Art History in “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” by Robert K. Massie

Purchase the book

After reading Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: A Journey, I checked out Robert K. Massie’s biography of the German princess turned Russian head of state.  Reading them one after another, I came away learning what not to do if I lived as a princess during the Enlightenment era with all its changing ideas over who deserved power.

On the book itself, I loved it with all its intrigue, complex characters, and descriptions of the cathedrals and palaces in all their jeweled and icon-covered glory.  Talk about splendor.

While Massie wrote of Catherine’s interest in art (Hermitage), he left a treat for art historians curious about Russian paintings.  At the end of the book, the author gave a time line of portraits depicting Catherine, Peter the Great, and others.  Going through it, I saw Russian art’s evolution from its stylized beginnings to a more naturalistic effort.  Plus, the section shows the unique flair given by each artist.  While Georg Christoph Grooth portraits did a beautiful job depicting fabric textures comparable to Jan Van Eyck, he never dedicated such skill to the people.  Other artists such as Stepan Semenovich would change that with his realistically rendered paintings.  On other artists, I thought Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky felt very Gainsborough in his use of color and execution.

All in all, you should read this book.  Come for the history, stay for the opulence.

ETA: Added a link

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