An exhibition named Russian Empresses: Fashion and Style has opened at the Exhibition Hall of Federal State Archives in Moscow (4 April – 13 June). The exhibition coincides with the 400th anniversary of the House of the Romanovs. Visitors can see the outfits of the women from the Russian Imperial Court and also learn about their hobbies and favourite occupations that reveal those women’s rich inner world.
In the Romanovs’ anniversary year Russian museums have already offered over 20 exhibition projects dedicated to the Imperial family. Interest in this topic is natural but women on the Russian throne seem to raise much more excitement than their crown-bearing husbands. They determined the mood in the court and became fashion leaders in Russia. Looking at the outfits and personal effects of Russian czarinas we understand that what mattered was the nature and interests of each of them, rather than fashion. The display is arranged so as to give visitors an idea of the czarinas’ private lives, curator of the exhibition Sergey Balan said in his interview with The Voice of Russia.
“It is rather difficult to make an exhibition about women who were the wives of the country’s rulers. They had comfortable lives, though they did charity of course. For example, not a single dress remained after the death of Empress Maria. One reason was that she was very economical like all Germans. Secondly, after Russia was efeated in the Crimean War and suffered considerable losses the empress donated all the money allocated for her clothes to the veterans of the Crimean War.”
The war was in the 1870s. Alexander II’s wife Empress Maria was practical and romantic at the same time. The exhibition displays her notebook with charades, poetic improvisations and epigrammes. Next to it visitors can see a pretty wreath of dry flowers from her album. All women from the royal house were interested in botanizing, Sergey Balan says.
“That was the influence of the epoch of sentimentalism and romanticism of the early 19th century. This is the showcase of Empress Elisabeth, the wife of Alexander I, who came to Russia when she was very young. She was an absolutely ethereal beauty, as French painter Vigee Le Brun used to describe her. Everyone called her Psyche. She was exquisite and sentimental. She loved reading ladies’ editions of books by Laurence Stern during her walks in the park. On the other hand, she was a friend of historian Karamzin who gave her a course of lectures in Russian history. A volume of one of his books published during his lifetime is displayed at the exhibition.”
One can see what Russian empresses enjoyed doing, with whom they corresponded and what drawings they made in their letters.
In her letter to Alexander III Empress Maria calls him ‘My dear Sasha”. She begins the letter in Russian and continues in French. Her favourite flowers were violas.
They decorate her letters and her hat. Next to them visitors can see her exquisite dresses. Maria was an empress to the marrow of her bones. She used to reprimand her daughter-in-law for avoiding ceremonies and receptions and disliking corsets.
However, the daughter-in-law adopted Empress Maria’s interest in photography, Sergey Balan says.
“Empress Maria was interested in photography and was a member of the European royal photographic society. She sent her photos to a photography magazine. Her interest in photography affected the last Russian Imperial family. All of them had cameras and put their photographs in albums. They were also interested in bicycles that appeared in the 20th century. It was a new fashion, a new style.”
There were many signs of new times. Empress Alexandra wrote in her diary that she played tennis between 3 and 5 p.m. Empress Alexandra was a beautiful woman, the mother of five children and the last Russian empress.
Photo Credits: Itar-Tass
© Voice of Russia. 04 April, 2013