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Exhibition Catherine the Great unravels myths surrounding Europe’s greatest empress and her life
Two hundred and fifty years after Catherine the Great founded the Hermitage, the Hermitage Amsterdam presents her life story in a sumptuous exhibition on Europe's longest-reigning empress. Her name has always been surrounded with stories and superlatives, often about her private life and court intrigues. Some of these stories belong to the realm of myth, but others are perfectly true.
At the age of fourteen, Catherine the Great (1729–1796) was a German princess married off to the Russian tsar. She later overthrew her husband, Peter III, and claimed the throne for herself. Catherine would become the greatest tsarina of all times. She had ambitious plans to reform the whole empire and acted with great foresight. Although she encountered setbacks, her achievements were astounding.
Catherine had a tremendous passion for art and contributed more than anyone else to the world’s greatest art collection. She was an enlightened despot, corresponding with Voltaire and Diderot. She added a new territory to her empire as large as France, and including the Crimea. And in all her endeavours, she had a sharp eye for talented people who could help her, such as the Orlov brothers and her most influential lover, Potemkin. She was a diamond of her own making.
After her death, Catherine was central to hundreds of books, films, and plays, and she inspired great actresses like Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Hildegard Knef, Catherine Deneuve, and Julia Ormond.
Aided by her memoirs and those of her contemporaries, we present more than 300 objects from the Hermitage in St Petersburg, which invite visitors into Catherine’s world. The exhibition unravels her life story and sketches her personality. It is also an exhibition like a jewellery box, with magnificent personal possessions such as dresses, bijoux, cameos, and snuff boxes, as well the finest art works from her vast collection: paintings, sculptures, exquisite crafts, and portraits of her friends and loved ones.
18 June 2016 to 15 January 2017