Fedor Rokotov. Painting Portrait of Catherine II, 1763

Portrait of Catherine II by Fyodor Rokotov

Fedor Rokotov. Ivan Argunov. Painting Portrait of Catherine II, 176
Fedor Rokotov. Ivan Argunov. Painting Portrait of Catherine II, 176

“Portrait of Catherine II” by Fyodor Stepanovich Rokotov is a bright diamond in the gallery of images of the Empress. He immediately fell in love with the empress and brought his creator the glory of the first court painter. The attentive artist was able to grasp the essence of the character of Sophia Augusta Frederica, masterly convey the mind, energy, iron will and hidden expectations of the ruler who recently ascended the throne.

The royal person sits in a relaxed pose, her posture is proud, her gestures are full of stately grace. The profile “almost heraldic in its sharpness” resembles the silhouette of a Roman emperor, engraved on an antique coin. The face is clearly legible against a dark background. The luxurious attire is dominated by iridescent pearl and cream tones, in harmony with the delicate skin color. Blond hair is styled into an intricate hairstyle.

Lush dress and royal regalia indicate the solemnity of the moment. But the pompous surroundings are still secondary: we are looking only at her – at a woman in her prime, who has become the ruler of a huge empire. Her gaze is directed to the future. There are great achievements ahead, ahead – the Catherine’s era, the “golden age” in the history of Russia.

Author: Fedor Stepanovich Rokotov (1735-1808).
Year of writing: 1763
Size: 139 x 155.5 cm.
Style: Academism.
Genre: Portrait.
Technique: Oil painting.
Material: Canvas. Location: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

To create a portrait of Empress Catherine II on the day of her coronation, a young artist little-known at that time, Fyodor Rokotov, was chosen. Why exactly he, who managed to “smear” himself with images of the deposed spouse of the empress, was instructed to do this, still remains unknown. The eminent court artist of that time, Ivan Petrovich Argunov, was not allowed to work – the sovereign was clearly unhappy with the portrait of 1762, although she stated the opposite out loud.

Painting Portrait of Catherine II by Fyodor Rokotov – the true greatness of the wise mistress

Fyodor Stepanovich preferred the profile type of portrait, very unusual for the 18th century. The composition is built around the figure of Catherine, slightly turned towards the viewer. S

Fedor Rokotov. Painting Portrait of Catherine II, 1763
Fedor Rokotov. Painting Portrait of Catherine II, 1763

he seems to be addressing her subjects, her gaze is friendly. But the protruding strong-willed chin says: the power in the country now belongs to her. Most likely, the author wrote his heroine from nature.

The inner world of the model is more interesting to him than status attributes. Royal majesty is emphasized by an ermine-lined mantle. There are also obligatory signs of a ceremonial portrait – a massive column in the background, symbolizing the inviolability of the government, and heavy drapery. Minor details seem to be dissolved in a haze of air.

The right hand with the scepter clutched in it is extended forward. There is a power at the left elbow. An interesting story is connected with it: soon after the accession of Elizabeth Petrovna, precious stones were broken out of the regalia, then they encroached on gold. As a result, the ancient coronation empire of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich was destroyed. This became clear 2 weeks before Ekaterina Alekseevna’s wedding to the kingdom, but the chief jeweler of the court Georg Friedrich Eckart managed to make a thing of impeccable beauty, which took part in eight more ceremonies until 1896.

The range of colors of elegant vestments pleases with freshness. Silk, brocade, translucent organza and jewelry seem to emit a soft light. To prevent the red upholstery of the throne and the blue sash from drawing attention to themselves, the painter chose muted, dull shades for them.

“Portrait of Catherine II” is an unconditional success of the brilliant portraitist Fyodor Stepanovich Rokotov. This work of art showed the world the best qualities of the empress. The mistress ordered to use the picture that inspired her during her accession to the throne as a model for subsequent images. Her Majesty continued to prefer Fyodor Rokotov to other artists and even ordered him a portrait of her illegitimate son, Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinsky.