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Why was the imperial court alarmed because of the painting "Princess Tarakanova" by artist Flavitsky
Why was the imperial court alarmed because of the painting "Princess Tarakanova" by artist Flavitsky

The painting "Princess Tarakanova" by Konstantin Flavitsky is one of the most famous works of the artist, which is a worthy decoration of the Tretyakov Gallery. Written almost a century and a half ago, it still excites the viewer with the drama of the plot and the skill of execution. What historical events served as the plot for this work, what a commotion it caused at the royal court, why the princess was called "Tarakanova", and also about many other facts - in our publication.

First of all, the tragedy and naturalness of this canvas is striking, which is based on real events that occurred during the reign of Catherine II, when the illegitimate children of Elizabeth Petrovna, the youngest daughter of Peter I from Alexei Razumovsky, were called Tarakanovs. And although it is not known for certain how many children Elizabeth and Alexei had, historical sources mention a son and daughter, who was persistently called "Princess Tarakanova". Many historians are inclined to believe that the real illegitimate heiress was born in 1744 and until adulthood lived abroad under the name of Princess Augusta Daragan, and then returned to Russia, where she was tonsured at the Ivanovsky monastery under the name of nun Dosithea. She died in 1810.

Elizaveta Petrovna is the third All-Russian Empress. / Alexey G. Razumovsky

However, the mysterious character of the work of Konstantin Flavitsky was not this woman at all, but a swindler who, during the reign of Catherine II, claimed the Russian throne, declaring herself the daughter of Elizabeth Petrovna from a secret marriage with A.G. Razumovsky - "Princess Elizabeth of Vladimir".

For a long time, the impostor lived in Europe, posing as a Russian princess. And judging by how she excelled in several languages, versed in art and possessed a secular manner, it is unlikely that she came from the lower strata of society. An extraordinary mindset allowed her to impersonate a person of a noble family, which she skillfully used, living in different cities of Europe under different pseudonyms. She invented names for herself, most often adding loud titles to them. By the way, the name "Princess Tarakanova" was first named in the press 20 years after her death.

Some took this mysterious person for a German woman, others for a French woman, and still others for an Italian. And when she found herself in Poland in 1773, the swindler announced for the first time that she was the Russian "Princess Elizabeth of Vladimir", the illegitimate daughter of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. For reliability, the impostor presented a fake testament to the Russian empress, which ordered to crown the heiress upon reaching the age of majority and grant her unlimited power over the entire Russian Empire. The noble Poles immediately drew attention to the person with the Slavic title, Prince Mikhail Oginsky, the great Lithuanian hetman, became interested in her and began to support her in every possible way.

"Tarakanova Augusta (princess, nun Dosithea)". Presumably the portrait of Princess Elizabeth of Vladimir - an impostor

Of course, the ruling Catherine II rival was completely unnecessary, all the more so imaginary. At that time, the impostor already had supporters who were dangerous for the empress's power and for the Russian state. And the empress of the Russian throne could not allow such a turn of events. Therefore, by order of the Empress, Count A.G.Orlov-Chesmensky was sent to Pisa for the impostor princess. Pretending to be passionately in love and promising to marry, he tricked the "Russian princess" onto the ship, convincing her that the Russian flotilla was ready to swear allegiance to the princess and would defend her right to the throne to the last.

On the deck of the Russian ship "Holy Great Martyr Isidor" a guard of honor was set up, the rest of the flotilla ships gave an artillery salute in honor of "Princess Elizabeth of Vladimir". However, a few hours later, the impostor was arrested, and the ships hastily weighed anchor. And while the flotilla was circling Europe, the house of the adventurer in Pisa was thoroughly searched by Russian agents, and the entire discrediting "princess" archive of documents was sent to St. Petersburg to the court of Catherine.

Empress Catherine II./ Count A.G. Orlov-Chesmensky

In May 1775, the impostor was taken to the Peter and Paul Fortress and subjected to harsh interrogations by Prince Golitsyn, who could not get anything from the prisoner - she continued to adhere to the legend of the "Russian heiress". The "princess" was promised to return freedom if she honestly admits herself an impostor. But she refused, not recognizing any sedition and continuing to insist on her imperial origin. Soon, the recalcitrant was announced to be imprisoned for life in the fortress, where she had to spend very little time.

According to one version, the mysterious prisoner died of consumption in December of the same year, 1775, without revealing the secret of her birth even to a priest in confession. On the other - in 1777 after the flood. For many years there were rumors that Catherine had imprisoned the impostor in a cell that was flooded during the flood of the Neva.

