On Saturday, February 10, Dr. Nathaniel Knight presented “Faces of Russia’s Empire: Ethnographic Images as Princely Pedagogy” as a part of the Russian History Museum’s Second Saturday online lecture series.

What did people in the 18th-century Russian Empire look like? Photography did not exist, and visual depictions of the inhabitants of the empire from before the reign of Catherine II (1762–1796) are quite rare. A recently uncovered album of watercolors and oils in the Swedish National Museum dating from the 1740s is a major discovery that helps to fill this lacuna. The images are associated with the name of Friedrich Wilhelm Bergholtz (1699–1772), a collector who served as a tutor to the Grand Duke Petr Fedorovich, the future Peter III of Russia.

The album raises a broad range of questions: Why was it compiled? Who were the artists? When were the images created? And how did the album turn up in Sweden?  During his lecture, Dr. Knight addressed these questions, as well as analyzed the paintings and put forth a theory as to album’s origin and purpose.

About the Speaker

Nathaniel Knight is Professor of History and Director of the Russian and East European Studies Program at Seton Hall University. He is the author of numerous works on Russian cultural and intellectual history with a particular focus on the history of the human sciences. Recent works include: “What’s in a Hat?  Representations of Gender and Ethnicity in Eighteenth Century Russia,” in Picturing Russian Empire, (Oxford University Press, 2023); and “Why did Nadezhdin Publish Chaadaev: Interests versus Ideas in the Literary Politics of the 1830s,” Russian Review, v. 81, 209-226 (April 2022).