Table of Contents
Beginning of Westernization and reformation of Russia in the 18th century by Peter the Great.Saint Petersburg as a “window on the West”
Catherine the Second, a spiritual successor of Peter the Great and the creation of the Dutch art collection in the Hermitage in the 18th century
This paper attempts to follow the cultural channels and actual steps taken by Peter the Great and his successors to cultivate Western European tastes in Russia and to direct the Russian Empire to a Western path of development. It investigates the historic role of St. Petersburg as Russia’s “window on Europe”, and features the great masterworks of Western European art (namely, Dutch) assembled and prized in the Hermitage by the Romanov dynasty, by Peter the Great and by his spiritual follower and enlightener - Catherine the Great, in particular.
Over the course of centuries, Russian tsars continuously borrowed ideas and concepts from their Western neighbors. St. Petersburg was to mark the way for Russia to become modern by creating an environment that could be maintained only by broader and deeper contact with the West. However, Peter Rietbergen in his essay on “Russia between West and East” stresses “the inherent duality in Russian culture, and in the national character, as half-Asian, half-European”. This issue is to be discussed and evaluated in the paper.
A chronological overview of the main acquisitions of Dutch paintings to the Hermitage in the course of the 18th century is included in the paper. It is hoped that the paper will add to the understanding of the described epoch of the Russian Empire and will expose the role it played in defining its path of historical development.
The thesis statement investigated in the paper is as follows: “Has the borrowing of cultural values from Western Europe contributed to the Europeanization of Russia in the 18th century?” Under the term “cultural values” artefacts, objects of art, enlightening ideas and books, as well as progressive reforms, European fashion and lifestyle, etc are implied. One of the aims of the research is to demonstrate that art which has been broadly studied from divergent viewpoints of style, content, iconography, philosophy, and the social sciences, can also be approached as a function of economic and socio-political motives. A method of comparative analysis of the Westernizing cultural policies by Peter I and later, by Catherine II is used.
Beginning of Westernization and reformation of Russia in the 18th century by Peter the Great. Saint Petersburg as a “window on the West”
At last Peter was born, and Russia was created 
When Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg as a “window on Europe” in 1703, he intended the city to symbolize Russia's new direction. “Built on land conquered from a defeated enemy, St. Petersburg became the physical expression of Russia’s new secular vision and the symbol of its new imperial triumphs”. Obviously, Russian life underwent a radical transformation under the reforms of Tsar Peter (reigned 1689-1725). By creating St. Petersburg, Peter wished to astonish Russia and the entire civilized world, and he succeeded in his mission.
Since the beginning of his ruling, Peter had enough courage and common sense to accept European superiority and he inspired westernization in Russia with spiritual resistance against backwardness and accepted Western experience not as national surrender, but as a national rise and transfer to other cultural values. Europe served as a role model for Russia, and these were Western ideas and tastes that brought St. Petersburg to life.
A famous British historian, A. Toynbee points out that Peter’s strategy was aimed at saving Russia’s political independence and cultural autonomy by including it to the Western community. “This was the first example of a free-will self-westernization of a non-western country”. St. Petersburg became a symbol of new Russia, friendly to the West, since the Tsar’s plan was to protect Russian identity, but also to develop its potential by borrowing Western experience and “know-how”. A renowned Russian historian of the 18th century, Vassily Klyuchevsky noted that the goal of Peter’s legendary trips to Western Europe was always to “steal” the latest knowledge and to lure highly qualified European specialists to Russia.
In his undeterred quest for Westernization and the expansion of information, Peter pursued a number of policies: he ordered young men to study abroad; he laid the foundations for the Russian school system and for an Academy of Sciences as well as the first museum; he ordered the translation of scientific and political books; he simplified the alphabet; he sponsored the printing of secular books, and established Russia’s first newspaper, the “Sanktpeterburgskie Vedomosti” (“St. Petersburg Gazette”). Peter regarded Western dress as “a signifier of civilization”. He encouraged selected Russians to travel abroad, promoted exploration and scientific enquiry, had Western books translated and published and encouraged the learning of foreign languages.
The rise of St. Petersburg in the 18th century was designed to show that the power of the human mind could triumph over the forces of nature, and that Russia was as much a part of the modern world as any other nation. Tsar Peter spoke of making his new capital at St. Petersburg a “window” through which technology and new ideas could flow. European technology, trade and the arts - all furthered to name St. Petersburg as Russia’s “window on the West”. But Peter’s city was Europe’s “window on Russia”, too, and as Russia’s role in the affairs of Europe increased, “Europeans curiosity [in Russia] deepened”.
Peter the Great was fond of all things Dutch. He started collecting fine art and thus set the tone for the Romanovs to follow. During his first tour abroad, in 1697-98, and on his second visit to Holland, in 1717, during the latter stage of the Republic’s Golden Age, Peter the Great often attended art auctions personally and bought out of them directly. His favorite artists were thought to be Rembrandt, Rubens, van Eyck, Steen, Wouwerman, Brueghel, and Ostade. He liked Dutch national paintings and praised the life of hardworking ordinary people depicted in the paintings. Nowadays we can observe multiple traces of the Dutch culture that inspired Peter more than three centuries ago, e.g.: progressive transformations in Russia of that time in field of culture and way of life. Obviously enough, Peter’s long stay in Holland influenced his dominant interest in painting of the Dutch and Flemish schools. Indeed, it was he who introduced the concept of collecting paintings to Russia. It was Peter’s desire to transform daily Russian life in the Western European manner, and his personal, all-encompassing interest led to the first acquisitions of paintings by European artists. However, the westernization of Russia was neither begun nor completed in the reign of Peter. It has been continued by Catherine the Great, who has managed to implement all his projects in full measure.
 Rietbergen, P. “Russia between West and East: Images of the Tsarist Empire in the Dutch Periodical De Aarde en haar Volken, 1864-1918”. Institut voor Noord- en Oosteuropese Studies: Groningen, 1977. P.118.
 Voltaire, M. “The history of the Russian empire under Peter the Great”. Aberdeen: 1777. P.12.
 Lincoln, William Bruce. “Sunlight at midnight: St. Petersburg and the rise of modern Russia”. Basic Books, New York: 2000. p.72
 Toynbee, A. “A study of History”. New York: Jane Caplan Publisher, Oxford University Press, 1972. P.219.
 Klyuchevsky, V. “Peter the Great”. London: Macmillan, 1985. p.93.
 Hughes, Lindsey. “Peter the Great and the West”. School of Slavonic and East European Studies. University College London and National Maritime Museum, 2001. p.115.
 Lincoln, William Bruce. “Sunlight at midnight: St. Petersburg and the rise of modern Russia”. Basic Books, New York: 2000.
- Quote paper
- M.A. Arts Nadia Ptashchenko (Author), 2008, Creation of the Dutch art collection in the Hermitage in the 18th century and the role it played in the westernization of Russia, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/133203