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400th Anniversary
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Paul Gilbert
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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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Sunday, 4 November 2012
Estonia Honours the Romanov Dynasty
Topic: Exhibitions


An exhibition of prints and formal portraits of members of the Russian Imperial family has opened in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. The event coincides with the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty in 2013.

The facade of an old stone building in the center of Tallinn is adorned with a huge billboard with a name that has become entrenched with the city's history: The Romanovs. According to museum officials, the exhibition halls are packed to capacity.

Formerly known as Reval during the Tsarist period, Tallinn's importance as a center of monarchical heritage in Russia is surpassed only by that of St. Petersburg and Moscow.

According to local historian Ilya Nikiforov: "Few cities in the Baltic region of the former Russian Empire were visited more than Tallinn." 

"Peter the Great came to Reval in 1711, where he stayed at Maardu. His wife, Empress Catherine I often returned to Maardu where she maintained an estate. During his last visit to Estonia on July 25th, 1723, Peter the Great took rest at a farmstead, then it was from his wife's estate at Maardu that he departed for St. Petersburg onboard the Ingria.

"During the first years of her reign (1746), Empress Elizabeth Petrovna travelled through the Baltic region stopping at Reval. She was accompanied by her nephew and heir to the throne, Peter and his young wife Catherine (the future Catherine the Great).  

The Emperors Alexander II and Alexander III often visited the area, and liked to rest on the waters in Reval (Tallinn) and de Hapsal (Haapsalu). Emperor Alexander II last visited Reval in 1859.

"Emperor Nicholas II visited Reval often as a child and heir to the throne. During his reign he established regular steamer service between Reval and St. Petersburg, and in 1905 ordered the construction of a new Imperial pavilion at the railway station.

"It was at Reval that the Emperor conducted important negotiations with the leaders of Great Britain, France and Germany. In 1908, Nicholas II came to Reval to meet with King Edward VII of Great Britain, followed by a meeting with the French President Faliero the same year. In 1912, the Emperor met with Kaiser Wilhelm II." 

Tallinn City  Council Deputy, Max Kaur has extended an invitation to HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Head of the Russian Imperial House to visit the city and the exhibition devoted to her ancestors.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 04 November, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:38 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 5 November 2012 8:21 AM EST
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Saturday, 3 November 2012
The Russia We Lost
Topic: Russian History


Photo: View of the Anitchkov Bridge in St. Petersburg. Artist: Alexander Begrov (1841-1914) 

In the autumn of 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. The centuries old Russian Empire was no longer. The Soviet government opened a new page in the country's development but did its best to either distort or hush up its previous history. Pre-revolutionary Russia was portrayed as a backward, poorly managed, semi-cultural and semi-literate state. But how was it in reality?

Statistics show that in the first decade of the 20th century Russia experienced an industrial and economic boom that pushed it to the 4th place after the United States, Britain and Germany. A sharp boost in the extraction of raw materials was matched by rapid progress in machine-building, chemistry, electrical engineering and aircraft construction. Domestic agriculture was making steady headway. As a result, the share of farming produce in national exports increased considerably. Russia produced 28% more grain than the United States, Britain and Argentina taken together. European markets were flooded with Russian butter and eggs. The ruble was a stable currency traded at  2 Deutche marks or 50 US cents. Under the last Emperor Nicholas II taxes were the lowest in Europe, life was relatively cheap and there was no unemployment. The law on social insurance for workers passed by the tsarist government aroused envy in the West. The then President of the United States William Taft once remarked that no democratic state  boasted such a perfect labor legislation as the one created by the Russian Emperor. 

The years that preceded the revolution were marked by tangible progress in the social and cultural sphere. The introduction of free compulsory primary education for all was bound to stamp out illiteracy by 1922. Both huge and smaller cities had secondary schools of highest grade which prepared boys and girls for universities. Russia boasted a better system of education for girls than Western Europe: in 1914 there were 965 women's high-schools plus higher courses for women in all major cities. Tuition fee was quite low: law faculties charged 20 times less than in the United States and Britain. Poor students got grants. There was a scholarships system of for gifted students.

The high level of education was confirmed by scientific advances. The names of chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev famous for his periodic system of elements, physiologist Ivan Pavlov, biologist and selectionist Kliment Timiryazev, and the inventor of radio Alexander Popov are known to almost everyone. Russian scientists who emigrated after the 1917 revolution were highly appreciated abroad. Aircraft designer Igor Sikorsky, who settled in the United States, designed the world's first helicopter, and his fellow countryman Vladimir Zvorykin invented television.

French poet Paul Valery called the Russian culture of that time one of the wonders of the world, apparently because despite its secularism it reflected a more  Christian outlook than Western-European culture. Suffice it to say world-famous writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Ivan Bunin, together with composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and many others, let alone the unrivalled Russian ballet. How could all that emerge under what bolshevik ideologists labeled as a police and bureaucratic regime?

