A Bit of History First on...
The Bronze Horseman Statue
The equestrian statue of Peter the Great is situated in the Senate Square (formerly the Decembrists Square), in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Having gained her position through a palace coup, Catherine had no legal claim to the throne and wanted to represent herself as Peter's rightful heir.
In correspondence with Catherine the Great, Denis Diderot suggested French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet, a friend of his, for the commission. The empress followed his advice and Falconet arrived in Russia in 1766.
In 1775 the casting of the statue began, supervised by caster Emelyan Khailov. At one point during the casting, the mould broke, releasing molten bronze that started several fires. All the workers ran except Khailov, who risked his life to salvage the casting. After being remelted and recast, the statue was later finished. It took 12 years, from 1770 to 1782, to create the Bronze Horseman, including pedestal, horse and rider.
For the pedestal, an enormous boulder known as the Thunder Stone (Russian: Гром-Камень) was found at Lakhta, 6 km (3.7 mi) inland from the Gulf of Finland in 1768. The Thunder Stone gained its name from a local legend that thunder split a piece off the stone.
Falconet wanted to work on shaping the stone in its original location, but Catherine ordered it be moved before being cut. As it was embedded to half its depth in the ground and the area was marshy terrain, the Russians had to develop new methods to dig up and transport the colossal stone. Marinos Carburis (Μαρίνος Χαρμπούρης), a Greek from the Island of Kefallonia and serving as lieutenant-colonel in the Russian Army, offered to undertake the project. Carburis had studied engineering in Vienna and is considered to be the first Greek to hold a diploma in engineering.
|The Transportation of the Thunder-stone in the Presence of Catherine II; Engraving by I. F. Schley of the drawing by Yury Felten, 1770|
Carburis directed workmen to wait for winter, when the ground was frozen, and then had them drag the large stone over the frozen ground to the sea for shipment and transport to the city. He developed a metallic sledge that slid over bronze spheres about 13.5 cm (6 inches) in diameter, over a track. The process worked in a way similar to the later invention of ball bearings. Making the feat even more impressive was that the labour was done entirely by humans; no animals or machines were used in bringing the stone from the original site to the Senate Square.
After Carburis devised the method, it took 400 men nine months to move the stone, during which time master stonecutters continuously shaped the enormous granite monolith. Catherine periodically visited the effort to oversee their progress. The larger capstans was turned by 32 men, this just barely moving the rock. A further complication was the availability of only 100 m of track, which had to be constantly disassembled and relaid. Nevertheless, the workers made over 150 m of progress a day while on level ground. Upon arrival at the sea an enormous barge was constructed exclusively for the Thunder Stone.
The vessel had to be supported on either side by two full-size warships. After a short voyage, the stone reached its destination in 1770, after nearly two years of work. A medal was issued to commemorate its arrival, with the legend "Close to Daring".
According to the fall 1882 edition of La Nature, the stone's dimensions before being cut were 7 × 14 × 9 m. The stone originally weighed about 1500 tonnes, and was carved down to 1250 during transportation to its current site.