The following article was originally published in the February 17th, 2014 edition of The Yorkshire Post. The author is not noted, however, The Yorkshire Post own the copyright presented below.
Within a few short years their carefree lives would be distant memories, swallowed up in the violence of the Russian Revolution.
The murder of the Russian Imperial family helped shape early 20th century history, but the story of a Yorkshireman who tutored the young offspring of Tsar Nicholas II’s sister, and captured a unique record of a lost world in photos, is barely known.
Until staff at Burnby Hall in Pocklington started doing some research last year, little was known about Herbert Stewart, the younger brother of the East Yorkshire property’s owner Percy Stewart.
Their collection included a wallet containing Russian roubles, a diary providing brief details of the early days of the Russian Revolution and a calling card announcing “Herbert Stewart, English Tutor to His Imperial Highness, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich”.
But research revealed the existence of a collection of photographs taken by Mr Stewart, still in their original Harrods box, at the National Media Museum in Bradford. In all there were 22 albums containing hundreds of beautifully-shot photographs of the young charges of Mr Stewart, who spent a decade in Russia until the cataclysmic events of 1917 and 1918.
Photo: Grand Duke Alexander Mikhhailovich (seated centre), with his wife, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna (standing left), with their seven children, and Xenia's youngers sister, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (standing right).
Mr Stewart captured the boys dressed in naval uniforms, horse-riding, fishing and swimming, and in winter sledging on their families’ vast estates. On a trip to England with their mother Grand Duchess Xenia, Mr Stewart recorded the children in white shorts, tops and sunhats paddling on the beach at Bognor Regis.
In Russia they were sometimes joined by Tsar Nicholas II, his daughters and their only son, the Tsarevich Alexei, heir apparent to the throne of the Russian Empire, who were to be murdered by the Bolsheviks in July 1918.
“We came across the existence of Herbert Stewart’s photo albums quite by chance,” said assistant estate manager Peter Rogers. Towards the end of 2013, his diary was loaned to the Treasure House at Beverley and it was background research which revealed the existence of these albums.
At the time it was fashionable for the highest-ranking Russian families to employ English nannies and tutors. The Tsar himself employed a Yorkshireman called Sidney Gibbes. Mr Stewart met the Grand Duke in Biarritz when he was a young man and made a good impression.
“The Grand Duke told him that when he had sons he would invite him to be their tutor,” said Mr Rogers, who has published a new booklet called Mr Stewart and the Romanovs. He was as good as his word and Mr Stewart went to work for him in July 1908.
“Living as part of their household, Stewart was in a unique position to photograph one of the highest-ranking aristocratic families in pre-revolutionary Russia,” Mr Rogers added. “It’s hard not to look at them and reflect that in a few short years it would all be gone.”
Mr Stewart’s glittering life in Russia came to an end when the Revolution took hold. He recorded in his diary on March 16, 1917, that there was “heavy depression” at 106, Moika, the family’s palatial home in Petrograd. The family left for the Crimea the following month and Stewart left Russia at the end of the year. In a letter he wrote to one of the boys, Dmitri, hoping that there would be no more “unpleasantness” and that the Allies would “go into Russia, quell the Bolsheviks and help the Russians form a stable Government”.
But it was not to be. The Russian Imperial Romanov family, including their four daughters and their son and all those who chose to accompany them into exile were shot in Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918.
Grand Duchess Xenia, along with the Grand Duke and the children, escaped and settled as exiles in England, France and the US. Dmitri later became a Royal Naval officer and Stewart lived the remainder of his life in the Basse-Pyrenees. He died in 1960, the same year as Grand Duchess Xenia.
London and Paris to Host "Orthodox Rus. The Romanovs" Exhibition? Topic: Exhibitions
The exhibition, "Orthodox Rus. The Romanovs. My history", which was a great success in Moscow, may take place in a number of European cities, reports Interfax-Religion.
London and Paris have already made their applications, reported Archimandrite Tihon (Shevkunov), Abbot of the Sretensky Monastery, secretary of the Patriarchal Cultural Council, and one of curators of the exposition, on Wednesday in St. Petersburg to journalists. Fr. Tikhon has not yet made any specific plans to take the exhibition abroad.
