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Thursday, 1 November 2012
"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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Monday, 29 October 2012
New Coin Dedicated to Imperial Faberge Eggs
Topic: Collectibles

 

The Mint of Poland offers a series of collector coins dedicated to the exceptional Tsar’s Fabergé Eggs. These absolute jewellery masterpieces symbolize extravagance and luxury. Designed by Peter Carl Fabergé and his assistants for the Russian tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II, the eggs were made of gold and silver embellished with enamel and gemstones.

Until now the following coins have been released: the "Coronation Egg", the "Lily of the Valley Egg" the "Clover Leaf Egg”, “The Duchess of Marlborough Egg”, “the "Pansy Egg" and the „Bay Tree Egg”. The forthcoming  coin of the collection is the “100th Anniversary of Patriotic War 1812” – inspired by The Napoleonic Egg.

Obverse:
At the bottom – open Spring Flowers Egg (1899-1903) with a miniature basket of wood anemones inside. Above – the Niue Island’s Coat of Arms with the inscription “ELIZABETH II” and the mint’s mark (m/w) below. Around the Queen’s effigy – a decorative neorococo scroll ornament. At the top – the issuer’s name: NIUE ISLAND. On the right – a nominal value of the coin (2 dollars), on the left – the year of issue 2012.

Reverse:
In the central part – the stylized image of the original "Napoleonic Egg ". At the top, along the edge - the name of the series in English: IMPERIAL FABERGÉ EGGS. At the bottom – a fragment of the six Russian regiments fighted against the army of Napoleon, depicted in pad printing.

© Mint of Poland. 29 October, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:22 AM EDT
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Night at the Ipatiev House
Topic: Nicholas II

 

 

Moscow is filled with museums, many of which are overlooked by visitors from the West. One in particular is the Zurab Tsereteli Museum. The museum is situated in the former Dolgorukov Mansion which is located at 19 Prechistenka Street. It was originally constructed in 1785 and is considered one of the finest examples of Neo-Classical architecture in the city. In 1998-2000, Zurab Tsereteli, President of the Russian Aacademy of Arts restored and reconstructed the former mansion into a museum which today offers a permanent display for his numerous sculptures.

In 2007 Tsereteli unveiled one of his most significant sculptures entitled "Night at the Ipatiev House". The bronze multi-figure composition is dedicated to the murders of Emperor Nicholas II and his family at Ekateinburg on 17 July, 1918.

Visitors to the museum had already seen a small model of the “Night at the Ipatiev House” monument before it was installed in the Gallery’s hall “Knowledge of Good and Evil” with works on the biblical topic in the June of 2007.

The “Night at the Ipatiev House” represents sculptural images of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsesarevich Alexis, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia against the background of the wall dotted with bullets and containing engraved figures of the bloody date – the year of 1918. The composition also comprises texts related to the last days of the Imperial family – citations from letters of the Empress and Grand Duchess Olga.

By odd and terrifying in its symbolism coincidence, the Romanov dynasty crowned in the Ipatiev monastery was overthrown in the so called Ipatiev house. Also on display at the museum are two nails from the basement, where the cruel massacre had taken place, also included by the artist in his sculptural composition.

The murdered members of the Imperial family were canonized because of their death as martyrs. In the last Christian tsar and members of his family we see people who sincerely tried to realize the Decalogue. “In sufferings endured by the Imperial family in the imprisonment with gentleness, patience and humility, in their martyrdom in Ekaterinburg on the night of July 17, 1918 was revealed the light of the Christian faith vanquishing the Evil” - is written in the resolution of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

It is important to note that "Night at the Ipatiev House" is just one of numerous sculptures of the Russian monarchs created by Tsereteli and on permanent display at the museum.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 29 October, 2012


 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 9:41 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 15 July 2013 2:12 PM EDT
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Sunday, 28 October 2012
An Important Collection of Russian Books & Manuscripts with Imperial Provenance
Topic: Antiques

 

Photo Credit: Christie's 

On 29 November 2012, Christie’s (London) will have the great privilege of offering for sale the largest group of Russian books and manuscripts with noble provenance to come to auction in decades: the collections of Emperors Paul I, Alexander I, Alexander II, Alexander III, Nicholas I, Nicholas II, Empress Elizabeth, and numerous Grand Dukes and Duchesses are all represented. The fate of books from the Russian palaces mirrors that of the palaces themselves: war and revolution took their brutal toll. Material with imperial provenance of the quality and importance represented in this collection is seldom offered for sale, and hardly ever in quantity. It would be virtually impossible to form another of this scope and caliber today. Highlights include The Coronation Album of Alexander III (estimate: £70,000 – 100,000, illustrated above) and a unique album of drawings of the coats-of-arms of members of the court of the future Emperor Paul (1796-1801), son of Catherine the Great (estimate: £150,000 – 200,000).

