Bronze Horseman – monument to Peter the Great
Bronze Horseman, monument dedicated to Peter the Great, became one of the symbols of St. Petersburg. There are a lot of myths and legends about it. Opponents of Peter and his reforms warned that the monument depicted the “Horseman of the Apocalypse”. Supporters of Peter said that the monument symbolized grandeur and glory of the Russian Empire, and that Russia would remain so as long as the rider did not come down from his pedestal. As history has shown, the apocalypse has not arrived, but the legends associated with the majestic monument, are still alive…
The opening ceremony of the famous monument more than 200 years ago was extremely solemn. Magnificent bronze Peter I on horseback appeared before the astonished crowd. The right hand of the king majestically pointed to the Neva, the Academy of Sciences and the Peter and Paul Fortress, symbolically indicating the main objectives of his government: education, trade, and military power. Under the hooves of the horse there is a snake – a symbol of evil, the resistance of the Peter’s reforms.
Catherine II invited Falcone to St. Petersburg. Diderot and Voltaire advised to go to him. On September 6, 1766 Falcone signed a contract. Sculptor’s fee was fairly modest, only 200 thousand francs. Nevertheless Falcone immediately went to Russia and began working.
It was hard to find a horse-model and stones for pedestal. Falcone chose two horses from the stables of Count Alexei Orlov, which became the prototype for the monument. A huge granite boulder weighing more than a ton and a half was found by peasant Semyon Vishnyakov in marshy lands of Lahti forests. Granite rock, broken by a lightning strike, was called the Thunder-stone. It was more than 4 meters deep in the ground and was covered with moss. It was extremely hard to transport such a whopper. A block weighing 1,600 tons was dragged by 400 people more than six months.
The Empress rejected a sculpted head three times. Falcone was saved by his pupil – Marie-Anne Collot, who had come with him to Russia and became his permanent assistant. Working on the head of the rider, Collot used plaster mask which was made when the tsar was already dead. The pupils of Peter are made in the form of hearts. Peter looks at the city with enamored eyes. So Falcone gave the descendants the news of Peter’s love for his brainchild – St. Petersburg.
At the time of installation of a monument to Peter I sculptor’s relations with the imperial court finally deteriorated. Outraged master did not wait for the opening of the monument, and in September 1778, together with Marie-Anne Collot went to Paris.
Architect F.G. Gordeev (he made the snake under horse’s hoof) erected the Bronze Horseman on a pedestal. The grand opening ceremony took place on August 7, 1782 (Old Style).
There is an analogy with the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse, whose name is death. Firstly, the death mask that was used to make a perfect similarity with the original, literally recreates the image of the angel of death with the seal of death on his face.
This sculpture is a symbol of the city on the Neva, its curator and its curse. The remarkable Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote the poem The Bronze Horseman, thanks to which this name was fixed behind the sculpture, authored by Etienne Falcone.
While the Bronze Horseman is standing over the Neva, Petersburg will live.