Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Catherine II

signature image

Fyodor Rokotov. Portrait of Catherine II, 1780s. The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Catherine II
b. 1729, Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland); d. 1796, Saint Petersburg

Historical assessments of Catherine the Great have not been kind. She was, indeed, a complex and contradictory personality. Inspired by Enlightenment ideals, she was nevertheless threatened by their actualization in the French Revolution. Given the choice between liberal ideals and the preservation of royal and aristocratic privilege, she chose the latter. German-born, she became a grand duchess upon her marriage to the future Peter III, heir to the imperial throne of Russia. She endured eighteen miserable years with an unbalanced husband before becoming empress of Russia in 1762 (Peter was assassinated in a revolt). A disciple of liberal philosophers such as Montesquieu and Rousseau, Catherine assumed the throne with a sincere desire to continue the Westernizing, modernizing mission begun by Peter the Great. But many of the elements of her ambitious reform program—an Enlightened constitution, the expansion of education, the abolition of serfdom—were quickly discarded in favor of realpolitik. Serfs and peasants—95 percent of the population—were subjected to more systematic forms of control; their forced labor, in effect, created the revenues needed to finance Catherine's military exploits and cultural projects. Her achievements, on the other hand, include the building or renovation of dozens of towns; under her brilliant administration, trade and communications expanded with infrastructural improvements. A cultured woman with intellectual aspirations and extravagant tastes, she patronized science, literature, and the arts, and engaged in extensive correspondence with the great minds of her time, such as Diderot and Voltaire.

Related Place Setting

Elizabeth R.

Related Heritage Floor Entries

Anna Sophia
Anne Bacon
Catherine of Aragon
Georgiana Cavendish
Christina of Sweden
Jeanne D'Albret
Elizabeth Danviers
Maria de Coste Blanche
Penette de Guillet
Isabella de Joya Roseres
Maria-Christine de Lalaing
Catherine Fisher
Kenau Hasselaer
Elizabeth Hoby
Isabella of Castile
Jadwiga
Jane of Sutherland
Sarah Jennings
Helene Kottauer

Lilliard
Isabella Losa
Elizabeth Lucar
Margaret of Austria
Margaret of Desmond
Margaret of Navarre
Margaret of Scandinavia
Maria Theresa
Mary of Hungary
Gracia Mendesa
Grace O'Malley
Catherine Pavlovna
Elizabeth Petrovna
Philippa of Hainault
Oliva Sabuco
Mary Sidney
Sophia of Mechlenberg
Elizabeth Talbot
Jane Weston

SEARCH