The books and manuscripts offered in this collection come from one of the most important philanthropists and collectors of the 19th century, J. Pierpoint Morgan (1837-1913). 

© Christie's London. 28 October, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:59 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2012 8:01 AM EDT
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Saturday, 27 October 2012
Tour of the State Halls and Private Rooms of the Grand Kremlin Palace
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 23 minutes, 50 seconds.
Topic: Kremlin

Aside from visiting heads of state, few foreigners ever get to see the beautiful interiors of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow. Today it serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.

Before the Russian Revolution, the palace served as the official residence of the reigning sovereign and family while they were visiting the city. The palace is rich in Romanov history and was the venue for magnificent balls, sumptuous state dinners, and more.

Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia standing in St. Andrew's Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, 27th October, 2000 

I was very fortunate to visit this historic palace on my 44th birthday on October 27th, 2000. I had organized a tour that year to Moscow and the Crimea, in which a group of 15 people from Canada and the United States took part. I had been negotiating with the Kremlin administration for several years prior to allow me to include the Grand Kremlin Palace as part of one of my group tours. Permission was finally granted that year and it was well worth all the red tape that went with it. 

This video comes from a Russian media source and offers views of the State Halls which were restored to their original during the Yeltsin years, as well as the former private apartments of the Romanovs.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 October, 2012


 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 1:01 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 27 October 2012 1:40 PM EDT
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Nicholas II Exhibition Opens at the Hermitage-Vyborg Center
Topic: Exhibitions

 

A new exhibition, The Last Emperor of Russia: Family and Court of Nicholas II at the Turn of the Century opened yesterday at the Hermitage in Vyborg, Russia.

The exhibition will feature nearly 300 items from a variety of museums in St. Petersburg: The State Hermitage Museum, Anichkov Palace, Novo-Mikhailovksy Palace (New Michael Palace), the Yusupov Palace; the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, and from private Russian collections.

The exhibition is arranged in choronological order covering the life and reign of Tsar Nicholas II and his family up until 1917.

The opening ceremony was attended by the Vice-Governor of the Leningrad region, Konstantin Patraev and the Director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Mikhail Piotrovsky.

The Hermitage-Vyborg Center was opened in June, 2010, and regularly hosts exhibitions from the State Hermitage funds in St. Petersburg since that time.

Vyborg is situated 130 km (81 miles) northwest of St. Petersburg, and 38 km (24 miles) south of the Russian-Finnish border.

The exhibion runs until March 2013.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 27 October, 2012


 

 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:42 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 27 October 2012 1:01 PM EDT
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Friday, 26 October 2012
Prince Michael of Kent Visits Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow
Topic: Prince Michael of Kent

 

During a visit to Moscow this week, Prince Michael of Kent stopped at the Martha and Mary Convent where he was met by Panteleimon, Bishop of Smolensk and Vyazma who provided the Prince with a tour of the convent and explained its activities within the community.

Prince Michael was met at the entrance of the convent's historic Holy Protection Cathedral  by the prioress, Sister Catherine, who offered him bread and salt, a traditional Russian custom that dates back centuries.

He visited the cathedral which has been restored including the frescoes painted by Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov.

He then visited the orphanage at the Martha and Mary Convent where he met the children, who performed songs in his presence.

Prince Michael also visited the memorial museum, now housed in the former rooms of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, and restored to their original thanks to old photographs that survived. It was here that Prince Michael became interested in the photographs of his ancestor, each of which was explained by Sister Catherine. Among the exhibits is the former grand piano of the grand duchess. Miraculously preserved, the piano has never left the monastery.

The Martha and Mary Convent is one of the few places in Moscow that is directly associated with the Russian Imperial family. It offers two guided tours each day of the convent and memorial rooms.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 26 October, 2012


 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 1:36 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 26 October 2012 2:01 PM EDT
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