ABOUT THIS BOOK
St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace was once the supreme architectural symbol of Russia’s autocratic government. Over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became the architectural symbol of St. Petersburg itself. The story of the palace illuminates the changing relationship between monarchs and their capital city during the last century and a half of Russian monarchy. In The Winter Palace and the People, Susan McCaffray examines interactions among those who helped to stage the ceremonial drama of monarchy, those who consumed the spectacle, and the monarchs themselves.
In the face of a changing social landscape in their rapidly growing nineteenth-century capital, Russian monarchs reoriented their display of imperial and national representation away from courtiers and toward the urban public. When attacked at mid-century, monarchs retreated from the palace. As they receded, the public claimed the square and the artistic treasures in the Imperial Hermitage before claiming the palace itself. By 1917, the Winter Palace had come to be the essential stage for representing not just monarchy, but the civic life of the empire-nation. What was cataclysmic for the monarchy presented to those who staffed the palace and Hermitage not a disaster, but a new mission, as a public space created jointly by monarch and city passed from the one to the other. This insightful study will appeal to scholars of Russia and general readers interested in Russian history.