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The Ruler in the Garden

Politics and Landscape Design in Imperial Russia


Andreas Schönle

This monograph examines the contributions of landscape design to authority and to organization of public life in imperial Russia. Analyzing how tsars and nobles inscribed their political aspirations in the gardens they designed or inhabited, this study maps out a distinct trajectory in the meaning of landscape design. Based partly on archival documents, it explores the reasons for Catherine the Great’s keen interest in landscape design. It reconstructs Grigorii Potemkin’s attempts to transform the Crimea physically and symbolically into the garden of the empire. And it reveals the centrality of the garden for noblemen such as Andrei Bolotov and Alexander Kurakin, who expressed their political philosophy and their anxieties about unstable social relations through landscaping. The book follows the destiny of western aesthetic categories, notably of the picturesque, as they are first adopted, then transformed, and ultimately rejected. It analyzes the historical role and mythological representations of the country estate, along with Leo Tolstoy’s fraught commitment to Yasnaya Polyana and his critique of estate mythology in War and Peace. Finally, this study exposes how the current fashion for gardening in Russia, in particular among New Russians, alludes to imperial landscaping culture in order to justify a retreat from the public sphere.
Contents: Imperial Self-Cultivation: The View from Tsarskoe Selo – Garden of the Empire: Catherine II’s Appropriation of the Crimea – Horticultural Theodicy: The Pragmatics of Wonder (A.T. Bolotov) – Oppositional Theme Park: The Inscription of Courtly Politics (A.B. Kurakin) – The Early Reception of the Picturesque and Karamzin’s Invention of a National Landscape – The Landscape of the Russian Soul: The Embrace of Unpicturesque Uniformity – Laying Bare the Estate: Tolstoy’s Moral Experiment – Blissful Living in a Garden and its Politics – Contemporary Gardening and the Rejection of the Public Sphere.