of the portrait.

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