Catherine the Great’s passion for the arts served a vital role in her efforts to position herself as a paragon of the Enlightenment. With avaricious focus she snaffled celebrated art collections from under the noses of other European rulers, while the quest to establish professional artists led her to champion Russia’s new Academy of Arts. This lecture considers the role that women artists played in Catherine’s pursuit of her artistic ambitions, and the dynamic ways in which they energized Russian cultural life.
Catherine’s far-sighted patronage propelled renowned painters such as Angelica Kauffman to new heights. Just as important were the empress’s relations with lesser-known artists, among them the troubled painter Anna Dorothea Therbusch-Lisiewska and Catherine’s daughter-in-law Maria Fedorovna, who sculpted accomplished cameos and objets de vertu. With stories of extraordinary artistic endeavour, this lecture places these and other artists centre stage at one of Europe’s most thrilling courts.
Rosalind Polly Blakesley is Professor of Russian and European Art at the University of Cambridge and co-founder of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre. She has served on the boards of various museums and galleries, among them the National Portrait Gallery in London, where she curated the acclaimed exhibition Russia and the Arts and advised on its partner exhibition at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Other collaborations around the world include an exhibition of works by women artists from the Hermitage that took place at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC.
Blakesley’s many books include The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, which was awarded the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize and the Art Newspaper Russia Best Book Award. She currently holds a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for her new project, Russia, Empire and the Baltic Imagination. In 2017 Blakesley was awarded the Pushkin Medal by the Russian Federation for services to Anglo-Russian relations and Russian art.
Blakesley is a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, London; a Syndic of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; and serves on the advisory councils of the Hamilton Kerr Institute and Kettle’s Yard Gallery, as well as the advisory boards of academic journals and professional associations. Media work includes interviews and programme contributions for World at One and Front Row on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, the Russian Service of the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of Russia. She held a Likhachev Foundation Cultural Fellowship in St Petersburg in 2014, and a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship from 2009-10.
Blakesley is also the co-founder and co-director of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre, a bi-institutional research facility which has established partnerships with Russia’s key centres of art historical enquiry, and has organised conferences and symposia with partners including the Royal Academy, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, London, Moscow State University, Yaroslavl State University, and the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice. See www.ccrac.org.uk.
The Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies