The Shadow Play of Catherine the Great (Теневая игра Екатерины Великой) is one of the most recent of Alexander Pavlenko’s erotic portfolios, cleverly using the traditional artform to provide an explicit insight into the love life of Russia’s greatest and longest-reigning empress. Catherine came to power following a coup d'état that overthrew her husband, and during her reign, from 1762 until her death in 1796, Russia’s culture and international standing were revitalised. Though she was a powerful and intelligent woman, Catherine often relied on the men around her, nobles like Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin, generals  like Alexander Suvorov and Pyotr Rumyantsev, and admirals such as Samuel Greig and Fyodor Ushakov, to work with her. Many stories abound in relation to her relationships with men; she took many lovers, often elevating them to high positions for as long as they held her interest, then pensioning them off with gifts of serfs and large estates.

Pavlenko makes the most of this aspect of Catherine’s reputation, combining it with period detail and costume to produce a fine evocation of the height of Russian refinement.

We are very grateful to our Russian friend Yuri for sharing these images with us.