On February 16 the exhibition will opened in the "Lenexpo" exhibition complex in St. Petersburg and will be held there till March 2. After the northern capital, the exhibition will be displayed in Vladivostok, Kazan, Volgograd, Samara, Sochi, and other Russian cities.
"We did not expect such a success in Moscow. The exhibition was prolonged three times, people queued for four hours, and 80 percent of them were young people. This indicates that our history is indeed in high demand. People want to know who they are and what are their roots," noted Fr. Tikhon.
Deputy governor of the St. Petersburg Vasily Kichedzhi related that among the new arrivals of the exhibition, prepared especially for St. Petersburg, there will be a performance called, "The Bronze Horseman" on the theme by one of Alexander Pushkin's poems. The area of display rooms will be 4,000 square meters, and 350 multimedia devices are involved in the work.
"The city government took the most active part in organization of the exhibition. No budgetary funds have been spent, and that is a good trend. St. Petersburg companies have given considerable financial support," noted V. Kichedzhi.
The exhibition, arranged with participation of the Russian Church, was first displayed in Moscow on November 4-24. Over 300,000 people attended this exhibition.
"This is the highest attendance of exhibitions held at the "Manezh" Central Exhibition Hall in recent years and it is unique for historical exhibitions," reported earlier the press service of the Synodal Information Department.
The preparation work was carried out for over half a year and about 1000 people were involved in it: historians, designers, a creative team, experts on computer graphics, sound, light, video, film-makers, and film-cutters. The exhibition occupied 4,000 square meters of the main exhibition hall in Moscow.
Over 40 excursions were held for school and university students every day. Requests to arranging excursions were received by the organizing committee until the closing of the exhibition; however, excursions were held throughout the first days of the exposition's work.
The exhibition was centered around the discussion of Russian history during the rule of the Romanovs, which lasted for 300 years. The narration was mostly carried out by means of over 350 multimedia carriers, including touch screen monitors, 50 plasmas monitors, light boxes, iPads with interactive quiz games and informative applications, and brief, captivating films.
The following article was originally published in the February 14th, 2014 edition of The Wall Street Journal. The author Mary M. Lane owns the copyright presented below. Several corrections have been made to the original text - PG
Of the 255,000 objects that the house of Peter Carl Fabergé created during the jeweler's lifetime, only 50 were his famed Easter eggs made of materials like platinum and diamonds for the Russian royal family.
An exhibition at Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum called The World of Fabergé, which opens on Tuesday and runs through May 18, will show four of the eggs, including the Tsesarevich Constellation Egg, an unfinished, (relatively) modest blue crystal and rhinestone egg on which Fabergé was working in 1917, immediately before the Russian Revolution.
The show's 160 objects, from the Kremlin's Moscow collection, will give visitors tsar's-eye views of the enameled cobalt blue cigarette cases, golden letter openers and almandine encrusted crucifixes enjoyed by the Russian monarchy before its members were lined up and shot by Bolshevik rebels in 1918.
"We wanted to emphasize that Fabergé's work was an attempt to maintain an outmoded form of luxury," says curator Paulus Rainer. Because the show is the largest loan of Fabergé by the Kremlin to a European museum and was granted to celebrate the 525th anniversary of diplomacy between Austria and Russia, the show won't travel.
One item in the exhibit that the St. Petersburg-born jeweler transformed is a leather notebook. He covered it in gold and translucent white and blue enamel and decorated it with pearls and platinum. Adding a practical touch, he included storage holes for pens.
Fabergé, a jeweler's son born in 1846, often designed Art Nouveau jewelry for the royal family, but most of the pieces had their largest jewels removed and sold throughout Europe to help fund the revolution. One notable exception is a set of nine earrings, bracelets and necklaces in the show. They are made of diamonds, pearls and platinum, and were found in a box meant for holding praline chocolates in a Moscow house undergoing renovations in 1991.
