The Bronze Horseman Monument to Peter the Great in St. Petersburg

Bronze Horseman

An equestrian statue of Russian Emperor Peter the Great, The Bronze Horseman, is located on Senate Square in St. Petersburg. It is one of the most famous landmarks of the northern capital, and its image can be found on postcards and stamps, envelopes and tourist guides. The silhouette of the bronze giant (its name “Bronze Horseman” he received thanks to the same title work of Alexander Pushkin), so recognizable that is associated exclusively with the city on the Neva, so it is justifiably called a calling card of St. Petersburg.

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The sculpture appeared in this place more than two hundred years ago, but the interest in it is so alive and enduring, as if the legendary statesman embodied in this creation just recently became part of our history. This is not surprising: today’s Russia is experiencing such an upsurge and at the same time is facing such global challenges that many people often compare it to the time of Peter the Great.

The Bronze Horseman has its own history, full of events and facts, myths and legends. The search for foundry workers, the skepticism of many craftsmen that such a monument can be created at all, the difficulty of delivering a huge stone as a pedestal and other things do not leave any doubt – it was erected, if I may say so, in haste and difficulty. However, cast in metal Peter the Great has adequately overcome them, reaching our days in its original form, symbolizing the greatness and power of the Fatherland.

Instead of the monument to Catherine II

The “Bronze Horseman” monument might never have seen the light of day if not for the good will of Empress Catherine II. More precisely, her wise and far-sighted calculation.

For Sophia Augusta Frederica of Anhalt-Tserbst, the great predecessor on the Russian throne was an absolute authority on everything. By initiating various reforms and inviting the most talented writers, artists and sculptors to St. Petersburg, the autocrat was imitating Peter I. She was a progressive person and readily absorbed everything new in science and philosophy. Not in vain the era of Empress Catherine Alekseevna entered the national history as “the age of enlightened absolutism” and also as “the union of philosophers and monarchs.

Merits of the great Empress were appreciated during her lifetime. Contemporaries even talked about building a monument in her honor. The idea of being immortalized in bronze or any other metal, of course, flattered the former Prussian princess, who became the head of the largest country in the world. But in the end she decided to immortalize for posterity not herself, but precisely Peter, who went down in history as the reforming tsar. By doing so, she intended to consolidate in the public consciousness the idea that her transformations were a continuation of Peter’s reforms, and that she was a worthy successor to them. The calendar also spoke in favor of this decision: just approaching the 100th anniversary of Peter the Great’s accession to the throne, and there was no better date to implement this idea.

Having suppressed her ego-destroying dreams of having a monument of her own, Catherine the Great ordered a monument to her predecessor to be cast. The task was assigned to the Russian sculptor, architect and painter Bartolomeo Rastrelli, but the empress did not like the version he had prepared. What was to be done? Help came to the aid of the French philosophers Voltaire and Denis Diderot with whom the enlightened Tsarina was actively corresponding, and whose opinion was particularly valuable to her. They advised her to seek the services of the eminent French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet. In 1766, the minister plenipotentiary at the court of Louis XV, Dmitri Alexeevich Golitsyn, presented the 50-year-old artist with an official invitation to Russia.

Falconet had a reputation as a man of wit, sensitivity, refinement and unselfishness, who throughout his life had dreamed of showing his talent in the monumental arts. He understood that such a chance to him may no longer be and therefore, unconditionally accepted the proposal of the Russian diplomat, promising for the work only 200 thousand livres – remuneration for such an ambitious project more than modest. In August 1766, all the formalities were settled: a contract was signed, which discussed the general appearance and size of the monument, the amount of the fee and the timing of the order, as well as an obligation on the sculptor not to be distracted by other orders while he would work on a monument to Peter the Great.

Stonehenge megalith monument in the UK

How the Bronze Horseman was created

Suggestions on how the emperor, cast in metal, should look varied. Ivan Ivanovich Belskoi, who was head of the Russian Academy of Art, proposed sculpting him with a rod in his hand and at full height. The State Councilor Shtelin saw Peter surrounded by other statues, allegorically representing Victory, Justice, Prudence and Labor, which would support the worst human qualities – Deceit, Envy, Laziness and Ignorance. Catherine II also had her own idea: she believed that Peter must necessarily hold a scepter and a rod and ride a horse.