And although the legend about the death of the impostor princess from the flood least of all corresponds to reality, it was this legend that the artist Flavitsky chose as a subject for his painting. It so happened that, ironically, the general public knows about the fate of the still unknown woman, only what in fact never happened to her. And largely thanks to the work of the artist, it was this version of the death of the imaginary princess that was entrenched in history and in the memory of the people.

A little about the picture

K. D. Flavitsky. "Princess Tarakanova". 1864 year. Tretyakov Gallery

As mentioned above, the artist laid the legend of the death of Princess Tarakanova during the flood in St. Petersburg on September 21, 1777 in the plot of his canvas. On the canvas, Flavitsky depicted the casemate of the Peter and Paul Fortress, behind the walls of which a flood is raging. On the bed, fleeing from the streams of water arriving at the barred window opening, a young woman stands in a semi-faint state, leaning against the wall. Her posture, waxy face, half-closed eyes - everything suggests that she is about to lose consciousness and collapse into the water.

K. D. Flavitsky. "Princess Tarakanova". Fragment

The most unbearable horror is caused by wet rats getting out of the water. The wooden bed is about to disappear under the water and most likely they will begin to climb already on the prisoner's dress … The terrifying moment captured on the canvas makes the viewer shudder and physically feel himself in the gloomy and damp casemate of the Peter and Paul Fortress, flooded by the waters of the Neva. From these associations, many probably get goosebumps and a lump comes up to the throat. Otherwise, this talented canvas by a Russian artist is simply not perceived.

The first exposure of the painting, which caused a stir

"Princess Tarakanova", written in 1864, brought the artist great fame. In the same year, for the first time exhibited at the exhibition of the Academy of Arts, it was highly noted by art critics, and there is no need to talk about the public. Everyone was shocked and delighted.

K. D. Flavitsky. "Princess Tarakanova". Fragment

However, in the Winter Palace, the appearance of this painting caused a real commotion: the carefully hidden secret of the royal family suddenly surfaced and, moreover, in a brilliant pictorial form. Until that time, the investigative case of the impostor princess was kept in the strictest secrecy. And the people involved in it gave it. And then the family secret of the Romanovs was made public. And by whom … the artist …

Of course, a grandiose scandal erupted, which could have ended very badly for the artist, if not for the stunning triumph with which the painting was greeted by the Russian public. This alone saved Flavitsky from big trouble.

Portrait of Emperor Alexander II. Artist: Nikolay Lavrov

Emperor Alexander II was forced to reckon with the opinion of society. And therefore, he urgently issued a decree: Under the "novel", in all likelihood, was meant the semi-real story of Mikhail Longinov, published in the magazine "Russian conversation" in 1859.

It should also be noted that the canvas of the Russian academician artist had a stunning success not only in St. Petersburg and Moscow, but also abroad, including in the Salon at the World Paris Exhibition. This work was soon acquired by the philanthropist Pavel Tretyakov for his collection, however, after the death of the artist. The renowned collector of Russian art had an incredible artistic taste and understanding of authentic painting. That is why, when he first saw "Princess Tarakanova", he was fired up with a great desire to acquire it by all means. Negotiations on the acquisition of the work began with the author, and ended with the Flavitsky brothers, since the artist had died suddenly by that time.

About the artist

Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky (1830-1866) - Russian historical painter in the portrait of F. A. Bronnikov

Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky (1830-1866) - Russian painter was born in Moscow in the family of an official. Orphaned early, the boy spent 7 years in an orphanage for poor children. His gift for drawing manifested itself very early. Therefore, when he grew up, he decided that he would study painting.

Solomon's Court (1854) Novgorod Museum-Reserve. Author: Konstantin Flavitsky

Having entered the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, he graduated from it in 1855 with a large gold medal awarded to him for the painting "The Children of Jacob Selling Their Brother Joseph".

Jacob's children sell their brother Joseph. 1855 year. Author: Konstantin Flavitsky

The medal gave the painter the right to travel abroad. Konstantin Flavitsky spent six years (1856-1862) in Italy perfecting his skills. His report to the Academy of Arts was a large, full of tragedy painting "Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum", for which he received the title of first-class artist.

Christian martyrs at the Colosseum. (1862). Canvas, oil. 385 x 539 cm State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Author: Konstantin Flavitsky

Unfortunately, one of the last works of the author turned out to be the painting "Death of Princess Tarakanova" (this is how the painting was originally named by the author himself). When the painter was working on it, his health was already severely undermined by consumption, which he picked up back in Italy. The Petersburg climate greatly aggravated the disease. In September 1866, the artist died. He was only thirty-six …

Continuing the topic of palace secrets and intrigues at the imperial courts associated with childbirth, read in our publication: Secret Children of Russian Empresses: Who They Become, and How Their Life Developed.

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