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Naughty Cathy
January 17, 2010 3:36 AM   Subscribe

The Imperial Palaces of Tsarskoye Selo (nowadays Pushkin), near St. Petersburg, contained many invaluable cultural treasures that were plundered or destroyed during the Second World War. Most famous among them was the fabled Amber Room, whose disappearance has soured diplomatic relations between Germany and Russia ever since (the Germans can't find it back). Some claim that another, much more secret room of the Catherine Palace was also plundered. However, in this case, the Russian authorities deny that it ever existed.

The sexual life of Catherine the Great has long been the subject of many lurid rumours. It is difficult to establish to what extent they are grounded in fact and not merely the product of smear campaigns against a forceful (indeed, often tyrannic), independent-minded female ruler. However, a number of witnesses have confirmed that in Tsarskoye Selo there was indeed a Secret Cabinet decorated wall-to-wall with extraordinarily graphic erotica for the Tsarina's use.
German filmmaker Peter Woditsch, inspired by his father's war recollections, went on the search for "The Lost Secret of Catherine the Great". He managed to interview several German and Russian witnesses, and to recover pre-war catalogues of the Secret Cabinet, including pictures of pieces like this extraordinary table (very NSFW). However, the whereabouts of the Secret Cabinet remain just as mysterious as those of the Amber Room. Was it destroyed in the fire of Königsberg Castle? Did it find its way into the hands of some VERY private collector? Or is it all a fake?
posted by Skeptic (26 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Begins to furiously wirte an outline about German Necromancers stealing pieces of the Secret Cabinet to harness some truly kinky sex magic that blows up in their face)
posted by The Whelk at 4:07 AM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Man, I hope nobody does any extensive research on my porn collection 300 years from now.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:14 AM on January 17, 2010


"Codex 35a: The cultural significance of the phrase "chicks with dicks", found repeatedly in this codex, is still under heavy debate among historians."
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:15 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, I hope nobody does any extensive research on my porn collection 300 years from now.

Is your porn collection composed largely of dirty furniture?
posted by Naberius at 5:42 AM on January 17, 2010


The difference between your porn collection and Catherine the Great's is that people pretty much still have tables, or at least know what they are. I'll be surprised if they're still making SATA drives thirty years from now.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:54 AM on January 17, 2010


So, Kid Charlemagne, what you're saying is I have nothing to worry about, my image is safe for posterity. The hoards of scholars that will study my illustrious life will find only the great things, and none of the porn. Excellent.

Now to get some of those great things accomplished.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:12 AM on January 17, 2010


....the fabled Amber Room, whose disappearance has soured diplomatic relations between Germany and Russia ever since (the Germans can't find it back).

NB of course that the Russians have a bunch of German loot that they're in no hurry to give back. Not that the Germans are as sniffy about the whole thing, what with that whole invasion thing, but still.

Oh, and that the German company Ruhrgas picked up the tab for the new amber room when the old communist government claimed to have lost its wallet.

But that's a bit off topic, and this, this is something I've never heard about, and therefore interesting, in an alarming sort of way. I'm guessing that the furniture makers were inspired by recent erotic discoveries at Pompeii (first uncovered 1748).
posted by IndigoJones at 7:04 AM on January 17, 2010


Is your porn collection composed largely of dirty furniture?

Pretty much.
posted by DU at 7:32 AM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is the point where, if I had the relevant skills, I would take that picture of the Junk Table and insert it into the video of the kids demonstrating their humping skills on the ottoman.

Alas, no skills.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:46 AM on January 17, 2010


The cabinetmaker must have had a very embarrassing few minutes if his wife wandered into the workshop while he was busy with this commission.

"What on Earth is that...thing?"
"Er...this? A table leg. Just a table leg."
"Don't pull my leg, Boris Nikolaievich. It looks like a different thing altogether. And not one I've had much occassion to see since our wedding night, I must add."
"I swear it, Dear, it's a table leg. For a very special table. For a very special customer."
"Special indeed. What sort of perv would like that for a coffee table?"
(Desperate)" A. Very. Very. Special. Customer. Please, do never, ever talk about this to anyone."
posted by Skeptic at 8:04 AM on January 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Skeptic, then the leg goes missing and there are a series of hijinks and misunderstandings, right? Carry On Catherine?
posted by The Whelk at 8:14 AM on January 17, 2010


The interesting thing (if I must pick just one) about Catherine II is that she not only refused to allow others to make her sex (as in chromosomes) a political liability, but also used her sex (as in boom-chicka-wow-wow) as a tool of statecraft.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:23 AM on January 17, 2010


Look at that table for a second. Imagine being the person who created that table. You are an acknowledged master of your craft, when suddenly a brush with true greatness. A chance to design furniture for royalty! Imagine hearing the details. How do you feel at that moment, when the phrase "sperm-fountains" (because they wanted a specific amount, not geysers, not streams, but fountains.) enters the conversation?
posted by Peztopiary at 8:29 AM on January 17, 2010


but also used her sex (as in boom-chicka-wow-wow) as a tool of statecraft.


