The Bronze Horseman - Guardian of St. Petersburg

18 August 2022

 “Who of us, passing through Petrovsky Square, did not stop in front of the monument to Peter I...who arranged and enlightened Russia, making it strong and powerful? - writes the historian and theologian Anton Ivanovsky (1823-1873) in the book Conversations about Peter the Great and his collaborators (1872), posted on the Presidential Library’s portal. “But when viewing this monument, did any of us have to think about how much work and incredible efforts had to be used to build this marvelous monument, leading to amazement?..”

The history of the creation of the monument, which thanks to Alexander Pushkin we call the Bronze Horseman, is intriguing. The library's portal and collections contain a lot of materials that spotlight key events associated with its appearance.

The idea to create a monument to the first Russian emperor belongs to Catherine II, who turned with this request to the French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet, "a man of complex character, expressive and easily vulnerable". The Collection of the Imperial Historical Society features a detailed correspondence between Catherine and Falconet, who was faced with the task of creating sketches of the monument, casting it in bronze and placing it on a pedestal. Each of these stages was fraught with great difficulties.

Firstly, there was no consensus on what Peter I should look like. Falconet had to insist that the sovereign was on a horse, and that his human qualities were combined in sculpture with the intercession of a warrior and imperial power.

Secondly, there were difficulties with the casting of the sculpture - such large monuments have never been made in Russia before. The first casting was damaged, and the next one was completed only three years later.

Thirdly, the question arose of a pedestal that would be able to hold such a massive sculpture. Finally, in a swamp near the Gulf of Finland, a Thunder-stone weighing 1600 tons was found, which during the year was dragged along special platforms, first to the dam, and then to the ship to be transported to its destination.

On August 7 (18), 1782, on the Senate Square, surrounded by guardsmen and many people who came despite the rain, the monument to Peter I was unveiled.

The emperor in a laurel wreath, pacifying a horse on top of a rock, personified the resistance of the elements and the assertion of sovereign will.

However, the elements nevertheless decided to test the strength of the bronze Peter - for example, in 1824 there was a flood, which Alexander Pushkin later described in the poem The Bronze Horseman. The sensations of phantasmagoria, ghostliness, unreality, conveyed in this brilliant text, gave new life to the monument, which became known as the Bronze Horseman and played an important role in Russian culture.

Pushkin's idea of ​​the Bronze Horseman was picked up by Fyodor Dostoevsky in the novel The Adolescent.

What is it - a dream or reality - the Bronze Horseman, and St. Petersburg with it? Osip Mandelstam inquires about this.

The Presidential Library’s electronic collections contain a collection of graphic and photographic images of the Bronze Horseman. By the way, the process of creating a monument to Peter I by sculptor Étienne Falconet, is dedicated to the feature film by Vasily Livanov The Bronze Horseman of Russia, which was released in 2019.

The Bronze Horseman as a symbol and guardian of St. Petersburg is glorified in the official anthem of St. Petersburg, created in 2003. The text of the anthem was written by the poet Oleg Chuprov. The music for this anthem was taken from Reinhold Gliere's ballet The Bronze Horseman written in 1948.

Since the monument to Peter I was erected in St. Petersburg, many people have rushed to the Bronze Horseman and experienced both admiration and timidity in front of him.

One of the city's beliefs says that as long as the Bronze Horseman stands on the banks of the Neva, nothing can happen to St. Petersburg. Protecting and preserving his city, Peter I celebrates his 350th anniversary from "a gray rock, from where a steep delight of greenish bronze bursts into the sky".