As far as bureaucracy is concerned, the number of state officials in Russia was surprisingly low compared to Europe. The national police force was 7 times smaller than in Britain and 5 times smaller than in France, which is an indication of low crime rates. Russia's jury-based system of legal proceedings commanded the admiration of foreigners for its unbiased and humanistic approach. Economic and cultural growth was accompanied by higher birth rates.  By 1913  Russia had a population of 175 million with the annual increase of about 3.3 million. A prominent French economist Edmond Thiery wrote that if the trend persisted, by the middle of the century Russia would dominate Europe politically, economically and financially.  The then Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin once said: "Give us 20 peaceful years and you won't recognize Russia". Stolypin, whose reformist ideas encountered a mixed response in Russian society, was viciously murdered by his revolutionary opponents.

© The Voice of Russia. 03 November, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:46 AM EDT
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Friday, 2 November 2012
Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna Voted Person of the Year
Topic: Maria Vladimirovna GD


HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Head of the Russian Imperial House has been voted "Person of the Year" by the Russian Biographical Institute in Moscow.

The advisory board announced the decision on November 1st, awarding the Head of the Russian Imperial House in the "Great Russia" category, for her "selfless work in the field of culture, education, philanthropy, and in connection with the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty in 2013."

The national "Person of the Year" award was founded in 1993 by the Russian Biographical Institute, whose main task has been the study of Russian society through the prism of its most prominent representatives. The prize is awarded to worthy citizens of the Russian Federation, and in some cases from other countries. The prize is awarded for outstanding achievement, and contribution to the development in Russia in the areas of religion, politics, economics, education,  science, culture, medicine, sports, etc.

The prize will be awarded on November 7th, at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 02 November, 2012


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:37 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 2 November 2012 9:05 AM EDT
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Russian Emperor's Clock Sells for Nearly $1 Million


The czarist clock that used to belong to Russian Emperor Paul I was sold at Christie's in London for nearly one million dollars. The final price of the lot surpassed experts' expectations more than ten times.

The clock made of gilded bronze was created at the end of the 18th century. It is decorated with symmetrical figurines of two cupids that stretch their hands to the enameled dial with elegant dark-blue hands. The base of the clock is made of the noble bicolor agate. The whole piece stands on the figurines of salamanders with long curved tails and open mouths. The clock is crowned with a gilded vase with a bouquet of flowers in it. The flowers are made of pearls and precious stones.

The main "highlight" of the creation by famous London artist James Cox is the head of the little bird, which is adorned with a large pearl. When the clock begins to strike, the bird nods its head. The clock is 32.4 cm in height.

Since the early 19th century, the clock belonged to the family of German Baron Ludwig Heinrich von Nicolai, who was a teacher of Grand Duke Paul Petrovich. After the Grand Duke ascended to the throne in 1796, the Baron was appointed a member of the Cabinet and the president of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, FederalPress reports.

James Cox, the creator of the clock, is also known for another outstanding piece, which is now kept in the Hermitage of St. Petersburg. It goes about the "Peacock" clock. His creations can also be found in the museums of London, New York and Beijing.

The name of the new owner of the czarist clock has not been disclosed, writes BFM.Ru. The buyer paid 967,000 dollars for the lot.

© Pravda. 02 November, 2012


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:34 AM EDT
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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Dizzy Heights: Cleaning the Winter Palace Chandeliers
Topic: Winter Palace



Cleaners dust the giant chandeliers in one of the halls of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg earlier this week.


© St. Petersburg Times. 01 November, 2012


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 2:58 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2012 3:02 PM EDT
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"Mechanical Orchestra" Gets New Lease of Life at Winter Palace
Topic: Winter Palace


The State Hermitage Museum’s legendary Johann Strasser clock, also known as “the mechanical orchestra,” is to be restored by 2014 as part of the celebrations of the museum’s 250th anniversary.

The elaborate 18th-century clock has been silent for at least 150 years.

“This clock is outstanding in so many ways: It is a fascinating example of decorative and applied art, it is a technical marvel, it is a fine musical instrument in which there are recordings of masterpieces of 18th-century classical music, and it is an artifact that has a most romantic and dramatic story behind it,” said Igor Sychev, the Hermitage curator responsible for the maintenance of the exhibit.

The celebrated craftsman Johann Georg Strasser originally designed the Mechanical Orchestra for the Mikhailovsky Castle, the residence built by Tsar Paul I that already housed two of Strasser’s less sophisticated clocks. It took the master eight years — from 1793 to 1801 — to finish the technically challenging piece.

The tsar, however, never had a chance to enjoy the commission: He was murdered in the spring of 1801, before the order was complete. After the tsar’s death, the master craftsman, whom the project had saddled with losses as he invested most of his fortune into making the unique item, decided to organize a lottery and make the clock the main prize. It took Strasser more than two years to sell enough tickets to make the lottery financially viable. To promote the lottery, he traveled across the country and arranged performances of “the mechanical orchestra.”