Falconet wanted to embody neither the image of the victorious monarch, nor the allegory. He thought that his work should show Peter I as an outstanding personality – the benefactor and creator of his country. He worked on the plaster model of the Bronze Horseman in the former temporary Winter Palace of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and the Moika Embankment (the residence has not survived to this day). A Guards officer posed for the master, along with Brilliant and Caprice, two stately racers of the Orlov breed. The Frenchman watched intently as the guardsman literally took off on one of them onto the platform, setting the horse on its pommel horse, and made many sketches along the way. The Empress was particularly picky about the model of Peter the Great’s head, which caused the sculptor to alter it several times.

The 17-year old Marie-Anne Collot, a student of Falconet who had been brought to Russia as an apprentice, also offered her head design. This solved the problem: Catherine liked the sketch. And so much so, that for the work done by the girl assigned a salary of 10 thousand livres for life and admitted to the Russian Academy of Fine Arts. In her performance of the Emperor’s face, lit with deep thought, with eyes wide open, expressed courage and will. But the Russian sculptor Fyodor Gordeev worked on the serpent under the horse’s feet.

So, the plaster model of the Bronze Horseman was made not without difficulties and heated arguments by 1769. It would seem that all the difficulties were behind us. But new tests lay ahead. Firstly, the czarina did not like the model as a whole because the Frenchman did not listen to her suggestions and arbitrarily chose the appearance of the monument. Secondly, the monument was to be cast in bronze. Falcone calculated that it would retain its balance only if its front walls were very thin, not more than a centimetre. Domestic foundry workers did not agree with these calculations. They did not want to work because of the enormous size of the sculpture. Foreign masters were not afraid of anything, but they demanded a lot of money for their services.

After a while, the caster was finally found. He turned out to be Emelyan Khailov, a cannon-maker. He and a French sculptor chose the right alloy and made tests. The casting of the monument began in 1774, and was carried out using an incredibly complex technique. It was necessary to ensure that the front walls were inevitably thicker than the rear ones, which would have given the composition the necessary stability. But here’s the problem: the pipe, through which the molten bronze entered the mold, suddenly burst, ruining the upper part of the monument. It had to be removed, and it took another three years to prepare for the second pour. This time fortune smiled on them, and everything was ready on time and without incident.

To commemorate the successful completion of the work, Falconet wrote on the fold of Peter’s cloak that it was he who in 1788 “moulded and cast” this sculpture. It was then that his relations with Catherine the Great were at their lowest ebb, and the sculptor was forced to leave Russia together with his apprentice. From that moment on, the completion of the monument was supervised by Academician Yuri Matveyevich Felten. It was his drawings were used to build the car that thrilled everyone, and which was used to transport the “Thunder-stone”, which formed the basis of the pedestal of the Bronze Horseman.

Bru-na-Boin burial mounds in the river bend

Speaking of “Thunder-stone”. It was found in the vicinity of the village of Konnaya Lakhta by the peasant Semyon Vishnyakov, who responded to an appeal in the “Sankt Peterburgskie Vedomosti”. The megalith weighed 1600 tons and when it was taken out of the ground, it left behind a huge pit. It filled with water and formed a body of water, called the Petrovsky Pond, which has been preserved to this day. To bring the stone to the place of loading, it was necessary to overcome almost 8 kilometers. But how? They decided to wait for winter, so the frozen soil would not sink under its weight. The shipment began on November 15, 1769 and was completed on March 27, 1770 (old style) on the shore of Gulf of Finland. By that time a pier was built to unload the giant. They began cutting the stone as it was being moved, so as not to lose precious time. But the Empress forbade its touching: the future pedestal must arrive in the capital in its natural state! The Thunder-stone gained its present appearance on Senate Square, considerably “losing weight” after being processed.

Interesting facts, myths and legends

The Bronze Horseman monument, the main symbol of Northern Palmyra, immortalizing Peter the Great on a rampant horse, was unveiled on August 7, 1782. A military parade led by Prince Alexander Golitsyn was held to commemorate the long-awaited event. Catherine II arrived at the festivities in a boat on the Neva. Climbing to the balcony of the Senate building, she put on her crown and purple and gave the sign that the celebration could begin. It is a bitter irony of fate that Falconet himself was not even invited to the event.

