Peter Feodorovich (1728–1762) was the son of Tsarevna Anna Petrovna and Duke Charles Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp; he was also the grandson of two implacable enemies, Emperor Peter the Great of Russia and King Charles XII of Sweden. He became heir to the Russian throne in 1742 and was Emperor from 25 December 1761 to 28 June 1762, but was never crowned. He imitated Peter the Great in intending to carry out a number of reforms. The Manifesto on the Freedom of the Nobility, the abolition of the Office for Secret Investigation and the secularisation of church lands formed the basis of the legislative measures subsequently taken by Catherine the Great. The view of traditional historiography is that he was ignorant and feeble-minded. He was overthrown by a palace coup instigated by his own wife, the future Catherine the Great, and was soon killed.
Empress Catherine II (the Great; 1729–1796), née Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, was born in the Prussian city of Stettin. In 1744, she arrived in Russia as the bride of Grand Duke Peter Feodorovich, the future Emperor Peter III. That same year, she converted to Russian Orthodoxy and took the name Catherine Alexeyevna. She married Peter Feodorovich in August 1745. In 1754 she gave birth to an heir, the future Emperor Paul I. The relationship with her husband did not work out, and he planned to have her sent to a convent. In the summer of 1762 she led a conspiracy of Peter’s guards and overthrew him, becoming Empress. In the first years of her reign she adhered to a policy of “enlightened absolutism”, but after the peasant rebellion led by Emelyan Pugachev (1773–1775) and the French Revolution (1789), she was forced to toughen her regime. She led victorious campaigns against Turkey (1768–1774; 1787–1792) and Sweden (1788–1790). During her reign, the Crimea (1783), the Northern Baltic Sea, the Baltic states, the eastern part of Poland, and the Aleutian Islands became part of Russia. Russian settlements were established in Alaska, and Eastern Georgia was taken under the protection of Russia. Russia’s prestige in Europe increased greatly.
Peter Fyodorovich is depicted in an official uniform of the Life Guard Dragoons Regiment of the Holstein Army with the Order of St. Andrews (the ribbon and the star). Catherine Alexeyevna is depicted with the Grand cross of the Order of Saint Catherine (the ribbon, the cross and the star). The stylistic elements and the lack of archival documents about the creation of this double portrait raise doubts about the authorship of the painter. The wedding of Peter Fyodorovich and Catherine Alexeyevna took place in August 1745. It is very likely that this double portrait was painted during that year as a portrait of the engaged couple. Their child, future Emperor Paul I was born on 20th of September (1st of October) 1754.