One of the most recognizable symbols of St. Petersburg is the equestrian statue of Peter I on the Senate Square. It was set up there in 1768. After Pushkin wrote his poem ‘The Bronze Horseman’ this name stuck to the monument of Peter the Great.
The construction of Petersburg, as well as the Northern War as a whole, cost a lot of resources to the Russian state, but these events predetermined the development of Russia for centuries ahead, so several decades later Catherine II had a monument to Peter I erected in the center of the Senate Square.
On the advice of Voltaire and Didro, Catherine II invited to St. Petersburg the sculptor Etienne Falconet who was commissioned to erect the Monument to Peter I. The sculptor worked at a porcelain factory but dreamed of monumental art.
At that time he was 50, and he came to Russia with his apprentice Marie-Anne Collot who was only 17. He was commissioned to create a “mostly equestrian statue of colossal size”.The enormous stone called Thunder Stone became the pedestal for the statue. It was found near the village of Konnaya Lahta.
It was a megalith weighing 2 thousand tons of 13 meters long and 8 meters high. They could drag him to the Gulf of Finland only in winter. Then it was loaded onto a special barge and brought to Senate Square.
Falconet worked on the prototype of the monument for three years. Passers-by could watch as an officer on a horse jumped up on a platform and reared the horse on its hind legs. Falconet made sketches. Falconet sculpted the head of Peter three times, but Catherine II did not like it, and as a result, the head was sculpted by his apprentice Marie-Anne Collot, and the sketch was at once accepted by the empress. For this, the girl was admitted to the Academy of Arts.
The plaster model of the monument to Peter was made for 9 years. For a long time no one undertook to cast a statue. Foundry workers were scared by the size and complexity of the work. Even the invited French master said that there is no example of casting of such scale. Finally, the Russian cannon caster Emelian Khaylov took up the work. In 1775, the monument was cast, and today it has become a symbol of St. Petersburg.