Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia was so infamous for her sexual freedom that when she died from a stroke at the age of 67, there was even a rumour claiming she actually died while copulating with a horse. I learnt about Catherine the Great at school, about how she modernised Russia, pioneered women’s education, enlisted Voltaire to her cause and presided over the age of the Russian Enlightenment. Her kinky side, however, was rudely omitted from my education.
The flamboyant and powerful empress, Russia’s longest-ruling female leader, had 22 male lovers throughout her life, many of them significantly younger than her. But aside from her extra-marital affairs and multiple illicit relationships with Russian royalty, Catherine also had a habit of collecting sexually-charged furniture and even kept an erotic cabinet; rooms stuffed with eccentric period pornography and walls covered in sexually explicit art.
It’s thought Catherine kept her cabinet adjacent to her suite of rooms in her favourite palace in St. Petersburg now known as the Pushkin Palace; a salon salon full of furniture adorned with graphic erotica. The doorknob shaped like a phallus, tables with erect penises for legs, chairs embellished with female genitalia and pornographic scenes depicted on the walls.
There are photographs of this room, or at least claiming to be, taken by German soldiers who arrived at the palace in 1941 during WWII and stumbled across the eye-opening boudoir. These Wehrmacht soldiers may very well have been the last witnesses to see the room before the palaces were bombed and most of their contents destroyed in the ensuing fire. Experts and historians however adamantly believe that the contents of the erotic boudoir were most certainly purposefully removed from the palace and all traces of the erotic cabinet vanished under suspicious circumstances.
Russian authorities have always been very secretive about this peculiar Czarist heritage. Catherine was a confident woman with too much passion who ignored the boundaries of womanhood in her time. Labelled a nymphomaniac and hyper sexual, in reality, her sexual adventures were unlikely all that different from her male counterparts, but Catherine, Empress or not, was born a woman trapped in a man’s world, and the rumours that circulated around her private life led to negative portrayals of her reign.
Most of the pictures taken of the room by the German soldiers are thought to have been lost in chaos of war, but some of the furniture in the Romanov Russian Imperial family collection was also catalogued at one time before they were executed during the fall of the Russian Empire. These catalogue images and grainy soldier’s photographs of erotic Rococco furniture allegedly belonging to Catherine the Great, are believed to be the only surviving evidence of her erotic cabinet.