Because Fabergé custom-made his items for the royal family, there was ample room for inside jokes: A 1.6-inch-by-0.8-inch citrine-and-gold figurine of a French bulldog with sapphire eyes is a reference to Tsar Nicholas's nickname of "the little bulldog," says Mr. Rainer.
Yet the Easter eggs represent the zenith of customized service, because Fabergé received only one rule from his royal clients: The eggs had to be distinctly different every year and contain a surprise.
Fabergé himself refused to indulge entreaties from royal family members, even the Tsarina Alexandra, to divulge each year's theme.
After becoming the official royal jeweler in 1885, Fabergé began making his eggs more extravagant, often using the year's top demonstration of Russian political power as a theme, says Mr. Rainer. For example, in 1900 Russia completed the trans-Siberian Express, then the world's longest rail system. As an Easter present, Tsar Nicholas gave his wife a 10-inch-tall egg, engraved on its top with the complete trans-Siberian route. Inside she found a 16-inch gold train, built to scale, complete with windows, a dining car, smoking car and first-class carriage. The locomotive had rubies for headlights. The item is on display in Vienna.
Fabergé outlived the Russian Revolution, but not by much: He died in 1920, in Switzerland.
At auction, modern collectors still yearn for eggs, "the trophy pieces," according to Helen Culver Smith, a Russian art specialist for Christie's based in London. In 2007, the auction house set the record of $18.6 million for a Fabergé egg.
Due to the rarity of the eggs, Christie's, which controls 71% of the Fabergé auction market (based on its auction prices and those at Sotheby's), scours Europe for unexpected Fabergé items with royal connections, says Ms. Smith. The house set the record for imperial snuff boxes in 2010 when a Fabergé snuff box, similar to the enameled cigarette cases on display in Vienna, fetched $1.5 million.
"There are still pieces out there," she says. "The [Russian] royal family was exceedingly generous: they even gave Fabergè works to their obstetricians."
For more information on the Tsesarevich Constellation Imperial Egg, please refer to the following article;
Livadia Palace Opens Imperial Lift and Solarium to Visitors Topic: Livadia
Entrance to the 100-year-old Imperial lift at Livadia Palace
For the first time since before the 1917 Revolution, visitors to Livadia Palace can now visit the rooftop (solarium) of the palace in the recently restored 100-year-old lift. It was here that Tsar Nicholas II and his family would come to relax and take in spectacular views of Yalta and the Black Sea.
The lift was produced by Carl Flor in Germany and installed in 1911 and was one of the first lifts on the southern coast of Crimea. It was installed by the palace architect Nikolai Krasnov, in order to facilitate the movement of the Tsarevich Alexei, who suffered from haemophilia, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, who suffered from sciatica. The lift allowed them both to reach the upper floors of the palace, including the solarium.
The Empress particularly enjoyed this part of the palace where she loved to spend time with her family. The roof offered her a sanctuary, where she could rest, while enjoying the warm, sunny days that the Crimea offered. The solarium was decorated with her favourite plants and flowers.
After the revolution, the elevator was seldom used and fell into disrepair. Perhaps its lack of use during the Soviet years is what actually saved the Imperial lift? When workers set to work on restoring the lift in 2010, they noted its mechanism was still fully functional, and surprisingly, inside the cabin, too, was well preserved in its original form.
The lift was restored and opened to the public in April 2013. Inside is a small, but cozy cabin, paneled with mahogany, and a small stool, with room enough for only three people. The glass doors close silently and slowly and the two-storey climb to the solarium is absolutely quiet, no rattle and roar.
During my visit to Livadia Palace in 2000, I was invited to visit the solarium, however, it was only reachable at the time by stairs. It was a rare treat to say the very least, and I have many photographs of the roof top of the palace and the magnificent panoramic views this sanctuary offers. I can truly appreciate why the Empress loved this spot so much.
