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From 15 April to 15 September, we offer a new online exhibition titled Catherine I: The First Royal Owner of Sarskoe Selo.

The year 2024 marks the 340th birth anniversary of Empress Catherine I, the spouse of Peter the Great. She laid the foundation for the imperial summer residence of Tsarskoe (then Sarskoe) Selo. Our online exhibition not only brings together her biography and portraits, but also the history of the palace-and-park ensemble.

The life of Catherine I (1684–1727) was like a Cinderella story. A commoner doing laundry and kitchen work, she took her lucky chance to ascend the Russian throne. An orphan early, Martha Skavronska was a servant at the Lutheran pastor Ernst Glück’s house in Marienburg (now Alūksne in Latvia). At the age of seventeen, she was married off to a Swedish dragoon, but only for eight days until the town was captured by Russian forces during the Northern War. In 1705, while visiting his favourite Menshikov’s house, Peter the Great met Martha and soon took her as his own mistress. She converted to Orthodoxy, changed her name to Yekaterina Alexeevna, and soon became Peter’s closest partner. They officially married in 1712. Catherine became Peter’s second wife, while his first one, Eudoxia Lopukhina, who did not understand his reforms and rejected them, had been forced by Peter to become a nun back in 1698. After Peter’s death in 1725, Catherine was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia. However, the real power lay with His Serene Highness Prince Menshikov, who dominated the Supreme Privy Council.

Catherine I’s reign did not last long. She died in 1727, just two years after Peter. She owned Tsarskoe Selo for sixteen years and turned a small farmstead into a comfortable estate.

The exhibition showcases objects from the collections of Tsarskoe Selo, the State Hermitage, the Russian Museum and the State Historical Museum of Russia.

The virtual exhibits include: portraits by Ivan Adolsky, Carel de Moor, Louis Caravaque and Jean-Marc Nattier; miniatures by Grigoriis Musikiysky, Andrei Ovsov and Jean Henri Benner; engravings by Alexei Zubov; a letter from Catherine I to King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia; a model of the first 'stone chambers' at Tsarskoe Selo, with drawings of the facade and floors by Nicolay Lanceray.