portrait of catherine the great in mourning

Pietro Antonio Rotari, Verona 1701- 1762, St. Petersburg

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Oil on canvas. The 32-year-old Grand Duchess is here depicted in full mourning dress, lacking all jewellery save for the badge of the Order of St. Catherine. Her hair is covered in a black shawl and she wears a widow's peak on her head. It seems probable that she is in mourning for Empress Elizabeth Petrovna who died on December 25th, 1761 and was buried three weeks later. Elizabeth's nephew Peter, Catherine's husband, acceded to the throne. Grand Duchess Catherine Alexeevna was married to Grand Duke Peter Feodorovich, in 1744. Obsessively interested in military matters Peter and Catherine had little in common and they quickly grew apart and upon his accession he lost no time in installing his mistress in his old apartments. He was to occupy for the throne for less than six months. Becoming increasingly disturbed, he was deposed in a coup d'Etat organized by the Orlov bothers and actively supported by Catherine, who was declared Empress early in July 1762. Shortly afterwards Peter was assassinated with poison with his death being announced by Catherine as having been due to 'inflammation of the bowels and apoplexy'. Catherine's mildly amused and mischievous expression does appear to be a little at odds with her mourning dress, and there is also a possibility that the offered portrait is one of the Rotari's last works, executed between the death of Peter III on 6th July and his own at the end of August the same year. Pietro Antonio Rotari was born in Verona in 1707. After initially studying in his home town he went on to Venice and Rome and in 1750 moved to Vienna to work for Empress Marie Therese. In 1755 Empress Elizabeth of Russia invited him to St.Petersburg.