City of Stone: The Materiality of St Petersburg in Print, c. 1703-1830
As print culture flourished in St Petersburg in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an image emerged of the young capital as an elegant, modern city, dressed in stone. Though there has been much scholarship on this imagery, it has focused on the depiction and organisation of urban space or has taken the printed views as evidence of St Petersburg’s changing architecture. My thesis redresses the privileging of space by focusing on the materiality of the city through a study of the imagery of stone. The celebration of stone can be seen throughout the period, from the transportation and erection of enormous monoliths to the gradual cladding of the river embankments in granite, and the recurring motif of the stonemason at work.
The thesis takes as its primary material an extraordinary collection held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The Talbot Collection includes over a thousand prints and illustrated books collected by Gwenoch David Talbot (1883-1974) over a forty-year period and bequeathed to the museum on his death. It is probably the most important collection of such material outside of Russia and provides a uniquely rich resource to study the changing image of St Petersburg.
The thesis has a tripartite structure. Part I centres on the close association between the imagery of St Petersburg and that of its founder, Peter the Great, and outlines a specific symbolic vocabulary around stone. Part II focuses on technology, exploring images of the extraction, transportation, and working of stone. Part III looks at stone as an index of the imperial capital’s place in history and geography and addresses the complicated relationship of the city to the classical tradition alongside narratives of mineral wealth. It considers the place of ruins, fashionable in Russia as in Western Europe, in contrast to ideas of permanence and memory attached to stone, particularly in the erection of monuments.
The thesis argues that stone, in opposition to water, underpins the Petersburg myth. Imbued with symbolism, stone was central to state narratives about the might of the city, but also generated anxiety about its unnaturalness and vulnerability.