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In 1764 Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia started a major war in Europe. It was a culture war. She collected fine art as aggressively as she fought on the battlefield. It spurred Europe’s crowned heads, especially Louis XVI of France and Frederick the Great of Prussia, to compete at obtaining and displaying art, especially fine paintings.
“The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure: Catherine the Great, a Golden Age Masterpiece, and a Legendary Shipwreck,” by Gerald Easter and Mara Vorhees, records a casualty of that culture war Dutch Master paintings purchased at auction for Catherine the Great were sent from Holland to St Petersburg aboard the Dutch merchantman Vrouw Maria. Caught in a storm, the ship sank off the Finnish coast.
The book uses the shipwreck, to frame the story. Among the paintings lost was Gerrit Dou’s triptych The Nursery. Largely forgotten today, Dou was then the most admired Golden Age Dutch Master. (One of Dou’s paintings hung in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa.) The Nursery was considered Dou’s finest work.