This is an art-oriented biograph of the mighty Catherine the Great, who rose from seemingly innocuous beginnings. A German princess who married a decadent and lazy Russian prince, she mobilized support amongst the nobles, playing off of her husband's increasing corruption and abuse of power. She then staged a coup that ended with him being strangled with his own scarf in the halls of the palace, and she being crowned the Empress of Russia. Intelligent and determined, Catherine modeled herself off of her grandfather in-law, Peter the Great, and sought to further modernize and westernize Russia. She felt that the best way to do this was through a ravenous acquisition of art, which Catherine often used as a form of diplomacy with other powers throughout Europe. She was a self-proclaimed "glutton for art" and she would be responsible for the creation of the Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, second only to the Louvre. Catherine also spearheaded the further expansion of St. Petersburg, and the magnificent architectural wonder the city became is largely her doing.
Susan Jaques is a journalist specializing in art. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA. She is the author of A Love for the Beautiful: Discovering America's Hidden Art Museums and lives in Los Angeles, California, where she's a gallery docent at the J. Paul Getty Museum.