The French sculptor’s monumental creation impressed those present at the ceremony with its majesty and astonishing completeness of image. It seems that even the Empress herself, who ordered the inscription “Catherine II to Peter I” on the pedestal, had time to forget that the monument she originally had imagined quite different. And it certainly hadn’t occurred to anyone that the Bronze Horseman would be followed by a trail of myths and legends, not to mention just noteworthy facts. And almost from the day of installation.

If the supporters of the reformist tsar said that the monument embodies the power and greatness of the Russian Empire, and no enemy, as long as the rider is on its pedestal, it would not be able to crush, then the opponents of Peter held the opposite viewpoint. They did not fail to declare that the monument was very reminiscent of the Horseman of the Apocalypse foretold in the Bible, and that its appearance in the heart of the capital was a harbinger of suffering and death throughout the country.

Fame of the amazing monument soon spread far beyond St. Petersburg. In the provinces even arose its own version of its appearance. Allegedly, Tsar Peter once invented a pastime: he sat on a horse and jumped on it from one bank of the river to the other. “All is God’s and mine!” – he exclaimed before his first jump. The same phrase he uttered before the second, also successful. The third time the sovereign, mixing up the words, said: “All is mine and God’s!” For such “impudence” the Almighty punished him by turning him to stone, and he remained forever a monument to himself.

And here is another legend – about a certain Major Baturin. It was during the Patriotic War of 1812, when our troops were forced to retreat and the French were about to capture the capital. To prevent the enemy from gaining access to the most valuable works of art, Emperor Alexander I ordered them to be taken out of the city. The “Bronze Horseman” monument was to be transported as well. But then it becomes known that Major Baturin has the same dream, in which he sees himself on Senate Square, next to the monument. Peter I supposedly rides off the pedestal on a horse and heads for the Stone Island, where the sovereign’s residence was located. During the meeting he scolded Alexander: “What have you brought my Russia to, young man? But as long as I am there, my city has nothing to fear!” The unusual dream was first reported to a friend of the tsar, Prince Golitsyn, who retold it to the emperor. The evacuation was canceled, and the monument remained in place. There is an opinion – unconfirmed, however – that it was this very legend that formed the basis of the plot of Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Bronze Horseman”. The same motif can also be traced in Dostoevsky’s novel “Teenager”.

Novgorod Kremlin Dytynets', Veliky Novgorod

The myth of Peter the Great’s ghost, which Catherine II’s son Paul I saw while he was not yet emperor, also became widespread in local folklore. The crown prince and his friend Prince Kurakin were taking a walk on the site of the present-day monument. And then they saw a man wrapped in a broad cloak, as if waiting for them. The ghost spoke to them and went to the middle of the square, pointed to the place of the future Bronze Horseman and said that he would be seen there again. As they said goodbye, he raised his hat and the young people were almost numb with horror: the mysterious stranger was none other than Peter the Great.

The Bronze Horseman points in the direction of Sweden. Interestingly, in the center of Stockholm, the capital of this Scandinavian monarchy, there is a monument to Peter’s opponent in the Northern War – King Charles XII, whose left hand – coincidence? – points in the direction of Russia. Another interesting fact, as if confirming the dream of the mentioned Major Baturin. The monument remained in its place not only during the Patriotic War of 1812, but during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. In the terrible days of the siege of Leningrad it was covered with planks and logs and laid around with sandbags. Our country, as we know, held out in both of those wars…

The bronze emperor and his horse have been restored only twice, in 1909 and 1976. At that time, the skeleton of the sculpture was analyzed by gamma rays. It showed that everything was in order. Even a capsule was put inside the monument: there was a message about restoration and a newspaper dated September 3, 1976. During the Soviet period (1988), the State Bank issued a commemorative 5-ruble coin, made of copper-nickel alloy, with the image of the Bronze Horseman. It weighed 19.8 grams, and the total circulation was 2 million copies. Two years later another commemorative coin was issued, this time in denomination of 100 rubles and gold of the 900th standard from the historical series on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the united Russian state. They also put the image of the monument to Peter I on it.