The draw was held on May 4 1804, yet the lucky winner would not show up for almost a year. The winner, a young officer who, en route to his detachment, was staying with a Latvian widow, gave the lottery ticket to his landlady as a parting gift before the winning ticket was announced. When she discovered her luck, the widow decided not to keep the clock, and arrived in St. Petersburg in 1805 with the intention of setting up another lottery to dispose of it, but Tsar Alexander I instead agreed to buy it from her for 20,000 rubles plus a lifetime pension.

According to some sources, Alexander I also had a plan for the unlucky clock. He allegedly intended to include it among the gifts that were being sent to China with a diplomatic mission. However, the Chinese emperor refused to receive the Russian ambassadors, and the clock was instead installed in one of the halls of the Winter Palace.

The Mechanical Orchestra is shaped like a temple. It is about four meters high, and has a portico and paired mahogany columns embellished with gilded bronze.

The organ is driven by four weights, each weighing nearly 200 kilograms. The music is recorded on 14 removable wooden barrels, with each of them playing an eight-minute classical composition.

The original thirteen barrels contained pieces by Haydn and Mozart, including the overture from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” One of the pieces, composed by the then-popular Viennese pianist and composer Anton Eberl, was written especially for Strasser’s “mechanical orchestra.” In 1861, a fourteenth barrel was added, but even at that time the clock was barely functional, and it has been broken ever since.

“Like any experimental piece, and like any unique piece, the ‘mechanical orchestra’ has a rather long list of sensitive issues,” said restorer Mikhail Guriyev, head of the department of restoration of clocks and musical instruments of the State Hermitage Museum.

“Despite its massive size and imposing looks, the Strasser clock is a very fragile creature. The coil springs that make the barrels roll can be compared with those of a steam train. The poises would often drop, destroying the mechanics, and the instrument needed to be fixed. The trick is that the instrument needs to produce a smooth, light, graceful sound, despite the rather mighty machinery that is involved in making it run.”

The grand-scale restoration project is being funded by JTI tobacco company, which signed an agreement with the Hermitage in 2011. Such charitable activities are at great risk of being banned for tobacco companies in early 2013: A draft law that would ban tobacco companies from taking part in philanthropic activities is currently awaiting review at the State Duma. If passed, the law, which has stirred a nationwide debate, would prohibit tobacco companies from donating to charities and taking part in any other philanthropic activities.

The bill’s critics have branded the initiative as hypocritical: After all, the Russian state is comfortable with harvesting high tax revenues from tobacco companies, yet is willing to impose a ban on charity for them, thus ostracizing their business.

In these challenging circumstances, Anatoly Vereshchagin, JTI’s director of charitable projects, has promised that the company will deliver on all its obligations that have been made to date, regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming Duma vote.

“There is still time for the State Duma to decide against the law; however, if the ban does get introduced, we will transfer all the money required for the restoration of the clock before the law comes into force,” Vereshchagin said. “All calculations of the costs have been made, and we can assure you that the money will suffice.”

© St. Petersburg Times. 01 November, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 2:36 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2012 2:48 PM EDT
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"Russians do not have to repent for killing of tsar's family" – Culture Minister
Topic: Nicholas II


Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky does not believe that the blame for the killing of Russia's last Emperor Nicholas II and his family rests with the people of Russia.

"I don't believe the people of Russia should repent for the murder of the tsar's family because the people of Russia did not kill the tsar's family. It was done by several bastards on the orders of other bastards," the minister said at the 5th International Festival of Orthodox Media Faith and Word, commenting on the statement made by one delegate referring to the discussion on the need for the people of Russia to repent for their sins to the tsar's family, which has been occurring on the Internet for the past few years.

Medinsky also spoke about the issue of the burial of the body of Vladimir Lenin, saying that "the Culture Ministry will not come up with any initiatives regarding any burials and re-burials."

"It is our official position, and there is also my private opinion as a citizen," the minister said, adding that he would not like his private opinion on this issue, which he characterize as "rather sharp," to be associated with the official position of the government.

© Interfax. 01 November, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 2:24 PM EDT
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Art Russe Auction Catalogue, Paris - November 15, 2012
Topic: Auctions

||| Click Here to View and Print a Copy of the Catalogue |||

On November 15th,  Olivier Coutau-Begarie in Paris, France, will auction a splendid selection of Russian Imperial and Romanov objects. Included are icons, Faberge pieces, photographs and letters of the Russian Imperial family, porcelain, medals and awards, silverware, works of art, and much more.

© Coutau-Begarie. 01 November, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:13 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014 12:23 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Illuminations at the Catherine Palace, Tsarskoye Selo
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 1 minute, 21 seconds
Topic: Tsarskoye Selo

On Tuesday, 30 October 2012 at 19:00 the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve invited everyone to the Main Courtyard of the Catherine Palace to admire the new permanent illumination of the former imperial residence, with inspired performances by the Kuznetsov Naval Academy brass band and the Malaya Okhta women’s drumming group.

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve. 30 October, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:47 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2012 7:51 AM EDT
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