This Throwback Thursday we are going way, way back. Back to Catherine II of Russia’s coronation in 1762. Catherine, who is also known as ‘Catherine the Great’, had a coronation dress and jewels that are truly a sight to behold.
Catherine was the longest reigning female monarch of Russia. Ruling from 1762-1796, she revitalized Russia as a major European power. Her rule is known as the “Catherinian Era” by Russian historians and much like the Elizabethan era in England Catherine’s reign is often referred to as the “Golden Age” of Russian history. Comparisons between Catherine II of Russia and Elizabeth I of England portray both women as strong, able, and confident rulers. Here is a painting of Catherine called “Catherine II in Her Coronation Robes” by Vigilius Eriksen painted c. 1762. (You can click on the pictures to get a closer view.)
And here is what her coronation robes look like today on display at the State Armoury at the Kremlin. The dress has been beautifully preserved. Catherine’s gown is made of silver silk with lace sleeves and a lace bertha neckline. There are golden eagles embroidered throughout the dress and on her robes. Her robe is trimmed in white fur and the blue sash she wore is the “Order of St. Andrew the First Called.”
Here is another picture of the dress. This time we can see it without the robes and her high heel shoes are also on display as well.
Her coronation gown is heavily influenced by popular French fashion of the time. And if you are like me you are probably wondering how in the world the wide, exaggerated hips of the gown stay up the way they do. The secret is that Catherine would wear something called a “panniers” under her gown in addition to her corset and other undergarments. It looked like a giant bird cage and was made of whale bone and fabric. Here are some panniers from the 1760s that are on display in the Germanic National Museum that are similar to what Catherine would have worn under her coronation gown.
Catherine would need a large panniers considering how big her dress is.
As you can see in the portrait by Eriksen, Catherine wore a magnificent Imperial Crown for the occasion. Here is a close-up of his painting…
And here is the crown today. It must be incredibly heavy!
This crown was created especially for Catherine and was subsequently used as the coronation crown for all Russian emperors until the last Tsar of Russia, Nikolas II, in 1918. It is considered one of the greatest historical artifacts of Russia. The design includes two half spheres that come together to represent Eastern and Western Russia. The crown has 75 pearls, 4,936 Indian diamonds, and a huge 398 caret ruby.
She also held a gorgeous diamond scepter. The scepter had golden eagles that matched the design on her gown and robe.
And I can’t help but show you Catherine’s mind blowing coronation coach. I am not sure if I have ever seen anything so extravagant.
Here is a small clip from a TV movie called “Young Catherine.” It gives you an idea of what Catherine’s coronation may have looked like. They recreated her dress and crown beautifully here although Catherine’s real robe was a darker, brighter gold and the fur trim wasn’t as wide. But it still is neat to use your imagination and try to think about what it may have been like to witness her coronation.
If you are interested in learning more about Catherine the Great I highly recommend this book by Pulitzer prize winning biographer Robert K. Massie.
If you are interested in powerful royal women like Elizabeth I of England but have not ventured into Russian history Catherine the Great is a woman who everyone should know. I first read a biography about her when I was a teenager and I have been fascinated by her ever since.
The Frugal Lady