A Window on Russia
An interview with one of the world’s leading scholars on Russian history sheds light on Peter the Great.
Published: March 20, 2013 (Issue # 1751)
One of the leading experts in Russian-Dutch relations in Europe, Professor Emmanuel Waegemans, teaches Russian Literature, the History of Russia and Slavic Civilization at the respected Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.
Author of more than 200 books and articles about Russian history and literature, this scholar has devoted special attention to Peter the Great, who is featured in several of his extensively researched works. Waegemans’ expertise is valued not only in Western Europe but also in Russia, where the reforming tsar is almost openly worshipped and many people find it hard to assess Peter the Great objectively. Professor Waegemans spoke to The St. Petersburg Times about his upcoming book about Peter the Great’s second trip to the Netherlands, which is to be released later this year.
Q: What aspects of Peter the Great’s second trip to the Netherlands do you focus on in your work?
A: In my book, I not only create a detailed account of Peter the Great’s visit to Holland in 1717 but also go on to reconstruct the Russian tsar’s network of contacts, and the circle of people he was meeting on that journey. Readers will get to know the kind of Dutchmen who kept Peter the Great company, who worked for the tsar and actively promoted his ideas; the people who recruited specialists for him, who purchased guns for him, and who were on the lookout, on his behalf, for paintings by the Flemish and Dutch masters.
Q: What is the main difference between Peter the Great’s first visit to Holland, which is known as the Great Embassy, and his second trip to the country?
A: On his second trip to Holland, Peter the Great expressed a greater interest in the arts and architecture, and made more trips to palaces and parks. While gathering material for the book, I have come across a number of literary works about Peter the Great, including a few pieces of satire, as well as several odes that praised the great reformer and his initiatives aimed at bringing innovations to Russia.
The book has many illustrations. In general, I would say that I have employed a complex approach to telling the story of Peter the Great’s trip. The book covers the diplomatic aspect of the visit, and, in particular, the intricate and convoluted diplomatic games that went on at The Hague. It covers family matters, such as the birth of his son Pavel and the dramatic escape of his son Alexei; the folklore element, which is researched through studying the style of the Russian receptions that were held; the ceremonial side of such festivities, and traditions of firing shots from a cannon; and also the literary aspect. Peter the Great was featured in a number of literary works and I cover the historical and cultural sides of this very important state visit.
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