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Monday, 5 November 2012
The Last Russian Emperor: The Family and Court of Nicholas II at the Turn of the Century
Topic: Exhibitions


On 26 October 2012 at the Hermitage-Vyborg Centre an exhibition was opened entitled The Last Russian Emperor: The Family and Court of Nicholas II at the Turn of the Century, which will present 285 items from the State Hermitage Museum collection, encapsulating the period from the 1870s to the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917. The exhibition is organised in chronological order and shows the life of Nicholas II and his family using materials, including memorial items from the collections at the Winter Palace, Anichkov Palace, Alexander Palace, the New Michael and the Yusupov palaces, and also items from private collections from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

A whole range of items will be on a museum display for the first time. These include tapestry portraits of Their Imperial Highnesses Nicholas Alexandrovich and Alexandra Fedorovna, and items from the wardrobes of the tsar’s children. Drawings by A.A. Parland and I.A. Charlemagne with details of the imperial coronation regalia and military scenes from the First World War will be on display for the first time. Considerable interest has been generated by recent acquisitions of the State Hermitage Museum comprising dinner services and exquisite accessories that emphasise the luxury of the Russian court: a silver vanity case with grey-blue enamel, decorated with sapphires set in gold, a cigarette case, and also figures of animals and insects executed by the leading jewellers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries I.S. Britsyn, J.F. Olsonius and H. Vigstrom.

The exhibition opens with a section dedicated to period of Nicholas Alexandrovich’s life as Grand Prince going through to his accession to the throne. Portraits are displayed of his parents Alexander III and Maria Fedorovna, and also a series of drawings depicting ceremonial receptions of the emperor and empress at the German ambassador’s residence and a palace ball in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace. Maria Fedorovna, who acted as an advisor to Nicholas II all her life following the death of her husband, lived at the Anichkov Palace and, maintaining her own court, took pleasure in attending all the official ceremonies. Cossack guard served as the bodyguard for the widowed empress - and accompanied her on all her journeys. At the exhibition it is possible to see the parade and regular uniforms of the Cossack guards made by À.À. Kudinov and T.K. Yaschik.

Items associated with the marriage ceremony and coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fedorovna are of particular interest. The coronation celebrations lasted from 6 (18) to 26 May (6 June) 1896, and included balls, military parades, feasts and general festivities. Accordingly various souvenirs were produced: glasses, shot glasses, mugs, which were provided to all participants of the festivities. Among the gifts were handkerchiefs with images of Their Imperial Highnesses and state symbols made at the Prokhovskaya Trekhgornaya and the Danilovskaya textile factories.

The second section of the exhibition is dedicated to the private life of Nicholas II. The tsar spent much of his time with his family. Items from the wardrobes of the tsar’s children, their toys, including teddy bears and dolls, illustrate the modest lifestyle of the imperial family.

Religion played a significant role in the life of Nicholas II, Alexandra, their four daughters and son. This is demonstrated at the exhibition by a display of icons which includes the icon Saint Seraphim of Sarov. Seraphim was one of the most revered saints in the royal family, and the icon with his image hung in the emperor’s office. Nicholas II and his wife participated in the canonisation of St. Seraphim of Sarov in 1903.

The third section of the exhibition talks about diplomatic, military, court, religious and other ceremonies that were held. In 1903, the Winter Palace hosted a fancy dress ball, whose guests were to come in pre-Petrine era costumes. The emperor’s and empress’ costumes of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich and Maria Ilinichna were universally admired. The masquerade of 1903 was the most famous court festivity under Nicholas II and one of the few social events, attended by Empress Alexandra. In 1904, at her request the Costume Ball at the Winter Palace Album was published for charity, using photoengraving (a technique for deep printing) and phototype (a flat printing method). The exhibition shows the phototype printing and also the Romanov family in costume, as well as the striking beauty of the costumes of Duke Georgy Georgievich Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Countess Natalya Fyodorovna Karlova and others.

The final section of the exhibition is devoted the last years of the reign of Nicholas II, including two wars, three revolutions and the complete destruction of the imperial family. The events of the Russian-Japanese war and World War I are shown in the works of famous artists, N.A. Bogatov, G.I. Narbut and others. Wanting to raise the morale of the soldiers and officers, Nicholas II assumed the duties of Supreme Commander of the Russian army, and together with the heir, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich went to the front. On display are banners, as well as military uniforms belonging to the emperor and his son. The exhibition concludes with photographs of the interiors of the imperial family’s private chambers, made after the storming of the Winter Palace in 1917.

For the Last Russian Emperor: The Family and Court of Nicholas II at the Turn of the Century exhibition an illustrated catalogue (Russian language only)  has been prepared (St. Petersburg: Slaviya, 2012). The curator for the exhibition is Irina Mikhailovna Zakharova, a senior researcher for the Department of the History of Russian Culture at the State Hermitage Museum.

© State Hermitage Museum. 05 November, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:43 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 5 November 2012 1:35 PM EST
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