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Baroque Sculpture Display in Peter the Great’s Summer Garden

Margaret Samu, Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University, Summer Fellow 2014

Peter the Great’s garden in Saint Petersburg, now called the Summer Garden, contained about one hundred sculptures by 1720, making it the first public exhibition of art in Russia. My project explores how displaying sculpture in a garden setting shaped its symbolic meaning, and in turn, its reception by Russian viewers who had little previous exposure to European art. This study will ultimately shed new light on larger issues such as visual literacy and art patronage in eighteenth-century Russia. At Dumbarton Oaks, I used an inventory of Peter the Great’s library to find editions of books that he owned in the Rare Books Collection, including European garden design manuals and albums of prints depicting palace and estate gardens from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These publications allowed me to understand the range of ideas for displaying sculpture that were available to the tsar and his designers while planning the garden. I also read secondary sources about Baroque gardens to understand the broader cultural context in which the Summer Garden was created. Textual and visual resources at Dumbarton Oaks and in Harvard’s library system were invaluable in advancing my research. Evening walks in the gardens allowed me to assimilate what I read in the library—to truly experience a garden in three dimensions with all my senses as it changed and developed over the summer.