That’s a deep red bruise in the left-hand corner of the letter, with a bit of yellow peeling off the pit. Smears are also in the foreground — a bit of leather stuck to the envelope’s thick envelope, an elbow along the edge.
Catherine’s letter is among the historic correspondence from her time in exile that is being auctioned off by Christie’s. The auction house plans to sell the entire collection, which also includes a letter in which Anne Boleyn notes her wish to send Pope Julius II a note to the effect that she wishes to be executed, and many other pieces, including Shakespeare’s seventh sonnet.
Catherine the Great wrote it on Feb. 4, 1869, on the eve of the Winter Olympics in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was no stranger to competition, having come in third at the 1812 Battle of Waterloo, considered one of the greatest wars ever fought. Her letter praises her countrymen’s sportsmanship — a theme she hit hard a couple of decades later, in 1887, when her family had to flee Napoleon’s French army for St. Petersburg.
The description on the Christie’s page states: “A true patriot’s letter, describing her love of the Olympic games and nation’s sporting achievements. Indeed, her husband sought to bring the Olympics to St. Petersburg, in 1812.”
The letter was written to Nina Birla Sheková, the granddaughter of country administrator Nikolai Marincovich Birla and the niece of Gen. Victoria Budina. (Catherine’s husband and Luize, her heir, lost a large amount of money during the expedition against Napoleon and fled.)
According to The New York Times, letters written by Catherine are typically archived in her personal archive, which was not accessible to her descendants for decades. However, the letter found at Christie’s is the only one that was written in English by Catherine herself — so a person reading the piece would be able to determine if there was any inner longing to return home.
The Times also reported that while the letter was signed by Catherine, it is written with her signature and that she did not sign the page of ballast, which some historians believe was rather telling. “It would not be appropriate for her to sign with scrawling or ink than would be essential to her identity in Russia,” Pauline Rosenthal, a curator at the Russian State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, told the Times.
Christie’s is auctioning one item of its Catherine the Great Collection each day over the next five days. To learn more, visit Christie’s website.
Read the full story at The New York Times.
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