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Breathtaking Monument to Peter the Great by Mikhail Shemiakhin

25 November, 2014

Breathtaking Monument to Peter the Great by Mikhail Shemiakhin

Mikhail Shemiakhin outdid himself to the extent that even among all the memorials glorifying Peter the Great within (and even outside) the Whole of Russia, this is probably one of the strangest and, at the same time, one of the most interesting that you may have ever seen – yes, of course, I am talking about the monument to Peter the Great which you can admire inside the Paul and Peter Fortress. So let’s learn more about why Russians and tourists from all over the world come and see this strange tiny-headed statue, still representing the founder of the Fortress (and of St. Petersburg)!

The bronze monument was created by the famous contemporary Leningrad artist Mikhail Shemiakin in the 1980s and later donated to the city, which placed it inside the Fortress in 1991, right before the city got its historic name back – St. Petersburg.
1,90 m tall, Mikhail Shemiakhin statue depicts Peter sitting on a throne, with a rather small head and a quite massive torso. According to the sculptor, the head was made using exactly the mask and wax figure of Peter’s face taken by Rastrelli in 1719 (six years before Peter’s death), kept in the Hermitage.  But if the head corresponds for certain to Peter’s real dimensions, his other body parts were extremely enlarged, following the Russian icon’s style, thus resulting in presenting him out of proportion and in a very grotesque manner. For these reasons, at the beginning, Mikhail Shemiakhin statue was criticised by locals (who considered it insulting to their hero), and caused such a lot of controversy, that it even had to be guarded to prevent vandalism.   As a matter of fact,  the sculpture seems to bring out the most contradictory feelings in the viewer: while looking at it, you may by impressed by the solidity of Peter sitting in his place or you may appreciate the originality and unicity of the memorial.

Nowadays, the statue has become one of the most popular attractions of the fortress, as you can notice from the many tourists loving to be photographed on the lap of Peter I. In spite of its relatively young age, the sculpture is already the object of much city folklore: you will hear some people refer to it as Peter the Spiderman, because of the unnaturally long fingers, or as Peter IV, underling both the fact that it is the fourth monument to Peter the Great in the city and that it does not seem to bare any resemblance to the original. So while arguments about the monument have slowly died down, on the other hand curious city traditions have grown up around the monument. So, if you go and see the monument, do not forget to touch Peter’s right fingers – as they shine brightly, it seems that touching them will bring you luck!

This post was brought to you by Manuela, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz

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