After the picture in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg (inv. no. R.ZL 1856), formerly in the Winter Palace.
The prototype by Nattier, along with its pendant of the Empress Catherine, was commissioned in 1717, when the artist was briefly in Holland. The Tsar offered Nattier work at the Russian court, but the artist declined the offer, returning instead to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life. There, he built up a reputation as one of the dominant court portraitists of his day.
Peter I earned his sobriquet for his ruthlessly successful efforts to transform Russia from a isolated backwater into a European power in the space of a single generation. His natural ability at engineering and science, fostered by his early exposure to western Europeans, became rapidly apparent after the death of his mother in 1694 left the young monarch the throne to himself. His greatest campaigns were both military and domestic. From 1700 Peter fought a long and desperate struggle for control of the north. Through the Peace of Nystad, Russia gained from Sweden the pick of her Baltic provinces, and confirmed the conquests upon which St. Petersburg had been founded. Russia now had access to an unfrozen sea, and Sweden had surrendered not only the hegemony of the north, but all her pretensions to be considered a great power.
Throughout the war, Peter had fought an equally bitter struggle at home, where modern institutions on Western models were gradually growing up among the cumbrous, antiquated, worn-out machinery of old Muscovy. New men, capable audacious and full of new ideas were being trained under the eye of the Tsar to help him carry out his herculean task. By his early death in 1725, Peter had laid the foundations of the Russian Empire, and had set in place the men and machinery to ensure that this would be continued and built upon beyond his own demise.