I recalled the HBO series yesterday when I came across an article about “metamorphosis balls” on Vogue.com.
“At the end of the first episode of HBO’s Catherine the Great, the empress Catherine (played by Helen Mirren—née Mironoff) holds a cross-dressing ball at the palace. Catherine, who we usually see in elaborate, heavily embroidered gowns (courtesy of costume designer Maja Meschede), is pictured instead wearing a tailcoat and breeches, taking advantage of the relative ease of movement to prance about the room and lead her courtiers in a traditional Russian dance.
“Meanwhile, her male advisors and military generals, who are usually seen in the episode trying to undermine Catherine’s authority, scuttle around looking uptight, toying uncomfortably with their undergarments and badly fitted wigs. Her power-hungry lover Grigory Orlov (Richard Roxburgh) is now more frustrated by his corset than by his diminishing presence at court: “This f**king thing—it pushes my tits up too far.”
“These gender-bending masquerades actually existed and were known at the time as metamorphosis balls. They were first popularized in Russia in the 1740s by Empress Elizabeth I, the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine’s de facto mother-in-law, who purportedly held eight as part of her coronation celebrations and then every Tuesday throughout her reign. While balls involving cross-dressing were popular throughout Europe, they took on special meaning in Russia in the 18th century, an era dominated by female rulers looking to assert their authority through symbols of masculinity.”
(Click here to read the entire article.)
|Richard Roxburgh (right) attending a metamorphosis ball en femme in HBO’s Catherine the Great|