St. Petersburg

Monument to Peter I near St. Michael’s (Engineers’) Castle

The Italian sculptor Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli began to work on an equestrian statue of Peter I in 1716, as soon as he had come to Russia to work on a contractual basis. An equestrian monument modeled after ancient Roman sculptures was one of the first orders of the Russian Tsar.  It was inspired by the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. A small lead model was cast as early as 1717. Peter ordered it to be sent to the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres in Paris for composing a text in Latin to be placed on a pedestal.  Rastrelli planned to decorate the pedestal with allegorical sculptures.

In 1720, the sculptor created another version of the equestrian statue. At the same time, he worked on a life-size standing statue of Peter which was planned to be installed in front of the building of the Twelve Collegia. In 1724, Rastrelli made two versions of the famous portrait bust of Peter the Great (one of them can be seen in the State Hermitage Museum). A wax mask of the Tsar’s face made in 1719 helped Rastrelli in his work on this piece. In the beginning of 1724, the sculptor showed the plaster models of the equestrian and standing statutes to Friedrich Wilhelm von Bergholtz, at that time a valet de chambre of Charles Frederick Duke of Holstein-Gottorp who stayed in Russia for several years.

But Peter I died on January 28, 1725 before he could order the statues to be cast in bronze. The sculptor was paid for his work on the models under Anna Ivanovna in 1734, but an order to cast the statues in bronze was made by Empress Elizabeth Petrovna in 1743. In October – November 1744, Rastrelli was able to make a huge wax model for casting before he died on November 18 of the same year.

Subsequently, the work on the statue was managed by the sculptor’s son, architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. The statue was cast by Alessandro Martelli in November 1747 and the chiseling continued until 1755 to produce a piece distinguished with masterful precision.

In Rastrelli’s representation, the Emperor is supposedly looking round the new capital city. Peter’s figure is strikingly formidable.  He is wearing the military armor, with Roman sandals on his feet and lion half-masks beneath his knees. A robe with relief coats of arms is draped on his chest and over his shoulders.   He is holding the reins of his strong horse in his left hand and has a commander rod in his right hand.

The equestrian monument was planned to be installed on the square near the building of the Twelve Collegia or in front of the Winter Palace built by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli.  Once completed, the statue was installed under a wooden shed near the Troitsky Bridge where it stood for 45 years.

Catherine II did not like the monument, and in 1766 sculptor Etienne Falconet began to create a new monument to Peter. As late as August 1798, Paul I ordered to install the sculpture at the entrance to the Petrovsky dock in Kronstadt. However, later he designated a new site — the square in front of the St. Michaels Castle, which was then under construction. The castle was named after the family chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

The designs of the pedestal were developed by architects Andrei Voronikhin, Vincenzo Brenna and Fyodor Volkov.  The inscription reading “To Great Grandfather/ Grandson / 1800” on the pedestal was probably composed by Paul I. The monument features bronze bas-reliefs on its sides — the Battle of Poltava (on the eastern side) and the Capturing of Frigates at Gangut (on the western side). These were created by sculptors Vasily Demut-Malinovsky, Ivan Terebenev and Ivan Moiseev.

The monument was installed in front of the St. Michael’s Castle in 1800. It was the second monument to Peter I in St. Petersburg, after the Bronze Horseman by Falconet inaugurated in 1782.

During the Siege of Leningrad, the bronze statue was removed from the pedestal and was kept in a pit next to it. In 1989 – 1990, the monument was restored.

The sculpture is 4.6 meters tall and the pedestal is 6.2 meters tall. The beautiful silhouette clearly stands out against the background of the castle, where the “grandson” was murdered on the night of March 12 to 13, 1801. In 1819, the St. Michael’s Castle was given to the Main Engineering School, whereupon the building became also known as the “Engineers’ Castle”.


Monument to Peter I near St. Michael’s (Engineers’) Castle