The Bronze Horseman – St. Petersburg’s Most Symbolic Monument

December 21, 2012 by

Art & Museums, Europe, Travel Advice & Inspiration

The Bronze Horseman monument is considered to be one of the chief symbols of St. Petersburg. The monument captures the attention and imagination of famous Russian writers and artists as well as locals and people from around the world.

Much of St. Petersburg was built by Peter the Great so when Catherine II, a German princess brought to Russia to marry Peter III (grandson of Peter I), ascended to the throne, she wanted to demonstrate her continuation of what Peter I had started before. She worked hard to claim her status as Catherine the Great (an honor bestowed on only these two monarchs). She commissioned the monument to be placed where most of the iconic edifices built by Peter I were situated, near the Senate and Synod (governing bodies of the State and Orthodox church, which Peter organized), the Admiralty (Shipbuilding yard, designed by Peter), the Menshikov palace where Peter I had his assemblies and the River Neva, that gave access to Baltic sea trade with the countries of Europe.

Catherine found a French sculptor, Falconet, to the do the work and requested that bronze lettering on the statue would declare “Catherine II to Peter I” to show her direct connection to her predecessor.

Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman. Photo credit: Florstein via Wikimedia Commons.

Falcont came up with the idea of the monument showing both the beginning and the end of the action. Though not experienced in large equestrian statues he came with the original design of a rearing horse standing on its hind legs with its front legs only slightly off the ground. Before that point, all existing equestrian sculptures showed horses either trotting, galloping or rearing up vertically. To depict the horse rearing at such a small angle was a challenge in itself. Falconet designed the horse on a pedestal of naturally inclined rock formation. Having reached the edge of the cliff the horse had to be reigned in and this pose. Perfectly captured by the artist, it became the symbol in motion.

Drama, ambiguity and uncertainty of this unstable equilibrium can be seen in principal of diabolical opposition of freedom and constraint, passivity and activity, rest and motion, calm and agitation. The struggle between earth and water, so meaningful for St. Petersburg, manifests itself in the granite that symbolizes the condensed essence of earth, yet is shaped in a gigantic wave about break against the shore. The opposition between the horse and the horseman provides another example of dichotomy of movement and quiescence. Spontaneity to gallop checked by the precipices of the cliff.

Unresolved action suspended figuratively and literally in midair was the principal concept which Falconet set out to accomplish. He understood the contending forces which were at play in this foreign graft of the city of St. Petersburg on the body of Russia, the forces that would lead to major upheavals which befell on Russia in the next two centuries, and created an everlasting symbol of them.

Unfortunately, his legacy was marred when he began to argue with the favorite philosopher of Catherine. As a result, Falconet spend much of his time writing articles to prove his side of the argument and took 12 years to complete the sculpture instead of the 8 years stipulated in his initial contract. In the end, Falconet left Russia without saying goodbye to Catherine before the official unveiling of the monument.

- Igor Kasatkin

You can learn more about this symbolic statue and the history of Russia on a private tour with Viator guide Igor Kasatkin. He’ll tell you how this statue gave birth to the so-called “St. Petersburg theme” in Russian art and literature from writers such as Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Gogol.  And you’ll learn even more about the fascinating history of Russia and its famous leaders.

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One Response to “The Bronze Horseman – St. Petersburg’s Most Symbolic Monument”

  1. Rachel Jones Says:

    St. Peterburg is a nice place, nice people, nice place and rich in culture. The Bronze Horseman is just one amazing landmark to testify that.

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