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Sunday, 23 June 2013
Journey to St. Petersburg, a Short Summary of My Visit
Topic: Royal Russia

I have just returned from a 10-day journey St. Petersburg in Russia, where I also received a VIP welcome by the palace administration and staff at Tsarskoye Selo, Peterhof and Pavlovsk.

This was my annual research visit which allows me the opportunity to get the latest updates on the restoration of palaces, exhibitions, new Romanov books, plus meetings with museum staff, local historians and others to gain and share knowledge on the Romanov dynasty and their legacy. 

The highlights of my 2013 visit to St. Petersburg include; 

The Alexander Palace.  The most exciting part of my visit to Tsarskoye Selo included an oppportunity to tour three new rooms currently under restoration. These include the Mountain Hall, the Large Library, and the Small Library.

The collection of colour autochromes of the Alexander Palace interiors taken shortly after Tsar Nicholas II and his family were sent into exile in 1917 ae currently on display in the Large Library. This rare and unique exhibit, however, is only temporary pending the upcoming restoration of the room.

I can also confirm that restoration work is under way in the west wing of the palace. I took a number of photographs of the new rooms (Mountain Hall and Large Library) under restoration, the colour autochromes and the work being carried out on the west wing of the palace.

I also returned to the Children’s Island at Tsarskoye Selo which will be the topic of My Russia featured in Royal Russia Annual No. 4 (due August 2013). It will include photographs which I took during this visit, and previous visits in which I actually walked on the island on two separate occasions. My article will also include new information from Russian sources on the history of the Children’s Island and plans for its restoration.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral. The restoration of the magnificent wooden gilded Baroque iconostasis is now complete. Designed by Ivan Zarudny and carved by Moscow craftsmen in the 1720s, the iconostasis contains 43 original icons of the eighteenth century, it is absolutely beautiful. The Grand Ducal Burial Vault is still closed due to restoration and is scheduled to open next month.

Mikhailovsky (Engineers) Castle. The former Imperial residence of Emperor Paul I is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. The exhibit offers a stunning collection of portraits, busts, and miniatures of members of the Russian Imperial family. Three busts by M. Antokolsky are included of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. I was also pleased to see a selection of the original watercolours of the coronation of Emperor Alexander III, painted in 1883 by a variety of artists.

Pavlovsk. It has been several years since I was last at this beautiful palace. I spent an entire day here and saw a number of newly restored rooms, including the Rossi Library, Empress Maria Feodorovna’s private apartments and the Costume Museum which is housed on the ground floor of the north wing of the palace.

The Costume Museum offered two unique exhibits, including the fabulous Naryshkin Treasure. Pavlovsk currently have some 299 pieces on display from the collection found in the former Naryshkin Mansion at No. 29 Ulitsa Tchaikovsky at St. Petersburg in March, 2012. Beautifully presented in two rooms of the museum the gold and silver items on display include cutlery, tea pots, sugar bowls, serving dishes and platters, many bearing the Naryshkin coat-of-arms.

The second part of the exhibit which consists of four rooms is devoted to a collection of dresses and personal items of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and her daughter-in-law, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Large glass display cases showcase a total of 13 dresses and evening gowns, including 7 of the Dowager Empress and 6 of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.  Other display cases allow visitors to open drawers which are filled with a large collection of colourful and decorative fans, purses and lace. Also on display is a large pink silk handkerchief holder, embroidered with Empress Alexandra’s monogram on the front.

Probably the most interesting pieces on temporary display are two kokoshniks that were presented and worn by the Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Anastasia Nicholayevna in 1913.

Scattered throughout the costume exhibit are a selection of portraits of members of the Russian Imperial family, including two beautiful portraits of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, both of which are new to me. Two busts of Grand Duchess Alexandra Youssifova by Alexandre Munro and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna by Pietro Canonica are also on display.

Aside from these highlights I also visited many other places of interest: The State Hermitage Museum, Russian State Museum, Academy of Fine Arts, Summer Gardens of Peter the Great, Church on the Spilled Blood, Holy Trinity Alexander Nevsky Lavra (including St. Nicholas Cemetery and Lavra Necropolis), Transfiguration Cathedral and the newly restored Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (one of the most beautiful churches in the entire city).

I spent three full days at Tsarskoye Selo (Catherine and Alexander Palaces, Feodorovsky Cathedral and Feodorovsky Gorodok); Peterhof (Grand Palace, Imperial Yacht Museum, Catherine Block, Bath Block and the Peter and Paul Cathedral); and Pavlovsk (Palace, Costume Museum and park).

During my stay, I did a tremendous amount of research, and complied over 50 large sheets of notes, and took more than 400 photographs, some of which are shown above. I look forward to sharing them with Royal Russia subscribers on my web site and blog, as well as the pages of Royal Russia Annual* in the coming weeks and months ahead.

I also met with the company in Russia who supply my online shop with a steady stream of photo albums, biographies and palace guidebooks. I brought back samples of more than a dozen new books on the Romanovs and their palaces, several of which I have placed large orders for and will offer in my online shop upon receipt from my supplier in St. Petersburg in the coming months.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 23 June, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:57 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 23 June 2013 8:14 AM EDT
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