Susan is happy to discuss the Empress of Art with reading groups by e-mail or Skype.
Discussion Questions For Bookclubs:
The Empress of Art is an excellent book for reading groups and book clubs. Here are questions to spark discussion with your group.
- Catherine the Great once said that she couldn’t live a day without love. Do you think she found love with any of her young favorites?
- In what ways did German-born Catherine the Great become more Russian than Russians themselves?
- What do you think motivated Catherine’s unusually strong involvement in her grandsons’ upbringing?
- The biggest challenge of Catherine’s reign was her son Paul. Why didn’t she believe him fit to be Russia’s tsar? What led to their dysfunctional relationship? Was Paul really mad as some historians argue? Were you in any way sympathetic to Paul?
- Catherine proclaimed herself a “glutton for art.” Do you agree or was she more knowledgeable than she liked to let on? How does Catherine’s art collecting evolve? Which of her art agents had the greatest impact on her taste?
- Despite her extravagant spending on art and architecture, Catherine was a hard working ruler. Though she charmed courtiers and foreign diplomats, she was ruthless in war and politics. How do you explain these seeming contradictions in her personality?
- Catherine disliked Moscow intensely, and canceled many building projects in the former capital. Discuss why she preferred St. Petersburg.
- Catherine contracted what she called “cameo fever” and amassed a staggering 10,000 carved gems. Why did these tiny, palm-size objects matter so much to her that she took them from palace to palace?
- Consider Catherine’s unusual relationship with Gregory Potemkin. Do you believe they secretly married? Why do you think it became impossible for them to live with each other?
- Catherine embraced neoclassicism. How did this austere, elegant style complement her political ambitions?
- Catherine didn’t consider herself beautiful, yet she encouraged her images to go viral in today’s parlance. Why was portraiture so important to her?
- If you could join Catherine the Great at one of her famous hermitage dinner parties, what would you talk about?
- Consider the Bronze Horseman, her equestrian tribute to Peter the Great. Why did she commission the sculpture? What does the inscription convey?
- The final chapter explores the fate of Catherine’s art collection and palaces. What was behind Nicholas I’s dismissive attitude toward his grandmother? Were you surprised that the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. was founded with many of Catherine’s Hermitage paintings?
- In what ways does the Empress of Art give you new insights into the city of St. Petersburg and the State Hermitage Museum?
To download the question sheet click here