Catherine the Great – the Empress of all Russia

Vigilius Eriksen, Portret Katarine II.

Exhibits from the Hermitage State Museum
Klovićevi dvori Gallery, April 12th – July 29th, 2018

This exhibition presents one of the greatest rulers of all times, the woman who made history and founded the Hermitage.

Surrounded by secrets and legends, the complex personality of Empress Catherine II and the facts from her life have not been fully researched to this day. Her strength has been awe-inspiring for centuries, fascinating to generations. It is undeniable that this energetic German, one of the greatest rulers of all times, a brilliant stateswoman, sharp-minded politician and enlightener, devoted her life to the good of Russian people. To her “adopted” people and country this “brightest star of the North” has left a unique legacy. Every mention of Hermitage and its incredible collections is associated with Catherine the Great.

On two levels of the Klovićevi dvori Gallery more than a thousand of exhibits, of which some have left the sumptuous halls of Hermitage for the first time, visitors will have the opportunity to see some of the splendor of Imperial Russia and its golden age, as well as the atmosphere of the largest museum of the world created by Catherine. This museum, which encompasses memorial objects from different civilizations and epochs has developed into a cultural universe that unifies the entire culture and art of humanity under one roof.

Visitors will see exciting historical scenes of Catherine’s accession to the throne, paintings from most important European schools, the glitter of unique and priceless jewelry, golden and silver dishes and bowls as well as dozens of carved cameos – the Empress’s favorite objects and her greatest collecting passion. They will be introduced to the splendor of the court and its customs, weapons and crockery used on particular days, all produced in national factories thanks to Catherine’s incentive and support.

Apart from magnificent imperial portraits and paintings from European masters, the exhibition will show a comprehensive overview of sculpture, prints and drawings, court costumes and uniforms, artistically crafted objects (glass, pottery, porcelain, silver and gold), medals, weapons, furniture and objects of virtu.

This exhibition is held at the occasion of fifty years friendship between the cities of St Petersburg and Zagreb. It is a result of the collaboration between Hermitage State Museum and the Klovićevi dvori Gallery. The scope of the exhibition is specifically tailored to the format of the Klovićevi dvori Gallery.

Visit this very unique exhibition, stroll through the Klovićevi dvori Gallery which will be vested in luxurious garments of the imperial court for a few months and listen to the whisper of the Empress of All Russia – Catherine the Great.


Georg Christoph Grooth, Portret velike kneginje Katarine Aleksejevne, 1744.-1746.


Unlike her husband Peter III, shrewd Catherine did everything to leave the best impression. She had learned the Russian history extremely well and had fully understood the role of the Russian guard in a state where coups d’etat with the help of military elite were quick and successful. Catherine schemed intrigues very intelligently, using all her husband’s mistakes in her favor.

The situation at the court became tenser every day. On June 9th, 1762, during a festive lunch at the occasion of signing a peace treaty with Prussia, Peter III publicly offended his wife and ordered her apprehension. She and her supporters understood that action was needed.

Until then they had already elaborated a plan for the coup d’etat. They wanted to perform it before the coronation of Peter III in Moscow. The heart of the conspiracy were count Razumovsky, Panin, baron Korf, captain Passek, duchess Dashkova, five Orlov brothers and others. On June 28th Catherine set out from the Peterhof summer residence towards Petersburg, where she was received with delight at the Izmaylovsky Guard Regiment. Catherine was proclaimed empress and her seven-year-old son heir to the throne. After that, in the Winter Palace surrounded by a rejoicing multitude began the taking of the oath to the new empress. Masses of people greeted Catherine with delight after she appeared on the balcony of the Winter Palace.

On June 29th the overthrown King Peter III was apprehended and banished to the city of Ropsha near Petersburg. He signed his abdication.

On July 6th Catherine was informed of his sudden death: the officers who were guarding him strangled Peter III in the Ropsha Castle. One of the present officers there was Alexei Orlov, brother to Grigory Orlov, Catherine’s favorite and father of her son Alexei Bobrinsky, who was born on April 11th, 1762, two months after the coup d’etat. Eighteen years of hard and strenuous work and self-education finally yielded magnificent fruit. That was the beginning of a thirty-four-year ruling period of Catherine the Great, called “the golden age” of Russia.

Peter Paul Rubens, Apoteoza Jakova I., oko 1632.-1633.


