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Opening of the exhibition “ ’Tis Potemkin himself!” On the 280th Anniversary of the Birth of Prince Grigory Potemkin of Taurida

Published 17 December 2019

On 7 December 2019, an exhibition opened in the Hermitage marking the 280th anniversary of the birth of one of the most significant statesmen in 18th-century Russian history – the Serene Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin of Taurida.

“Potemkin is a man of the Enlightenment, for Russia that was the era of Catherine the Great. This was the Russian Enlightenment that had a need for people of the highest erudition, for people who had the greatest love of learning, of art and at the same time for strong personalities – politicians, military men, administrators, great nobles. All of that was combined in the Serene Prince Potemkin – an astonishing character of wise politician, statesman and at the same time a man of passion, of exalted rank and dedication, who did so much for the Russian state, for his Empress,” Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, said in his welcoming speech.

Victor Ventimiglia Alonso, Head of the North-Western Branks of Sberbank of Russia, as a representative of the exhibition’s general sponsor, thanked the Hermitage staff and Mikhail Piotrovsky personally for their enthusiasm and the great professionalism that makes it possible to produce exhibitions of an international standard and also for the opportunity accorded to the Sberbank to participate in these events.

The formal ceremony on the Jordan Staircase was accompanied by the Marches of the Life Guards Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky Regiments performed by the Admiralty Band. And, of course, there was a performance of the anthem Grom pobedy, razdavaisia! [Let the Thunder of Victory Rumble!] that was created in 1791 to a commission from Potemkin to mark Russia’s victory over the Ottoman Empire. The words were written by the poet Gavriil Derzhavin, the music is by Osip Kozlovsky. This piece became for many years an unofficial national anthem.

The title of the exhibition references a passage in Nikolai Gogol’s short story The Night Before Christmas that very neatly captures the significance of Potemkin as a personality, his special place in the history of Catherine the Great’s reign: “ ‘Is that the Tsar?’ the smith asked one of the Cossacks. ‘Tsar be blowed! ’Tis Potemkin himself!’ the man replied.”

Over a period of almost 20 years, Potemkin remained the most energetic associate of the great Empress, her loyal comrade in her undertakings. He played a leading role in the Empress’s elaboration of her geopolitical schemes. It was specifically thanks to Potemkin’s efforts that it proved possible to peacefully join the Crimea to the Russian state in 1783. The Serene Prince has gone down in Russian history, too, as the founder of the Black Sea Fleet.

More than a thousand museum items are presented in the state rooms of the Winter Palace – works of fine and applied art, books and documents. They paint a vivid, multifaceted picture of Potemkin, telling about his main accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy and in the realm of warfare, his circle and his personal life. A considerable number of the exhibits, many of which are on public show for the first time, are memorial items that come from the personal collections of Potemkin and Catherine II.

The exhibition has been organized by the State Hermitage with the participation of the museum of the Saint Petersburg Mining University, the State Memorial Museum of Alexander Suvorov, the Pavlovsk and Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserves, the State Russian Museum, Kazan Federal University and private collectors.

The author of the concept and curator of the exhibition is Natalia Bakhareva, senior researcher in the Hermitage’s Department of the History of Russian Culture.

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly illustrated catalogue in two volumes (State Hermitage Publishing House). The catalogue contains a foreword by Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, articles, and catalogue descriptions of all items in the exhibition.

Based on the material of the exhibition, an educational publication in Russian has also been created – “Eto sam Potemkin!” K 280-letiiu Svetleishego kniazia G. A. Potemkina-Tavricheskogo (State Hermitage Publishing House). The text is by Natalia Bakhareva.

A video film about Prince Potemkin has also been produced to accompany the exhibition. 

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The general sponsor of the exhibition is Sberbank of Russia