Catherine the Great was "one of those catalyzing forces in history who, through hard experience, unbounded intelligence, and overwhelming practicality, changed the face of a country against overwhelming odds. She was a German princess who was married to Peter, a nephew of Elizabeth, who served as Empress of Russia from 1741 to 1762. Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, was a shrewd and Machiavellian ruler; she did not like Catherine, who was, from the time of her marriage to Peter in 1745 to the death of Elizabeth in 1762, constantly under the threat of danger (www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ABSOLUTE.HTM)."
Upon Elizabeth's death, Peter became Emperor Peter III and during his reign of just a few months, established peace between Russia and Prussia, averting Russia's conquest of Prussia. He was assassinated soon afterward, resulting in Catherine becoming ruler of Russia.
Prior to the deaths of Elizabeth and Peter, Catherine had devoted her time to reading. "Her favorite authors were the philosophes, and she avidly consumed all the new ideas coming from France and other parts of Europe. Her background as a German princess, as well as her education in philosophe literature, led her to believe that Russia was a barbaric and backward country, and she dedicated her monarchy to bringing Russia into the modern, European age (www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ABSOLUTE.HTM)."
Catherine established a Legislative Commission to reform Russia's government and laws. While the Commission was held responsible for the reforms, Catherine imposed her own principles upon the group. The Commission did not achieve the goals Catherine had hoped for, "the only reforms it accomplished were abolition of judicial torture and a very minor increase in religious tolerance, however it did accomplish one useful task: it gathered the most thorough information about Russian than had ever been gathered before. Catherine used that information to try to modernize Russia (www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ABSOLUTE.HTM)."
Catherine used her European background to "westernized the Court and nobility in manners, morals and culture, and to expand education. She was instrumental in translating a large number of European books into Russian (web.uvic.ca/~jfedorak/Russia.htm)."
In her efforts to modernize Russia, Catherine asserted "absolute authority in order to reform the law and government. She massively reorganized local governments in 1775, but, unlike the Prussians, she created a civil bureaucracy, not of all ranks of society, but of the nobility (www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ABSOLUTE.HTM)."
Catherine focused her most dramatic reforms on economical aspects. She "vigorously set about eliminating trade barriers such as taxes and tariffs, and worked hard to build up the Russian middle class. She issued charters granting or outlining all the rights available to individual towns in an effort to spur productivity and the growth of wealth (www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ABSOLUTE.HTM)."
Europe also had an influence on Russia's art community. During the eighteenth century, Europe went through an era known as Enlightenment. The "ideas of the Enlightenment prepared the way for the rapid 'progress' of the following century. In the various branches of the arts, new ideas were developing, interacting with each other, and shaping the culture and artistic heritage of Europe. It was at this time, and particularly during the reign of Peter the Great that Russia began to participate in the secular artistic world of the West (www.rollins.edu/Foreign_Lang/Russian/18intro.html)."
Russian artists had previously been exposed to a different artistic method than those in Europe, providing them with a "different approach to art. They needed a period of adjustment to become acclimated to Enlightenment styles and techniques (www.rollins.edu/Foreign_Lang/Russian/18intro.html)."
The eighteenth century saw Russia rise to a great empire. European influences had a huge impact on the changes implemented by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, allowing them to create a powerful nation.
Absolute Monarchy and Enlightened Absolutism. (accessed 01 June, 2005). www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ABSOLUTE.HTM).