The exhibition “Imperial Saint Petersburg, from Peter the Great to Catherine II” tells the story of the city's first century in existence, from Peter I's decision to build a port on the inhospitable shores of the Neva in 1703 to the death of Catherine II in 1796.
More than 650 items and works of art – religious art, paintings, tapestries, coaches, furniture, ceremonial regalia, goldsmiths' creations, tableware – from the prestigious collections in the Hermitage Museum and the Saint Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts have been displayed.
The exhibition focuses on four major themes to allow visitors to get the measure of a city that arose out of nothing to become, thanks to the determination of Peter, Tsar of all Russia, imperial.
- Holy Mother Russia: this historical fresco opens by focusing on the religious context into which Peter I was born and on the vitality of the Orthodox faith which was still one of the keys to the Russian character.
- Peter the Great (1682 1725): man of science, he is known to laymen and historians alike as the Reformer. Self-taught, he spent most of his time in Moscow's "Foreigners District" before later travelling throughout Europe.
- Saint Petersburg: initially as to be just a port, Peter transformed it into his capital. Plans, models, sketches, drawings, engravings and paintings tell the story of this masterly creation, which Europe flocked to visit. Peter I overcame a hostile nature to bring an incredible city, an emblem of the Age of Enlightenment, soaring up out of immense swamps. When his daughter Elizabeth took power in 1741 she continued her father's work, filling Saint Petersburg with palaces – the Winter Palace, the Stroganov Palace, the Vorontsov Palace but also with opulently beautiful churches such as the Smolny Monastery, built by the architect Rastrelli.
- Catherine II: woman of the Enlightenment. Catherine II came to the throne in 1762. This admirer of the French philosophers, a correspondent of Voltaire, d'Alembert and Diderot, completed her predecessors' work and built granite quays on the royal thoroughfare that was the Neva. Evoked through a gallery of portraits of the most eminent figures that surrounded Catherine II, the exhibition recreates her own private world, what she called her "hermitage", in the Winter Palace, where she liked to receive her friends and admirers of her collections informally. Sèvres porcelain for the famous Cameo Service, Tula steel furniture, goldsmiths' creations… all masterpieces adored by Catherine and testifying to the unequalled artistic influence of her court. Her art collection reveals her to have been an enlightened connoisseur. Her penchant for Dutch, French and Italian painting is illustrated by some exceptional loans: Van Dyck, Veronese, Titian, Watteau, Le Lorrain, Poussin bring the exhibition to its climax.