How to get there

You can get to the Copper Horseman by subway. Go to the station “Admiralteyskaya” and being on the Malaya Morskaya Street, turn left and walk past St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Then from the cathedral turn right and walk to the Alexandrovsky Garden. The Senate Square with the monument is behind the garden.

Another option: take the Metro to one of the two stations – “Nevsky Prospect” or “Gostiny Dvor”, go out to the Admiralty and Palace Square and, passing by, you find yourself on Admiralteysky Prospect. Turn left and you’ll reach Senate Square.

If you do not want to walk, take a trolleybus to “Nevsky Prospekt” station (routines: 1, 5, 10, 11, and 22) and get off at the stop “Pochtamtsky Lane”. If you do not want to walk, walk about 500 meters back to Konnogvardeisky Boulevard.

The Bronze Horseman in St. Petersburg – interesting facts and history of the monument to Peter I

The Bronze Horseman on the Senate Square in St. Petersburg

The Bronze Horseman is one of the most famous and recognizable monuments to Peter I. It was erected on Senate Square in St. Petersburg by order of Catherine II. Today it is one of the main attractions of the city, which is mentioned in many literary works, serves as a source of inspiration for artists and decorates commemorative coins.

Tsarskoe Selo, State Museum Reserve

Description of the monument

The monument on Senate Square in St. Petersburg depicts Peter the Great sitting on a rampant horse. He is standing on top of a pedestal rock, and at the horse’s feet lays a fallen snake. All this symbolizes the difficulties the emperor overcame and the hostile forces.

The snake serves as one of the points of support for the emperor’s horse, which is a rather original solution to give the sculpture stability.

A serpent adds stability

Peter’s gaze is directed forward. According to the author of the sculpture “he extends his beneficent right hand” to all areas where he passes. The autocrat has no symbols of state power in his hands and he is not dressed in military armor, but in plain clothes. In the sculpture Peter I appears not as a commander but as a legislator, enlightener, creator and benefactor.

But there is still a hint of statehood and the autocrat’s victories in the monument. Peter I head is decorated with a laurel wreath, and on his belt hangs a sword.

A laurel wreath adorns the head of Peter the Great.

On the pedestal there is an inscription in Russian and Latin – “Catherine II to Peter I Lett 1782”. It immortalizes the name of the empress and emphasizes her commitment to the reforms of Peter the Great.

The Bronze Horseman monument is surrounded by a low fence, along which shrubs and flowers are planted.

Why is the monument called the Bronze Horseman

The question about the Copper Horseman is especially relevant in the light of the fact that the monument to Peter the Great in St. Petersburg is cast in bronze. But the answer is quite simple.

The monument is cast in bronze

The monument became “brass” because of Pushkin’s work of the same name, in which the emperor on his horse jumps off the monument and rushes after the official Eugene, who lost his beloved during a flood.

Interesting fact! The image of Peter on the horse was used in his works by F. Dostoevsky and A. Bely. The reference leads to the monument on Senate Square.

Authors of the monument

For some reason many people think Etienne Falconet – a French sculptor – is the only author of the monument to Peter the Great in St. Petersburg. In fact, this is not entirely true, although he did a large amount of work.

Quite a responsible part of them was undertaken by a pupil of the French master – Marie Anne Collot. She molded the head of the sculpture. The work was entrusted to Marie after Catherine II had rejected three times Elfalconet’s designs. The Empress liked the sketch by his pupil and as a result she granted her a pension for life and admitted her to the Russian Academy of Arts.

The Bronze Horseman, rear view

The snake at the feet of the horse was sculpted by F. Gordeev, the casting of the main part of the statue was supervised by V. Yekimov, and the architectural and planning decision was made by Yu.

The history of the creation of the Bronze Horseman

The history of the creation of the Bronze Horseman is full of contradictions and even conflicts. And if it had not been for E. Falconet, Senate Square could have been adorned by an entirely different sculpture.

