Tsar Peter the Great on his rearing steed is the northern capital’s most famous silhouette. Commissioned by Catherine II to the French sculptor Falconet, the monument to Peter was unveiled in 1782 on Senate Square. Peter’s face is the work of Falconet’s young student Marie Collot, who was eighteen when she sculpted the tsar’s face using his death mask. At 1200 tons, the pedestal of red granite is considered to be the largest stone ever moved by man. The monument has three points of support with the horse’s hind legs and its tail touching the serpent.
In the popular imagination, the statue’s imperious gesture is forever linked to Alexander Pushkin’s famous verse from his poem “The Bronze Horseman.”
“Here the city will be founded in spite of our haughty neighbors,
Here we are destined by Nature to hack a window on Europe.”
In Pushkin’s poem, the hero, Evgenii, loses his beloved Parasha during a severe flood on the Neva River. Mad with grief, he curses the Bronze tyrant who willed the city into being amidst the northern marshes. Fleeing, Evgenii hears the heavy thump of the bronze hoofs behind him, pursuing him relentlessly through the city’s streets. One’s private life or the creative will of a leader – which is more important? The debate over this issue would shape, to a significant degree, Russia’s later history.