This engraving was produced to illustrate the first major encyclopaedic work on the history, customs and governance of Russia to appear in Western Europe. The Histoire physique, morale, civile et politique de la Russie Ancienne et Moderne by Nicolas-Gabriel Leclerc (1726–98) was first published in 1783. Alongside maps, charts and tables, the publication was heavily illustrated with foldout plates of Russian towns and cities, with particular emphasis on St Petersburg. The views were drawn by Louis-Nicolas de Lespinasse (1734–1808) and engraved by several printmakers, this one by François-Denis Née (1732–1817). Lespinasse copied the views of St Petersburg and its environs from the immensely popular prints after Mikhail Ivanovich Makhaev (c. 1717–70) that were published in 1753 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the city.
This print shows the palace of Oranienbaum, built between 1710 and 1727 for Alexander Menshikov (1673–1729), close associate of Peter the Great (1672–1725) and de facto ruler of Russia after Peter’s death and during the short reign of Peter’s wife Catherine I (1684–1727). After Catherine’s death in 1727, Menshikov was exiled and his estate at Oranienbaum, along with his titles and enormous wealth, was returned to the State. At the time that Makhaev took his view, Oranienbaum was the main summer residence of Grand Duke Peter Fedorovich (1728–62), the future Peter III, who had been presented it by his aunt, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (1709–62), in 1743. By the time it was copied by Lespinasse, Oranienbaum was rarely visited by the Empress Catherine II (1729–96), though she had many buildings and structures erected on the estate, including a famous rollercoaster.