Marble Sculptures in the Catherine Park
The numerous marble sculptures in the Catherine Park were created by masters of the Venetian school—Pietro Baratta, Giovanni Bonazza, Antonio Tarsia, Giovanni Zarzoni—specially for Peter the Great who supervised the purchase of them himself. He believed that in St. Petersburg, the new capital of Russia, plastic art was called upon to assist in disseminating the ideas of the time. The depictions of antique gods and heroes were not only meant to embellish the gardens in the capital but were also to instill in the viewer the spirit of desire for courageous deeds.
Moreover, the French gardens offered the masters of decorative art boundless scope. By their arrangement against the background of copses or semicircular niches of clipped greenery, forming as it were a single structure corresponding to the outline of the park of the Catherine Park. Crisscrossed by avenues lined with ornamentally clipped trees and patterned parterres, the Old Garden emphasized the solemnity and festiveness of the palace and did as it were serve as a continuation of its elegant rooms.
For more than two centuries marble statues of the heroes of ancient Greek and Roman mythology embellished the symmetrical part of the Catherine Park, standing out picturesquely amidst the green of the trees and lawns.
In the mid-18th century, on the orders of Empress Elizabeth, sixty more statues, mostly on mythological subjects, were brought from the Summer Garden in St. Petersburg, the scene of court amusements and festivities. Individual allegorical figures were “Gloria”, “Love for Motherland”, “Peace” and others, which personified the prosperity of the country during the rule of Peter the Great, love for homeland, and military power. The garden in Tsarskoye Selo, once embellished with statues and sculptured groups became a kind of museum of sculpture in the style of late baroque. The sculptured depictions of gods and heroes were mainly decorative, exhibiting the fanciful refinement and dynamism of forms. The original pathetic element is combined in them with a lightness, gracefulness, and elegant poses, expressiveness of the silhouette, and skillful free composition in communicating movement.
At the very entrance to the palace, in a portico there are four sculptures— “Love for Motherland”, “Sybil of Libya”, “Iola”, and “Sophia (Wisdom) Trampling on Vice”. On the park’s upper terrace, right next to the palace, the statues “Peace” and “Magnificence” have been erected symmetrically. Along the arrow-straight Hermitage Avenue, which runs from the palace’s main entrance across the park to one of the best park pavilions, the Hermitage, statues have also been erected symmetrically in pairs: “Perseus” (to the left of the entrance) and “Andromeda” (to the right of the entrance), “Poro” and “Spring”, “Galatea” and “Amphitrite”, “Heracles” and “Military Valor”. The statue of Galatea, a young sea nymph astride a dolphin with a scarf waving above her head, is conspicuous for its special grace. The statue of Amphitrite, the wife of the sea god Poseidon, is equally graceful.
Also imposing and expressive are the statues of “Peace”, a fine young woman with a torch held down, “Love for the Homeland”, depicted as a warrior trampling on enemy arms and “Military
Valour”, an Amazon in armor and a helmet with luxurious plumes, holding a shield on which there is an eagle fighting a lion, the symbol of Russia defeating its foes. The statue of Heracles is as it were reminiscent of Peter the Great and the victorious end of the Great Northern War against the Swedes, as a result of which Russia regained her access to the Baltic Sea.
The masters of garden sculpture at the beginning of the 18th century not only strove to find the most beneficial positions for their statues sometimes uniting them into groups to tell a story in the language of plastic. Thus in the French garden of the Catherine Park busts symbolizing the changes in the seasons of the year, the months of March, April, May and June, have been set up. Created by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Bonazza they are distinguished for their careful details and the rich effect of light and shade. The decorativeness and picturesque location of the statues against the background of the greenery and the lawns imparts a charm and finish to the artistic look of the French park, the white marble emphasizing its elegance.