Russian Monarchy: Representation and Rule by Richard Wortman Topic: Books
Russian Monarchy: Representation and Rule is a new volume from Richard Wortman, the author of Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy (2 volumes) explores the effect of the symbolic and mythical representations of the Russian imperial government on law, administrative practice, and concepts of national and imperial identities throughout centuries of monarchical rule. Richard Wortman demonstrates how the ideologies behind such representations shaped the thought patterns not only of the tsar and the imperial family but also of the Russian political and social elite. He characterizes the monarchy as an active agent in Russia’s political experience, one whose dominant role was resisting change until the inevitable collapse facing all absolute monarchies.
Richard Wortman, James Bryce Professor Emeritus of European Legal History, specializes in the history of imperial Russia. He received his B.A. from Cornell University and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1963 to 1977, and Princeton from 1977 to 1988, before coming to Columbia. His publications include The Crisis of Russian Populism (Cambridge University Press, 1967) and The Development of a Russian Legal Consciousness (University of Chicago Press, 1976). (Russian translation, NLO Press, 2004). His most recent books are Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy. Volume One: From Peter the Great to the Death of Nicholas I (Princeton University Press, 1995), Russian translation, (OGI Press,2002), and the second volume of the work From Alexander II to the Abdication of Nicholas II (Princeton University Press, 2000), (Russian translation, OGI Press, 2004), which was awarded the George L. Mosse prize of the American Historical Association. The two volumes were awarded the 2006 Efim Etkind prize of the St. Petersburg European University for the best western work on Russian culture and literature. His latest book is an abridged and revised one-volume version of Scenarios is Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy: From Peter the Great to the Abdication of Nicholas II (Princeton University Press, 2006). In November 2007, he received the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies' highest award, for Distinguished Contributions to the Field of Slavic Studies. His current work concerns representations of imperial power and the culture of rule of Russian monarchy.
For more information on this title, or to order a copy, please refer to the publisher's web site;
A Russian Moment No 31 - The Rose Pavilion, Pavlovsk Topic: A Russian Moment
The Rose Pavilion as it looks today, depicted in a contemporary Russian postcard.
In the early nineteenth century, a pavilion was erected on the threshold of the White Birch area of the park at Pavlovsk. The pavilion was constructed in 1811 by the Russian architect Andrey Nikiforovich Voronikhin (1759-1814). A simple structure, it was surrounded entirely by rosebushes and aptly named, the Rose Pavilion. The pavilion is of great historical and artistic value as a rare example of a classic wooden architecture.
As conceived by the Empress Maria Feodorovna (1759-1828), this park pavilion was to be a kingdom of her favourite flowers - roses. Everything in the decor of the Rose Pavilion was linked to the theme of the rose, including the interiors and furniture, specially created for her, and a set of porcelain decorated with roses. The pavilion itself was completely surrounded by a rose garden. New species of roses were brought from all over Europe and planted here. In 1812, «PAVILLON DES ROSES» appeared in gilt letters in French, on the pediment of the entrance to the pavilion.
The Rose Pavilion became the gathering place of artists, composers, writers and poets in the company of the empress. Her guests included Vasily Zhukovsky, Ivan Krylov, Nikolay Karamzin, Nikolay Gnedich, Fiodor Glinka, and Yury Neledinsky-Meletsky. The Empress did all she could to be a dutiful hostess to her refined and educated guests. She kept an album in which visitors were invited to write their own verses or dedications.
The Rose Pavilion was the site of a grand fete on July 12, 1814, celebrating the return of Emperor Alexander I to St. Petersburg after the defeat of Napoleon. For the occasion the architect Pietro de Gottardo Gonzaga built a ballroom the size of the Rose Pavilion itself in just seventeen days, and surrounded it with huge canvases of Russian villagers celebrating the victory. The ball inside the pavilion opened with a Polonaise led by Alexander and his mother, and ended with a huge display of fireworks.
During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) the Rose Pavilion was destroyed by the retreating Nazis. During the 1990s, the Rose Pavilion underwent a long and arduous research and restoration work. Today, the Rose Pavilion once again blends naturally into the surrounding park, its beauty enhanced by a variety of rose bushes, the favourite bloom of Empress Maria Feodorovna. The Rose Pavilion is a delightful venue for classical music concerts during the summer months.
