Treasures of Catherine the Great.
Held at the Hermitage Rooms, Somerset House, London. 25 November 2000- 23 September 2001.
For students of Russian history, there can be little doubt that the most exciting exhibitions of the last year was Somerset Houses Treasures of Catherine the Great. Staged in collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum, the exhibition brought together a huge range of art-works from the period of Catherine and her successors and offered visitors an opportunity to view outside Russia many objects relating directly or indirectly to the Order of St John.
Prominent amongst these were beautiful paintings on ivory of Paul I (as Grand Duke) and Tsar Alexander I, whilst spectacular gold medals celebrating Grand Duke Pauls first and second marriages were also on display. Pauls half-brother, the first Count Bobrinskoy, was not neglected. Carl Ludwig Christnecks fine oil-painting portrayed him as a young boy, whilst his later achievements were illustrated by the gold medal of the Nobles Land Corps presented to him in 1782.
The badge of the Order of St John was to be found in several of the portraits on display. Whilst that represented on Karl Raczynskis 1803 portrait of the exiled Stanislas of Poland was probably a Catholic award, an award made by the Russian Grand Priory could be seen on an anonymous portrait of Grand Duke Constantine painted after the Battle of Novi in 1799. Dmitry Ivanovich Yeureinovs enamel portrait of Count Stroganoff as High Chamberlain and Senator also featured the cross of St John. Painted in 1806-07, the artist assigned an unnatural prominence to the cross, a clear indication of the distinguished sitters pride in the honour and in the status which it continued to possess during the reign of Alexander I.
For those possessing an interest in Russian orders which extends beyond the Order of St John, a series of pieces from the St George, St Andrew, St Alexander Nevsky and St Vladimir dinner services proved enlightening. Commissioned by Catherine I from the Gardner factory of Moscow between 1778 and 1785, these porcelain services were used at receptions held at the Winter Palace in honour of the Knights of the various Orders.
A lavishly-illustrated 255-page catalogue of the exhibition has been produced. Treasures of Catherine the Great (ISBN 0953 9497 02) has been edited by N. Guseva and C. Phillips and is published by the Hermitage Development Trust.