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Catherine the Great

Melvyn Bragg discusses Catherine the Great who set out to transform Russia from a semi-barbaric country into a model of the ideals of the 18th century French Enlightenment.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Catherine the Great. In Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery hangs perhaps the most well-known picture of Russia's most well-known ruler. Dimitri Levitsky's 1780 'Portrait of Catherine the Great in the Justice Temple' depicts Catherine in the temple burning poppies at an altar, symbolising her sacrifice of self-interest for Russia. Law books and the scales of justice are at her feet, highlighting her respectful promotion of the rule of law. But menacingly, in the background an eagle crouches, suggesting the means to use brutal power where necessary. For an obscure, small-town German princess Catharine’s ambition was large - the transformation of semi-barbaric Russia into a model of the ideals of the French 18th century Enlightenment. How far was Catherine able to lead her country into full participation in the political and cultural life of Europe? Was she able to liberate the serfs? And should she be remembered as Russia's most civilised ruler or a megalomaniacal despot? With Janet Hartley, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics; Simon Dixon, Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds; Tony Lentin, Professor of History at the Open University.

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45 minutes

Last on

Thu 23 Feb 2006 21:30

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