A beautiful, but obscure princess named Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst, with maternal links to the Holstein dukes, wore this dress at the second most important event in her life, her arranged wedding in 1745, at age 16. She was born in Prussia in 1729, in Stettin, which is now in Poland.
This wedding made her the bride of Peter III, the dull, weak grandson of Peter the Great, and heir-apparent to the Russian throne. The new Duchess would be known as Catherine Alexeievna. At the time of the wedding the Empress Elizabeth was still the Russian monarch, and was responsible for the ill-fated matchmaking that led to the loveless marriage and ensuing rampant infidelity by Catherine. Upon Elizabeth's death on December 25, 1761, Peter III ascended to the throne amidst the chaos of the Seven Years War against Prussia. But there was chaos in the imperial palace, too.
What was the most important moment in Catherine's life? When she foiled what she claimed was a thinly veiled plot by her husband to kill her. After Peter signed a treaty with Frederick the Great of Prussia in April 1762, his weakness as a leader was seemingly exposed. Instead she, not he, had the support of the Army and the public, and she came to power. Peter then was forced to abdicate, but eight days later, he was assassinated, most likely at Catherine's direction by Grigory Orlov, one of her many lovers. She was crowned as empress Catherine II, in Moscow in September 1762, beginning a 34-year reign during the Age of Enlightenment.
Among Catherine's many achievements, was her determined effort to acquire great art treasures. Keeping up with the other European monarchs "required" her to create a superb art collection of 4,000 paintings and other treasures, which she housed in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Thereafter, that collection grew with each generation in the Romanov dynasty, culminating in the fabulous collection in the Hermitage museum, formerly the Winter Palace.
By the way, the wedding dress is beautiful. Check out the feathered lining along the inside of the sleeves. There is a bejeweled cape that goes with it (not pictured). Also, ponder the 18-inch waist band. That's only slightly bigger than my shirt collar size. But time is the great leveler. By 1789, at age 60, six years before her death from a stroke, she was described by a court artist as "fat and toothless." Ouch.