Russia 1796-1815
Intellectual Life

Russia, 1762-1796 : Intellectual Life

Note : Many of the various national minorities developed a culture (mostly literature) of their own; here, the intellectual life of ethnic Russia is dealt with, not that of the Russian Empire as a whole.

Russia's education system traditionally had been controlled by the Russian Orthodox Church. Peter the Great had established institutions modelled after those in the west, such as the Naval Academy (1701/16), and the Imperial Academy of Sciences (1724); under his daughter Elisabeth the University of Moscow (1755) and the Imperial Academy of the Arts (1757) had been founded.
When Catherine II. ascended to the throne, however, Russia's science and education was still poor; she promoted Moscow University and the Academy of Sciences, called mathematician LEONARD EULER back to St. Petersburg. In 1782 PRINCESS DASHKOVA was appointed director of the Academy; she reorganized her finances.
In 1786 Russia' education system was reformed by JOHANN IGNAZ FELBIGER; it was based on coeducational primary schools and on coeducational high schools, to be opened in every provincial town free of tuition fees.

Art in late 18th century Russia still heavily depended on the Imperial court or Russian magnates as benefactors; contemporary paintings, by artists such as ALEXEY ANTROPOV, C.L.J. CHRISTENECK, DMITRY LEVITZKY are allmost exclusively portraits, mostly of Russian aristocrats. Theatres such as the BOLSHOI COMPANY's Petrovsky Theatre, opened in 1780, showed foreign language operas (mainly in Italian, some in French), silent ballet, French-language dramas, composed, directed and performed mainly by foreigners. Art served an elite public.
English architect CHARLES CAMERON built the Cameron Gallery at Tsarskoe Selo and the Palladian Palace at Pavloxsk; he introduced neo-classicism to Russia. He was just one of many examples showing inhowfar Russia's art scene of the late 18th century was dominated by non-Russians.

Catherine II. purchased the private libraries of VOLTAIRE and DIDEROT, the latter of whom she hired as a librarian. Her minister GRIGORI POTEMKIN collected a private library of his own, which was to become the ground stock of the library (est. 1809) of Kazan State University. These libraries contained a large stock of western, mainly French books. Voltaire even wrote a book on Russian history under Peter the Great; his hopes of finding employment at the Russian court, however, did not materialize.
Numerous French, German etc. books were translated into Russian, addressing a growing readership of educated Russians who have not learnt foreign languages. In the latter half of the 18th century, Russian literature revived; famous are Princess Dashkova's Memoirs.

The Russian Academy of Sciences 1724-1999, from IHST
Biography of Leonard Euler
History of Kazan State University, from KSU
The Bolshoi Theatre : History
Biography of Denis Diderot (1713-1784), by Andreas Teuber
Buigraphy of Princess Dashkova (1743-1810), from Univ. of Toronto
DOCUMENTS Russian painters featured by Olga's Gallery : Alexey Antropov (1716-1795), Carl Ludwig Johann Christeneck (1732-1792), Dimitry Levitzky (1735-1822
Portrait of Princess Dashkova, 1784, from Hillwoof Museum
Voltaire on Princess Dashkova; Correspondence, May 1771, from Voltaire Society of America
REFERENCE Simon Dixon, The Modernisation of Russia, 1676-1825, especially pp. 152-188
The Memoirs of Princess Dashkova / Russia in the time of Catherine the Great, ed. by Kyril Fitzlyon, 1995

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 24th 2006

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