The Faculty of Arts presents a four-part masterclass in partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria's exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great.

As a great patron of the arts, Catherine amassed an art collection over her thirty-four year reign comprising of Old Master paintings and contemporary art of the eighteenth century-a collection equal in scale and quality to leading European collections of the time. It was this extraordinary collection which formed the foundations for the State Hermitage Museum, founded in 1764 by Catherine and considered today to be one of the leading museums of art and culture in the world.

Drawing from three million items, this exhibition showcases the richness, diversity and collection strengths of the Hermitage Museum and by using key themes and pivotal works, this materclass will explore the multifaceted dimensions of Catherine the Great's life and legacy.

Each session includes evening lectures by some of the University of Melbourne's finest scholars and NGV's senior curators, light refreshments and the privilege of exclusive after hour exhibition viewing, showcasing tailored floor talks in the exhibition space.

Tuesday 29 September

A Philosopher Queen: An 'Enlightened' monarch and her challenges

We begin this masterclass by introducing Catherine the Great and consider the historical context with which she came to power in 1762 at age thirty-three, ruling until her death in 1796. Multilingual, Catherine was largely self-educated, independent and visionary who introduced European cultural customs to Russia whilst embracing local traditions. She was guided by Europe's leading intellectuals, seeing herself as a Philosopher Queen, a new kind of ruler during the Age of the Enlightenment.

It was the great eighteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire who advised Catherine to look to the East in order to seek inspiration of an enlightened ruler- the type thought to be found in China. This reflection can be seen in the overt orientalism in architectural elements in St Petersburg and by the collection of oriental curiosities and philosophical texts.

Join us as we explore Catherine the Great in the context of 'Philosopher Queen'.

Lectures, 6 - 8.15pm

  • An 'Enlightened' monarch and her challenges
    Emeritus Professor Peter McPhee, The University of Melbourne
  • Portrait of Catherine II
    Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art

NGV Floor talks

  • Catherine and China
    Dr Mae-Anna Pang, Senior Curator, Asian Art, NGV
  • Italian music and theatre
    Mark Shepheard, Mark Shepheard, PhD candidate, The University of Melbourne

Tuesday 6 October

Catherine as Goddess Minerva: Lessons from the Ancients and problems of power

Catherine the Great was pivotal in modernising Russia's economy and reforming local government, law and education. She drew inspiration from antiquity and as well as contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe. She sought to bring order, stability and prosperity to the vast Russian Empire and was visionary in her desire to abolish serfdom and the creation of the equality of all citizens.

The unearthing of ancient sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum in the eighteenth century revived the collective passion of the ancient world and brought about a new wave for collecting classical art and the commissioning of contemporary artist and architects to work in the Western neo-classical style- a hallmark of the Enlightenment. Catherine shared the Enlightenment sentiment enlisting Italian Neo-Classical architects and collecting carved gems, understanding that they were important pieces of the past.

Identifying herself as Goddess Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy, we consider in this session the influence of the classical past on Catherine's outlook as ruler and patron.

Lectures, 6 - 8.15pm

  • Lessons from the Ancients and problems of power
    Professor Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor, the University of Melbourne
  • Collecting cameos and gemstones
    Sophie Matthieson, Curator, International Art, NGV

Floor Talks

  • The ancients and the ancient world
    Professor Parshia Lee-Stecum, the University of Melbourne
  • Neo-Classical architecture
    John Weretka, PhD candidate, The University of Melbourne

Tuesday 13 October

Building a cultural legacy: The importance of a powerful patron

The development of the Hermitage collections of art from the 1760s to the death of Catherine the Great in 1796 coincided with one of the great paradigm shifts in the function and typology of the museum as we know it today. In effect, the modern museum was born during this dynamic and often traumatic period between the latter stages of the Enlightenment and the upheavals of the French Revolution of 1789. One by one, the great princely collections of Europe became systematized and re-organized during these years so that they went from functioning primarily as items of décor, reflecting an overall sense of dynastic power and privilege, to becoming more carefully curated, didactic displays of the artistic achievements of the various European schools of art and design. This also gave rise to a new and broader understanding of modern audiences for art.

How did Catherine the Great contribute to this important European movement of cultural redefinition? And how did she relate her love of art and museological displays at the Hermitage to the specific requirements of her own court and political environment?

Lectures, 6 - 8.15pm

  • The Passion of Catherine the Great - The Hermitage Collections and the birth of the modern museum
    Dr Christopher Marshall, Senior lecturer, The University of Melbourne
  • The Collection of Decorative Arts
    Dr Matthew Martin, Curator, Antiquities and Decorative Arts, NGV

Floor talks

  • Museological innovations
    Callum Reid, PhD candidate, The University of Melbourne
  • Framing art
    John Payne, Senior Conservator, NGV

Tuesday 20 October

Catherine the Great: Portraits and Identity

For the final masterclass we survey Catherine's personal life and complex personality from the point of view of her self-fashioning as a female ruler. It considers her indebtedness to earlier female rulers such as Queen Christina of Sweden and examines the ways in which her public image in the form of her portraits, and her collection, can be understood as another way of performing or staging identity in the age of Empire.

Lectures, 6 - 8.15pm

  • Catherine the Great - The woman and her collection in the age of Empire
    Dr Lisa Beaven, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the 'Change' Program of the Centre of the History of Emotions, The University of Melbourne
  • Horses
    Laurie Benson, Curator, International Art, NGV

Floor talks

  • Casing Catherine's 'cameo-fever'
    Dr Amanda Dunsmore, Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Antiquities, NGV
  • Portraits, face-to-face
    Dr Vivien Gaston, Fellow, The University of Melbourne

Keynote speakers

The University of Melbourne

Professor Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor; Professor Peter McPhee, Professor Parshia Lee-Stecum, Dr Christopher Marshall, Dr Lisa Beaven, Dr Vivien Gaston, Mark Shepheard, John Weretka and Callum Reid

National Gallery of Victoria

Dr Ted Gott, Sophie Matthieson, Laurie Benson, Dr Mae-Anna Pang, Dr Amanda Dunmore, Dr Matthew Martin and John Payne


For more information please email Caterina Sciacca.

Young woman trying on earrings

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (Dutch 1606-1669)
Young woman trying on earrings
Oil on wood panel
39.5 х 32.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of the Comte de Baudouin, Paris, 1781

Portrait of a young woman

Titian (Italian c. 1488-1576)
Portrait of a young woman
Oil on canvas
96.0 х 75.0 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Baron Louis-Antoine Crozat de Thiers, Paris, 1772

Portrait of Charles IX

François Clouet (French c.1510-1572)
Portrait of Charles IX
Black and red chalk
33.1 x 22.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg