Catherine the Equestrian

Exhibit Author: FV

Mounted on her majestic horse, Catherine the Great prepares to capture the dethroned Peter III in Vigilius Eriksen's famous portrait.[1] Surrounded by her loyal Preobrazhensky regiment, the painting captures not only Catherine’s triumph, but also her conscious effort to legitimize herself as Empress of Russia. With only a tenuous claim to the throne through her estranged husband and underage son, Paul, Catherine carefully constructed her image as a woman capable of adopting masculine tendencies, and as a ruler eager to carry on Peter the Great’s legacies. A look at more conventional images of Catherine dressed in exquisite court dress will further reveal her the full extent of her power, but Eriksen’s image continues to stand out. The portrait depicts, with the shadowy regiment in the background, much about Catherine’s tenuous power situation in the early years of her reign and her desire to actively legitimize her rule. Though Catherine’s manner of succession traditionally faced more challenges abroad than at home,[2] the Empress, aware of the power and influence of appearances and ceremonies, strived to be depicted as a legitimate Russian ruler in the line of Peter the Great. It is this connection and legitimacy that Eriksen’s painting depicts.  


[1] Vigilius Ericksen, Equestrian Portrait of Catherine the Great. Post-1762. Oil on canvas.        

[2] Simon Dixon, Catherine the Great (London: Pearson Education Limited, 2001), 34-35.