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Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia: unexecuted designs for a harpsichord and pianoforte case, 1774 (9)

1774
Catherine the Great (1729-96), the daughter of Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst and Princess Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, became Empress of Russia in 1762 following the death of Empress Elizabeth in January of that year, and her husband, the Grand Duke Peter's abdication in July.

Under the aegis of Charles Cameron (1745-1812) the Adam style had spread to Russia. Catherine herself was a follower of British fashion, and collected various works by English artists. According to Libin, Catherine was not a musician herself, but encouraged her daughter-in-law, Natalia Alekseevna, Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt to play, and Libin has suggested that the designs for a harpsichord and pianoforte case, which Catherine commissioned from Robert Adam in 1774, were intended as gifts for Natalia. Indeed, Natalia had only married Catherine's son, Grand Duke Paul, a year earlier.

Adam's two instrument case designs for the Russian court were not executed, although the harpsichord case is illustrated in Adam's first volume of the Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, and a much altered version of the design was made in London by an unknown cabinetmaker, containing an instrument by Johann Zumpe, and survives at the Palace of Pavlovsk.

Literature:
R. & J. Adam, The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1773-78, Volume I, part v, pl. viii; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1992, Volume II, Index pp. 57, 86; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 17-18, 54; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 273-75; L. Libin, 'Robert Adam's instruments for Catherine the Great', Early Music Journal, August 2001, pp. 355-67

Frances Sands, 2013
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