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On a green hill in the landscape part of the Catherine Park stands a vase on a tall pedestal with a pinnacle in the form of a tongue of flame.

This structure is customarily referred to as the monument to Alexander Lanskoi, one of Catherine II’s favourites. The legends that grew up around this stone memorial over the course of two centuries long concealed from researchers the true boundary between fiction and reality.

Archive documents from the eighteenth century helped to establish the truth: in them the monument is called “The Marble Pedestal” and described as an allegory “of virtues and merits” unconnected with any particular person. Structures of this kind could often be found in English landscape parks in the 1700s. Three sides of the pedestal were decorated with white marble bas-reliefs depicting a wreath, a shield with a spear suspended on a ribbon, and a horn of plenty. The explanation of these devices can be found in a book well-known in the eighteenth century called Symbols and Emblems. It informs us that a laurel wreath on a ribbon points to “one who fights justly, doing good for Thee”, while the shield and spear suspended on a ribbon is “a sign of Mars and Bellona, of prudence in the service of both peace and defence”. But as well as these symbols attached to the side of the pedestal facing the palace was a bronze plaque with the inscription: “What a great pleasure it is for honest souls to see virtues and merits worthily crowned with general praise.” Above the inscription there was a gilded relief depiction of Lanskoi’s coat of arms and a depiction of both sides of the medal struck in his memory.

The design of the white, pink and grey marble Monument to Lanskoi is attributed to Antonio Rinaldi. Archive documents inform us that the “Marble Pedestal” was set up in 1773. In February that year the steps, lower plinth, pedestal, bronze plaque, three bas-reliefs, vase and flame were delivered to Tsarskoye Selo. In 1784, after Lanskoi’s untimely death, a dedicatory inscription was added to the monument and the true date of its appearance was gradually forgotten. In the nineteenth century it was sometimes called “The Pedestal of Benefit and Merits”, but in 1830 the inscription in remembrance of Lanskoi was removed as Emperor Nicholas I found it compromising to the imperial dynasty. The lost plaque with the gilded arms of the Empress’s lover, the memorial medal with his profile and the text “In memory of a friendship” was rediscovered in the early 1900s and returned to the pedestal. In the Second World War, however, the monument suffered once again and the bronze plaque vanished.