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The Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman is an iconic landmark of St. Petersburg – depicting the city's founder, Tsar Peter the Great, in a horseback pose inspired by the verse of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, as he proudly looks out to thousands of St. Petersburg's citizens and visitors. The statue was erected at the command of Empress Catherine the Great, and has been standing on Senate Square for more than two centuries.

Fascinating Facts

  • One of the first technical problems the sculptor, Falconet, had to deal with finding a suitable pedestal on which the monument would stand. Legend claims that Some Saints pointed out the piece of stone to Falconet – not far from Lakhta. It was a stone which had been struck by lightning, that had formed in cliffs due to this remarkable event.
  • One legend about the Bronze Horseman claims that the statue not only shows the Emperor himself – but also his favourite horse Lizetta, who served His Majesty for nearly ten years.
  • The Tsar's hand seems to point towards Sweden – Russia's main political adversary at that time. In the centre of Stockholm there is a statue of Swedish King Charles XII – Tsar Peter's enemy – who, in turn, is waving his fist towards St Petersburg.
  • During World War Two, Leningraders had a legend that while the great military leader and his horse stood in place, and were not covered, then the German foe – whose front lines were just a short distance from the city – would never dare enter St. Petersburg. It really came to pass that despite the 900-Day Siege of Leningrad, the troops of the Third Reich were unable to take the city. Despite this, the statue of the Bronze Horseman was covered – to protect it from German shrapnel.

History

As Europe's fledgling nation, there was no shortage of offers of monuments to the young Tsar. Foreign diplomats and statesmen were not slow to make such offers – such as the Frenchman, Denis Diderot. However, the project which won favour was that proposed by French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet, which dazzled Catherine the Great and Voltaire.

Falconet created the model over 1768-1770 for his sculpture on the area formerly occupied by the temporary Winter Palace of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. Falconet's first task was to create sketches – whose horseman model was a young guards officer, who alternately rode two horses from the Imperial stables. The model for Peter's head took numerous attempts – but none of Falconet's versions found favour with Catherine II. Finally, Falconet's pupil and assistant, Marie-Anne Collot produced a head and face which had the right degree of gallantry and bravura. For her work, Collot was accepted as a member of the Russian Academy of Arts, and the Empress awarded Collot a lifetime pension of 10,000 livres per year.

The final casting process was not without its problems either. Foreign craftsmen either refused the job outright – or declared it was actually impossible. Eventually a foundry run by Emelyan Hailov accepted the commission. Doing so nearly cost Hailov his life – since the pipes through which the molten bronze ran burst, and he only just managed to save the workshops, and the precious sculpture from disastrous harm.

Even so, Falconet didn't see his work come to fruition. By 1778, his professional relationship with an impatient royal client was a breaking point – and he and Marie-Anne Collot were compelled to leave Russia for Paris. The statue was only finally unveiled four years later, under the direction of Fyodor Gordeev – on 7th August 1782, when the ceremonial opening took place.

Guided Tour to The Bronze Horseman

You can book a tour in English on our website.

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