A rare letter from Catherine the Great, urging her subjects against smallpox, was unveiled in Moscow as Russia’s current leadership struggle with its own vaccination drive nearly two centuries later.
The April 20, 1787, letter addressed to a count by the German-born ruler of Russia who extended Russia’s territory, contains detailed instructions for authorities in Ukraine about how to organize an efficient inoculation campaign.
Auction House MacDougall’s specializes in Russian Art and put the letter along with a portrait of Catherine up for public viewing in Moscow on Friday, before they go on sale in London.
The document and portrait have a combined value of $1.6 million.
Held up to now in an anonymous private collector, they will be displayed at a Moscow gallery through Nov. 30 before going up for auction in London on December. 1.
“One the most important tasks should be the introduction (inoculation against smallpox), which, as we all know, causes great harm among ordinary people,” Catherine wrote while on a trip through Crimea to inform Count Pyotr Rumyantsev.
” Such inoculation should always be routine,” she wrote in neat Cyrillic and signed “Catherine” in large font.
She continues to give details about how vaccinations can be made widely available, including the establishment of temporary accommodation in monasteries to accommodate those who become ill after being jabbed.
The Empress was the first Russian to get vaccinated against smallpox.
” In today’s circumstances, we should be very proud Catherine,” Yekaterina McDougall, the auction house’s codirector and Russian art expert, told reporters at a Thursday press viewing.
While President Vladimir Putin claims he was vaccinated using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine at birth, it took him months to do so. Some have also criticized him for failing to do so on camera.
RUSSIA NEWS: ‘Barbarism’ not to get jab
The Empress had created an “unrealistic” propaganda campaign to urge her subjects to get jabbed against smallpox which was decimating European populations at the time.
But MacDougall stated that Catherine did not mandate vaccinations because she was an intelligent woman. “She knew the Russian people would revolt against this. “
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many Russians have also rebelled against Kremlin instructions, refusing to vaccinate themselves against the virus.
Despite repeated appeals by Putin, only 40% Russians have been fully vaccinated.
Catherine’s letters are “unique”, especially in light of the current situation we all find ourselves in,” Oleg Khromov, historian, told reporters via video link that the letter was “miracleous” to have survived.
Catherine was afraid she would die from smallpox as many others around her. She had her doctor send her to England to administer the vaccine.
Khromov stated that doctors used a sample taken from a child in order to inject Catherine with the disease. Later, the youngster received a title.
She fell ill for a while and, when she was well enough to resume her duties, the imperial authorities issued a decree stating that Empress was feeling better and encouraging others to follow suit.
But Khromov stated that, despite her attempts to convince Russians to vaccinate, “people were afraid, it was unusual, and it was new.”
When France’s Louis XV died of smallpox in 1774, Catherine reportedly said it was “barbarism” to die of the disease in the enlightened 18th century.
” I hope that someday, perhaps in the near future we can say: “What barbarism to kill of Covid within the 21st Century’,” Yekaterina McDougall stated.
Catherine, Russia’s longest-serving female leader, holds the imperial throne.
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