Russian Archives Unveils Online Project Dedicated to 400th Anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty Topic: 400th Anniversary
The Russian Federal Archival Agency have launched an online project dedicated to the 400th Anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty. The project has been prepared to familiarize the public with historic documents relating to the Romanov dynasty held in the Archives Fund of the Russian Federation.
The web site includes 1377 photographs and other images, and 587 original archival documents from the following archives: Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts, State Archive of the Russian Federation, State Archive of the Kostroma region, photographs of the Moscow Kremlin State Historical and Cultural Museum-Preserve and the State Historical Museum. The documents, photographs, etc from the archives are organized chronologically by tsars and emperors of the Romanov dynasty.
Also presented are the family correspondence members of the House of Romanov - from Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich to Emperor Nicholas II, autographs of tsars and emperors and their families, documents outlining the organization of their daily life, education, hobbies, interests and abilities. Many rare personal items belonging to the Romanovs can also be seen on display in this web site.
Rare documentary evidence of marriages of Russia’s sovereigns can also be seen from the 17th-20th centuries, and materials on favourable marriages between members of the House of Romanov with representatives of major European dynasties.
Other documents of interest include materials on the circumstances and the course of palace coups, rare documents on the organization of the coronation ceremonies and the royal and imperial regalia. Then, you can see the unique materials on the organization of burials of members of the Russian Imperial family, ceremonies mourning processions, etc.
This archival web site, dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, will be of particular interest to scholars and historians, allowing them access to new documents held in a variety of Russian archives. The web site is only available in Russian.
Monument to Nicholas II to be Erected in Thailand Topic: Nicholas II
King Chulalongkorn with Tsar Nicholas II in Saint Petersburg, during the King's first Grand Tour in 1897
The Foundation Committee of the Orthodox Church in Thailand will install a monument in Bangkok to Tsar Nicholas II and King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) of Siam. The project is in honour of the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty in 2013, for which Thailand was invited to participate. The Orthodox Church in Thailand invited the famous sculptor, Sergei Isakov - Academician of the Russian Academy Arts, Honored Artist of Russia to participate in the work on the Russian part of the sculpture. Isakov has experience of capturing the image of St. Tsar Nicholas II martyr in numerous sculptural compositions.
Sergei Mikhailovich Isakov arrived in Thailand on December 16, 2013 with the assistance of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in Thailand to begin work on the monument. Work is being carried out on the territory of the new St. Nicholas Church in Bangkok.
Assistance in the construction of the monument to Tsar Nicholas II and King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) was provided by the Nicholas Foundation (Russia) and the Foundation of the Orthodox Church in Thailand. The prototype of the monument is based on the famous picture showing two monarchs during a visit by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to St. Petersburg in 1897.
Russian-Siamese Royal Relations, Late 19th Century
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, King Chulalongkorn, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Tsar Nicholas II with members of the Siamese royal entourage in Saint Petersburg, during the King's 1897 visit
In the late 1870-s King Chulalongkorn on numerous occasions expressed his wish to establish permanent diplomatic relations with Russia. Russian naval officers whose ships periodically came to Bangkok carried to the Russian Emperor the first Royal letters with clear intention of the Siamese government to develop bilateral trade, diplomatic and cultural cooperation with Russia. A real breakthrough in the bilateral relations was made later by the visit of the Heir to the Imperial throne Tsesarevich Nicholas, the son of the then reigning Emperor Alexander III, to Siam in 1891. It was a part of the Eastern Voyage of the Tsesarevich who was familiarizing himself with Asia and Asian affairs on recommendation of his farther Alexander III. Notwithstanding its unofficial status, the visit gave a great impulse to the advancement of relations between the two countries and in fact marked the beginning of close and long-lasting personal friendship between Tsar Nicholas II and King Chulalongkorn, and in a broader sense between two our countries and peoples.
The Russian Crown Prince and his entourage were welcomed in Siam with all due honours and utmost warmth. King Chulalongkorn personally took care of the visiting Russian Crown Prince and awarded him with the Order of Chakri. The King hosted festivities in honour of the Tsesarevich both in Bangkok and at the Bang Pa In Palace and saw him off on the last day.