Next to the south-eastern part of the new Winter Palace, where the Empress took her quarters, was a lengthy, narrow, single storey house with a coal cellar, stables and service rooms. After the design by architect Georg Veldten, in 1764 began the construction of an extension from the street side, a pavilion intended for Grigory Orlov, while in front of the pavilion a garden was planted on the roof of one wing.

In September of 1768 the following order was issued: “…in the newly built orangery of the Winter Hermitage Residence two tables that can be lifted one after the other should be made, using the same principle as in the Imperial Village, and when they are not needed they should collapse into the floor and be covered.” Such mechanical tables, which enabled a clandestine supper, hidden from curious eyes and ears, were made in the first half of the 18th century, in the pavilions or the interior of palaces in Peterhof, Imperial Village, the Summer Palace and the old Winter Palace. Garden pavilions or halls in the palace with the described tables were called hermitage. This word had entered the Russian language from the French, where it was applied to solitary housing or isolated garden houses.

The first reception in these rooms was held in February of 1769. Such gatherings in the Northern Pavilion were named hermitages, which was later extended to the entire complex of structures next to the Winter Palace.

The guests at such suppers were selected by the host and this selection was not always determined by the rank and position. The host could rest without worrying about the rules of the demanding court etiquette. At the entrance the guests could read hermitage rules, set by Catherine.

Tabakera s dječjim portretima velikih knezova Aleksandra i Konstantina Pavloviča, 1781.-1782.


While Grand Duke Peter Feodorovich, sure of his stable position of the hair to the Russian throne, was pursuing art and military, his wife prepared for the desired, but legally not guaranteed role of the empress. This was her wish, her goal – she wished to become empress. On the one hand this implied intrigues and political scheming, on the other this demanded self-perfecting and education so that she could place herself along with the great rulers of strong European states. The Grand Duchess tried to maximally use the time on disposal for her education. Among the books she read, Voltaire’s works had a special place.

Rulers and peers corresponded with enlighteners and invited them to European courts. However, in this, as well as in many other things, she managed to surpass her contemporaries. Thanks to excellent knowledge of French language and other skills, her “epistolary” talent and a specific intelligence, in this correspondence Catherine was a collocutor on equal footing to wisest men educated Europe admired. Each word in her letters to Voltaire, Diderot or Grimm was well-conceived and weighed. Catherine understood that her international reputation depended on the opinion of these sages of her time. In this letters she expounded her philosophical views, her relation to political processes, and judged statesmen.

Tabakera s portretom Alekseja Orlova , 1778.


European rulers like Frederick the Great, Maria Theresa or Joseph II, set the goal of creating a strong and prosperous country in their political programs, guided by the ideas of enlightenment. With this purpose they updated the laws, improved the administrative system, developed education, industry and commerce, along with the protection of sciences and arts. Catherine’s enlightenment activities completely matched the activities of her influential contemporaries, on whose relations depended the concord of political powers in Europe. Permanent communication with enlighteners and state activities targeted at the education of the people and the prosperity of the state contributed to that. All strivings of Catherine II were aimed at making a powerful and prosperous state of Russia.

In 1783 the Imperial Russian Academy was founded, whose purpose was the study of Russian language and literature. For the first time in history a woman was appointed head of such an institution – Yekaterina Romanovna Dashkova. The most important result of the Academy’s work was the publishing of the Russian Academic Dictionary – the first dictionary of Russian language.

Catherine encouraged geographic research, research of plant and animal life and ethnography, which resulted in many encyclopedias, albums and travelogues. The Empress made efforts to make Russians know and love their country, culture and language. She was proud of her new homeland and showed that to entire Europe.

In 1766 Catherine issued a Manifesto on the Establishment of the Commission, whose task was to set up a new legal code. For their first meeting she wrote her famous “Instruction”. This text was a compilation from the works of the enlighteners, primarily of Montesquieu’s “On the Spirit of the Laws”.

An important step was founding of educational and correctional facilities in Moscow and St Petersburg for orphaned children. New civil and commerce schools were also founded. For the children of nobles, closed educational facilities were organized: the Smolny Institute for girls and the Land Cadet School for boys.


Entrance fee:

Individual adult ticket: 60 kn
Individual ticket for retired persons, pupils and students: 50 kn
Group ticket for adults (15 persons minimum): 40 kn
Group ticket for retired persons, pupils and students (15 persons minimum): 30 kn
Tickets can be obtained at and at the entrance desk of the Gallery.

Groups of 15 persons minimum will be offered a free guided tour of the exhibition, but prior notice at the mail address: or tel. +385 1 4851926 is required.