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Portrait of Countess A. S. Protasova with Her Nieces
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gstecyk's picture

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Countess A. S. Protasova helps Catherine the Great separate the men from the boys. 

Catherine the Great was probably the most famous nymphomaniac of all time.  After all, this was a woman who reputedly died attempting to have sex with a horse...now that takes dedication.  It is therefore unsurprising that she developed an organized system to avoid wasting time with inadequate sexual specimens.  Being a notorious nympho and Tsar of all the Russians takes a lot of energy, so Catherine supposedly had an administrative staff to help her.

Countess Anna Protasova was a top ranking executive in this sexual bureaucracy as “l’eprouveuse”, or love tester.  First Grigory Potemkin served as the royal pimp, procuring potential sexual partners for Catherine.  He knew her tastes very well, being her lover himself, and possibly also her secret husband (open minded guy).  Then Catherine would select the most promising candidates, and have them examined for venereal disease.  Next Countess Protasova did her part, having sex only with the most attractive and least disease-ridden contestants to prove they were up to the task of satisfying the Empress.  It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.  For her role as l’eprouveuse, Anna was immortalized in the poetry of Lord Byron.

Anna wasn’t the original love tester.  That honor went to Countess Praskovja Bruce.  Countess Bruce enjoyed her job a little too much, continuing to sleep with Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov for a year after Catherine had taken him as a lover.  Catherine walked in on them in bed one day, and exiled Rimsky-Korsakov from court.  Countess Bruce suffered a fate worse than death, being ordered to return to her husband.  To add insult to injury, it turned out Rimsky-Korsakov was using both Catherine and Countess Bruce as decoys while he seduced a young married woman behind both their backs.  We can see why there was a revolution, but admit it, communism was never this much fun!

Countess Protasova’s nieces often go unnoticed in this painting, but a couple of them went on to equally interesting lives.  The two girls on the left appear to be the future Countess Rostopchina, and Princess Golitsyna.  The girls were orphaned in childhood and raised by their aunt.  Yekaterina Rostpochina grew up to be the governor’s wife during the Napoleonic invasion and burning of Moscow, famously depicted in Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  She destroyed an otherwise happy marriage when she converted her children to Catholicism against her husband’s wishes.  Her sister Alexandra Golitsyna was also a fanatical Catholic, and a favorite here on Sartle in a portrait by Louise Vigee Le Brun.  Being a devout Catholic wasn’t as sexy as being the royal love tester, but in Eastern Orthodox Russia, it was very radical at the time.  No question these were free-spirited, independent ladies.