Several months later a captain of a Russian naval ship delivered a letter of gratitude from Alexander III to King Chulalongkorn together with the Order of St. Andrew bestowed by the Emperor upon the Siamese Monarch - the first in the number of Russian decorations received by members of the Thai Royal family.
The visit of Prince Damrong, brother of King Chulalongkorn and Director-General of the National Department of Education of Siam, to Russia became the next step in the development of relations between the two countries. Prince Damrong was an active participant of the process of establishment and development of the Russia-Siam relations. He came to Russia in November 1891 and was received by Alexander III in Livadia - a gorgeous Royal summer residence on the banks of the Black Sea. The Prince delivered a letter and the Order of Chakri which had been sent to the Russian Emperor by the King of Siam. In his letter King Chulalongkorn re-confirmed the intention to further develop friendly relations with Russia.
Starting from 1891, official visits and personal contacts including the exchange of correspondence between the Russian Imperial Family and the Siamese Royal Family became frequent and regular and played an important role in the development of relations between the two countries. In 1893 Russia started to provide her support to Siam to resolve the conflict with her neighbours of that time. In 1896 the Russian Imperial Government invited a Royal Siamese representative to participate in the festivities on the occasion of the coronation of Nicholas II as the Emperor of Russia.
A year later King Chulalongkorn himself paid a visit to Russia. Friendly and sincere support provided to him by the Russian Side played a very important role in the success of this trip. The highest honours, utmost hospitality and respect which had been extended to King Chulalongkorn in Russia once and for all confirmed the status of the Siamese Monarch as a sovereign equal to European Kings.
When King Chulalongkorn arrived in St. Petersburg on June 19, 1897 by the special Emperor's train, he was welcomed by the members of the Imperial Family and a military escort of the Imperial Guards. On arrival the King of Siam proceeded to the Peterhof Palace, the Imperial summer residence, where Emperor Nicholas II welcomed him. During following ten days the King of Siam visited St. Petersburg, Moscow and the main Russian naval base in Kronstadt.
King Chulalongkorn's visit prompted sincere and wide interest in Siam and Siamese affairs among Russian public. Newspapers extensively covered the visit, issuing publications about Siam and the Siamese King. For example, Vedomosti of St. Petersburg, a leading Russian newspaper wrote in an editorial: "In his person we are greeting not only one of the greatest men of our time, […] but also a true friend of Russia. The power of this friendship lies in mutual respect, in the senses of straightforwardness and simplicity common to both peoples. (…) Our friendship towards Siam is honest and non-hypocritical, which His Majesty the King of Siam can confidently rely upon".
During the negotiations in St. Petersburg Nicholas II and King Chulalongkorn agreed, as it is known, to establish diplomatic relations between Russia and Siam and to prepare the Treaty on Friendship and Maritime Navigation, which was signed in 1899. The monarchs agreed also that Prince Chakrabongse, the second son of King Chulalongkorn, would come to Russia for his studying and military training. It is also worth to note that Prince Chakrabongse's studies in Russia had paved the way to other children from the Siamese noble families to Russian universities and in the first decade of the XXth century a good few of them were getting their education in Russia.
Following the decision of the two sovereigns, the exchange of diplomatic representatives took place in 1897 and 1898. Phraya Suriya Nuvat, the Siamese Minister who was representing King Chulalongkorn in Europe with residence in Paris, received an additional appointment to the Russian Imperial Court. He had accompanied the King on his Russian trip and had been introduced to Nicholas II.
In 1898 Alexander Olarovski, the Russian Consul-General in New York, was transferred to Siam and appointed as the Russian Charge d'Affaires and the Consul General. Before his departure from America, Olarovski received a ten-page instructive letter from the Russian Foreign ministry. The major part of it contained clear directions concerning the Russian policy towards Siam. The essence of that policy was expressed in the following lines of the letter: "Your conduct in its entirety should bear the imprint of favourable attention which our august Monarch is willing to extend to the person of the Siamese King, as well as to the fortunes of his people; it should respond to the sincerity and warmth which are put by Siam at the base of our relations".
