Monday, June 25, 2012

Turkish Delights

The history of Russia's battles with the Turks goes back further than Peter the Great but it was his passion for sailing and his burning desire to create outlets to the sea that led to the major conflicts between the forces of the Ottoman Sultans and the Tsars of Muscovy during his reign and those of his successors. His first major triumphs led to the opening of the Crimea and the Black Sea to his nation but the triumphs of one monarch often led to the future battles of those that follow. As with much of Europe the attempts to thwart the advances of the Turks and conquer Ottoman lands was to occupy Tsarinas and Tsars until the time of Alexander II and the Crimean War.  Though politics making strange bedfellows that sad conflict involved most of Europe siding with the Ottomans against Russia.

However despite these animosities - religious and political - the culture of the Ottomans always proved intriguing for the Western world, its monarchs, merchants and artists. Decorations and architecture "alla Turca", in the style of the Turks, graced the palaces of rulers throughout Europe - and the Tsars and Tsarinas, who after the reign of Peter considered themselves very much European, were no exceptions. Often the paintings and sculptures showed the Turks in a less than favourable light - the conquered followers of Islam in chains groveling at the feet of some mighty Ruler was a subject sure to win an aspiring artist his commission - but just as often they revealed the beauty of things "alla Turca".

A short stroll from the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo is this lovely one room pavilion was originally meant as a folly when it was build during the reign of Tsarina Elizabeth.  Catherine the Great had it remodelled and used it as her "office" conducting affairs of state while overlooking a pleasant prospect of lake and garden.

Now in the Hermitage this
statue of Voltaire once held pride
of place in the Grotto Pavilion.
In the Grotto Pavilion, her little "office" on the grounds of the Catherine Palace, the second Empress of that name considered affairs of state while having her morning coffee. In 1749 when Francesco Rastrelli created it for Tsarina Elizabeth his decorations were of the "sea" - sea shells, dolphins and fantastic fish of a type never seen in the waters of the world.  By 1770 tastes under her successor had changed - Catherine II was not fond of the baroque and dismissed both Rastrelli and his work.  The interior colours and moldings of the Tsarina's Morning Hall were changed to reflect a more neo-classical style. The central hall held a full sized statue of Voltaire, Catherine considered herself a follower of the French philosopher and carried on a long correspondence with him.  The niches which once were graced by oceanids now held busts reflecting some of that fascination with things Turkish.

No Information was provided or seems to be available on the provenance of these busts in the Grotto Pavilion - though one would appear to be a Christian ruler given to dress alla Turca!

June 25 - 1678: Venetian Elena Cornaro Piscopia is the first woman awarded a doctorate of philosophy when she graduates from the University of Padua.

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