Work on the project

Prominent minds of Russian academies for a long time could not decide on the type of monument. Catherine II wanted to see the statue on horseback, Belsky without the horse, Diderot suggested the monument to Peter I in St Petersburg as a fountain. In fact Stelin saw the Emperor not alone but among the human vices that had fallen at his feet and were embodied in metal.

Falcone decisively abandoned his original ideas and created a sketch of the monument as it now appears.

Interesting fact! To create a dynamic sculpture, Falcone made sketches from a moving horse. For this purpose his officers of the Guards had to raise the horse on its pawls and hold it in that position, or ride it up the platform.

Thunderstone pedestal

The sculpture of Peter the Great stands on an imposing pedestal – a hewn stone block. It was searched for all around St. Petersburg, and the local newspaper even published an ad asking citizens to help in the search.

The Pyramid of Austerlitz, detailed description and photos

Weighs 1,600 tons

As a result, a suitable boulder was found by peasant S. G. Vishnikov. G. Vishnyakov, for which he received a prize of 100 rubles. The granite boulder, which had been split by a lightning stroke, was called “Thunder-stone”.

It weighed 1,600 tons and was almost 4 meters deep in the ground and covered with moss. When it was excavated, a large pit was left behind, which quickly filled with water. This reservoir has survived to this day and carries the name “Petrovsky pond”.

The transportation of the stone was particularly difficult. To bring it to the Gulf of Finland, it was necessary to build troughs and place large copper balls along the way. They were used to transport the boulder. The works were done in winter, so that the frozen ground could carry a lot of weight. A specially built barge waited for the stone in the bay.

The inscription on the pedestal

Transporting the boulder required the efforts of over 1,000 people and about six months of time. The stone arrived at Senate Square on September 26, 1770. A huge number of people watched its unloading.

Before installation, the stone was well deburred, and it had lost most of its size and splendor.

Casting and installation of the monument

Casting the Peter the Great monument in St. Petersburg caused quite a few problems for Falconet. He had never done such work himself and there was no workshop in the city where he could cast the monument to such a size. No one could guarantee the success of the venture or promise the desired result.

French specialist B. Hersman was invited to cast the sculpture. He came with assistants and even all the necessary materials. But a fruitful collaboration with Russian sculptors and artists did not work out. Ersman was fired at the insistence of Yu.

Monument to Peter, 19th century

His place was taken by E. Heilov, who had previously been engaged in cannon casting. He had to select a new composition for casting so that the monument could stand on only three points of support and turned out to be strong but light.

The first casting experience proved unsuccessful. The pipe feeding the bronze into the mold burst. Almost dying, Hailov managed to prevent a fire in the wooden workshop. A second attempt at casting, which followed only three years later, was successful.

In the midst of his work, Falconet’s relations with Catherine II deteriorated rapidly and he was forced to leave Russia in 1778. He took with him all his drawings, sketches, as well as his talented assistant Marie Anne Collot. In this regard, further work on the completion of the sculpture and its installation was led by J. Felten.

A shelter during the war

Monument to Peter I or the Bronze Horseman was installed on Senate Square in St. Petersburg in 1782 . In honor of this, a military parade led by D. A. Golitsyn was held.

Interesting facts about the Copper Horseman

  • “Thunderstone” was extracted from the ground for almost a year.
  • The stallions, from which Falcone made the sketch, were named Diamond and Caprice.
  • Falcone was promised 200,000 livres for his work on the sculpture.
  • Commemorative silver coins were issued to commemorate the unveiling of the sculpture. Three gold coins were minted for those who were involved in its creation and one of them was sent to Falconet by Catherine II. However, he was not invited to the opening of the monument.
  • There is an inscription on Peter I’s cloak stating that Etienne Falcone worked on the sculpture.
  • During World War II, the monument was boarded up and covered with sandbags to protect it from destruction.
  • During the restoration of the monument in 1976, a capsule with a restoration document and a newspaper from September 3 of the same year was placed inside it.
  • The height of the monument is about 5 meters.

The Bronze Horseman with its rich history and majestic appearance has long been one of the symbols of St. Petersburg. Against his backdrop are happily photographed as tourists, and residents of the city. Riding a horse with such an important rider in the history of Russia is interesting for both adults and children.

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