The text of the letter had been personally approved by the Russian Emperor, and diplomatic representatives of Russia in Bangkok consistently followed it.
The establishment of diplomatic relations and the signing of several treaties that followed, as well as the development of regular dynastic and personal contacts, helped to promote deeper mutual knowledge between the two peoples.
Passion of the Empress: Catherine the Great's Art Patronage Topic: Exhibitions
Driven by a thirst for knowledge and a quest for the throne, Catherine propelled herself to the role of Empress through the sheer power of her intellect, cunning, and resolve. For thirty-four years, she reigned over a golden age of Russian culture, founding what would become the State Hermitage Museum and transforming St. Petersburg into one of Europe’s cultural centers.
Passion of the Empress: Catherine the Great’s Art Patronage presents a selection of finely-crafted decorative art pieces to explore how the famous tsarina masterfully blended traditions of Byzantine art with the Western neoclassical style that was a hallmark of the Enlightenment.
With the stunning Buch Chalice as the centerpiece, twenty-seven works from Hillwood’s Russian imperial art collection form the foundation of the exhibition. Other lenders to the exhibition include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, Dumbarton Oaks, The Birmingham Museum of Art, and private collections.
When she took the throne in 1762, Catherine was determined to change the perception of Russia throughout Europe as a culturally lacking empire.
Having lived at court since 1744, when she became engaged to the future Peter III, while educating herself about Russian culture, language, and the Orthodox Church, Catherine quietly developed her own sense of style.
Her immersion in Russian tradition did not preclude the savvy Empress from maintaining ties with Western Europe. Correspondence with the French philosophes in particular eventually strengthened French taste in Russia and enabled Catherine to foster the arts, science, and education.
Though she is best known for collecting thousands of paintings, Catherine commissioned splendid metalwork, porcelain, glasswork, and books for her own use and as gifts for courtiers. It is in these objects that the blending of Byzantine and classical influences shows Catherine’s desire to forge a new direction for Russian culture and align it with the West.
Many of the objects in the exhibition bring focus to Catherine’s use of ancient and medieval carved cameos and intaglios and her incorporation of those into her commissions for new works of art. The empress not only shared the Enlightenment sentiment that carved gems were important pieces of the past, but she was also aware of the power associated with the practice of collecting cameos.
The most exquisite example of this intermingling is the Buch Chalice. Commissioned in 1790, Iver Windfeldt Buch produced two liturgical sets, each comprising a chalice and several other pieces necessary for celebrating the Divine Liturgy.
To construct the sets, Catherine provided Buch with gold and diamonds from the State Treasury and carved gems representing scenes from the life of Christ, saints, and angels, which came from her private collection. Of the gems, a thirteenth-century Byzantine cameo of the Archangel Michael is the oldest. The remaining ones are mostly contemporary.
Catherine presented a set, including this chalice, to the Trinity Cathedral in the Aleksandr Nevskii Monastery in St. Petersburg on August 29, 1791.
Other highlights of the exhibition include a glass cameo of Catherine II in the Guise of Minerva, based on a Siberian jasper cameo carved by Catherine’s daughter-in-law, Maria Feodorovna, depicting Catherine as the goddess Minerva wearing a helmet decorated with a winged sphinx crown and laurel wreath; a late 17th-century censer that is one of the most stunning examples of metalwork in Hillwood’s collection; and pieces from the Orlov Porcelain Service, the expansive set made at Catherine’s request by the Imperial Porcelain Factory for Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov (1734-1783).
The exhibition was organized by the Georgia Museum of Art (titled Exuberance of Meaning: The Art Patronage of Catherine the Great). A full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition with essays by organizing curator Asen Kirin, associate professor of art and associate director of the Lamar Dodd School of art at the University of Georgia, and Dr. Scott Ruby, Hillwood’s associate curator for Russian and Eastern European Art.
Passion of the Empress: Catherine the Great’s Art Patronage opens at Hillwood Museum in Washington, DC on February 18th, and ends on June 8th, 2014.