One hell of a takeover
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can honestly say that I have never seen a table I would rather have in my living room in my entire life.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2010


Grisly tale
posted by hortense at 10:09 AM on January 17, 2010


For a nice background on the Amber room and theories of what actually happened to it you can check out ARCA's podcast. They did a pretty nice one on the Looting of the Amber Room. No mention of the sexy furniture, but still an interesting listen if you're not familiar with the Amber Room.
posted by Arbac at 11:45 AM on January 17, 2010


Amber Room previously on MeFi.

I have to say, the "lurid rumours" about Catherine the Great are one of the more boringly misogynistic bits of pseudohistory floating around, and I wish you hadn't felt compelled to drag them in here for the titillation value. There is no evidence whatever that Catherine was anything but a normal woman with an active sex life, but of course any prominent woman's sex life was traditionally the topic of salacious speculation and embellishment. Can we perhaps get beyond that here in the 21st century?
posted by languagehat at 5:24 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have spent hours of my (publicly funded!) education discussing the sex lives of kings...

I agree that probably a lot of what is said is not nice or fair, but I don't think the entire subject is out of bounds.
posted by rosswald at 5:59 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no evidence whatever that Catherine was anything but a normal woman with an active sex life

...who owned tables made out of wooden cocks. Come on, isn't that at least a little historically interesting?
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:11 AM on January 18, 2010


languagehat If I start typing "Catherine the Great" in Google, the search machine immediately suggests to continue the query with "horse" (not "Poland", not "Crimea", not "Voltaire". Horse). That's just how widespread that particular smear is. It would have been quite hypocritical not to refer to it at all, in an FPP quite directly related to Catherine's sexuality, and it would anyway have surfaced sooner or later in the subsequent comments. As my link notes, that story is a blatant libel, and moreover a posthumous one.

Moreover, Catherine was not a normal woman by any means. She was the Empress of All Russias, and she had raised herself to that position, as a foreigner and in a time and place that weren't particularly woman-friendly, by cunning, ruthlessness, a complete disregard for the ethics of the time, and not least by her sex. During her reign, she strengthened the tsar's rule and expanded Russia well beyond its original borders by continuing to rely on the same strengths.

Her sexual life wasn't just active. It was both very active and well publicised, not least by herself. And, as Emperor SnooKloze, it was a tool in her statecraft. Even if the sexual morals of XVIII century courts were comparatively loose, her behaviour was a demonstration of her absolute power over Russia, even, quite crucially, above that of the Orthodox Church. Her defiance of just that mysogynism which you denounce was one of her more admirable character traits.

Finally, I'm afraid that salacious speculation and embellishment won't end in the twenty-first century, or the forty-first, for that matter. As generations of schoolboys (and schoolgirls) can attest for, those are the bits of history that most attract the attention of those trying to learn it, and bedrooms have often been more important than battlefields in changing the course of history, anyway. Remember the Habsburgs' unofficial motto:

"Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube.
Nam quae Mars aliis, dat tibi diva Venus."

posted by Skeptic at 2:02 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


(If anyone wants a translation of that Latin motto:
"Let others make war, happy Austria, and marry.
For what others obtain from Mars, is given to you by goddess Venus.")

posted by Skeptic at 7:11 AM on January 18, 2010


> Come on, isn't that at least a little historically interesting?

Absolutely! I'm certainly not saying we should keep everything on a high-minded plane, just that there's enough genuinely salacious material around there's no need to resort to the horse stuff. (I wrote here about my enjoyment of "an X-rated 'erotic watercolor' showing Catherine the Great being pleasured by a vigorous Prince Potemkin (with feelthy quatrains in the margins).")

> It would have been quite hypocritical not to refer to it at all, in an FPP quite directly related to Catherine's sexuality

Well, I don't know if I'd go that far, but sure, it's fair game for comment; what I disliked is your choosing to frame it as "It is difficult to establish to what extent they are grounded in fact...," which reminds me of those weaselly "Is X a liar and a cheat? It's hard to know for sure..." pronouncements, carefully phrased to avoid actual slander. Sorry if I came off too strong, but I'm touchy on the subject, being a fan of Catherine's (with obvious disclaimers, probably the best ruler Russia had before the fall of the USSR).
posted by languagehat at 10:54 AM on January 18, 2010


That's just how widespread that particular smear is.

Until my project was stalled, I was collecting stories about Sex In History. I eventually had to point out that Catherine Did Not Actually Fuck horses. If you wanted to do a story ABOUT the smears and rumors, please do, but please no actual horse fucking.

Metafilter: Please No Actual Horse Fucking.
posted by The Whelk at 5:42 PM on January 18, 2010


Also, Catherine is a kick-ass character in Civ 4 for beginners. Super-culture boosts and expansion bonuses, and easier to defend if you don't end up right next to a seriously agrro civ.
posted by The Whelk at 5:45 PM on January 18, 2010


The sexual life of Catherine the Great has long been the subject of many lurid rumours. It is difficult to establish to what extent they are grounded in fact...

Please leave me out of this discussion.
posted by grounded at 10:28 PM on January 18, 2010


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