Stephano Torelli’s “Coronation Portrait of Catherine II”: Crowns as a Visual Formula of the Lands of the Russian Empire

Research output


The “Coronation portrait of Catherine II” by Stephano Torelli introduces a new type of ico-nography of the Russian Empress in which she appears as a bearer of multiple (i. e. four) crowns. Whereas originally such a portrait type in European art served as a representation of the several titles of the ruler and correspondent lands joined in a personal union, it became a representation of the titles of Catherine II as the Russian Empress and tsarina of the conquered tsarstva of Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia. The theme of titles and lands of the Empire had al-ready developed in 18th-century Russia in other forms (allegorical figures, coats-of-arms) and visual media (decorative painting and sculpture). Circa 10 examples collected here for the first time are set side by side with their European counterparts. Three types of representations of native and conquered territories emerged in which the very choice of particular titles and the place of their symbolic representation in composition accentuated different aspects in the con-cept of the Russian Empire. But it was only with Torelli’s “Coronation Portrait of Catherine II” that the symbolism of three crowns appeared in Russian portrait painting. Torelli previously worked for the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, some of whose portraits incorporate two crowns. Another important factor seems to be the fact that such iconography gained special popularity with Catherine’s senior peer Maria Theresia. Only the Habsburgs, the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, with which a newly established Russian Empire aspired to rival, pos-sessed more than three crowns. The importance attached to symbolism of multiple crowns by Catherine is illustrated by direct mentioning of it in her “Zapiski”.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-299
Number of pages25
JournalВестник СПбГУ Сер.2
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2020

Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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