Exhibition: For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland Opens in Saint-Petersburg Topic: Exhibitions
On July 25th, the Museum of the History of Religion in St. Petersburg opens a major exhibition For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland, timed to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War - one of the largest armed conflict in the history of mankind. More than 120 unique monuments of the museum's collection will reveal hitherto unknown page of military history - the activity of "spiritual front" in force in all European armies in the early XX century.
The exposition contains authentic items belonged to soldiers and officers of Entente - military-political bloc of Russia, Britain and France - and the Triple Alliance (German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires) as well as unique in its iconography icons, paintings, sculptures and graphics (posters, postcards, flyers), military medals, military uniforms, photographs from the museum collection.
The unconventional solution of the exhibition space illustrates not military, but ideological and spiritual confrontation between the two military-political blocs, held both at the front and in the rear, as well as the role of the clergy of the Russian military in maintaining the spirit of the army.
One of the sections of the exhibition is devoted to military clergy – a part of the Russian clergy involved in the pastoral care of servicemen of different arms of the Russian Empire. Martial and spiritual feats of Russian priests are depicted in a number of paintings and graphic works of 1910s ("A Christmas Prayer for the position", "Prayer at the battery box", "Feat Russian priest", etc.). The exhibition is also complemented with documents showing awarding orders chaplains, and photos.
A special section of the exhibition features memorial icons with inscriptions on the back.
A semantic center and the completion of the exhibition will be the jewel of the museum's collection - a makeshift church of His Imperial Majesty of Consolidated Infantry Regiment (late XIX – early XX centuries) with a set of unique items, including details of military priest vestments and church furnishings, including - the original candlestick made of bayonets to the rifle No. 2.
The exhibition For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland runs until September 18th, 2014 at the Museum of Religion in St. Petersburg.
Exhibition : A Royal Passion for Art. William II of the Netherlands and Anna Pavlovna Topic: Exhibitions
Marriage Portrait of William and Anna Pavlovna as a royal couple, 1816. Artist: Jan Willem Pieneman
The exhibition : A Royal Passion for Art. William II of the Netherlands and Anna Pavlovna has opened at the Musée d’Art de la Ville in Luxembourg. The exhibition runs until October 12th, 2014.
William II (1792-1849) was both King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg, as a result of the personal union linking the two countries. He reigned from 1840 and was a true “Art King”. Together with his wife, tsarevna Anna Pavlovna (1795-1865), he amassed an outstanding art collection, which after his death was auctioned and scattered all around the world.
Masterpieces from this prestigious ensemble are being shown in three successive locations, all of which have a connection to the history of the royal couple and their art collection: the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, the home city of Anna Pavlovna, where a significant part of the royal collection ended up, the Dordrechts Museum in the Netherlands and Villa Vauban in Luxembourg, a country that was formerly part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and home to one of the collectors who acquired works from the royal collection.
The exhibition brings together different artworks stemming from the collection, including 16th- and 17th-century Flemish and Dutch painting (amongst others Quentin Massys, Jan Gossaert, Bernard van Orley, Rembrandt workshop, Jan Steen, Peter Paul Rubens), Italian Renaissance and Baroque art (amongst others Francesco Melzi, Agnolo Bronzino, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), Spanish Baroque (Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Velazquez workshop) and 19th-century romantic painting.
Tragic end to an art collection
Shortly after the death of William II, it was revealed that the royal collection was heavily burdened by debt. Immediately prior to his death, the king had received a secret loan of more than one million guilders from his brother-in-law, Tsar Nicholas I. The art collection acted as guarantee. Upon William’s death, his brother, Prince Frederick, decided to sell the collection. The auction took place in 1850 and attracted important art collectors from all over Europe, among them the Luxembourg-French banker Jean-Pierre Pescatore, as well as various museums. The largest art collection of the Netherlands was thus dispersed, with parts of it ending up in museums throughout the world.
House of Orange and the Romanovs
A further focus of the exhibition is the royal couple William and Anna. Through William’s marriage in 1816 to Anna Pavlovna, the House of Orange became linked to the Russian dynasty of the Romanovs. Anna was the daughter of Tsar Paul I and the sister of his successors Alexander I and Nicholas I. Drawn from the Dutch Royal Collections in The Hague, the exhibition showcases official portraits, precious wedding gifts, several ornate pieces of furniture from various royal residences and richly decorated private objects that once belonged to William and Anna. The young princess and later queen brought a magnificent dowry with her and ensured that the Calvinist kingdom acquired some of the splendour of the tsarist court, in the form of opulent interiors and a “glamorous” court life. William II had a neo-Gothic hall designed and erected to house his art collection on the grounds of his Kneuterdijk Palace in The Hague.
The exhibition “A Royal Passion for Art” offers visitors a fascinating insight into the life and passions of a 19th-century European royal couple, which left their mark well beyond the boundaries of their territories, not least due to their commitment to art.
The exhibition is a cooperation between the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, the Dordrechts Museum, the Royal Collection of the Netherlands in The Hague and the Villa Vauban – Luxembourg City Art Museum.
The Hermitage Amsterdam’s fifth anniversary exhibition Dining with the Tsars. Fragile beauty from the Hermitage opens on 6 September 2014. Eight magnificent porcelain and cream ware services from the collection of the Hermitage in St Petersburg will be exhibited in a setting that conveys what the balls and banquets of the Tsar’s court were like. Visitors will imagine they are guests, in possession of a coveted imperial invitation, climbing the steps of the Winter Palace, reviewing the rules of etiquette and preparing for a festive occasion. Finally they enter the main hall where the fine porcelain dinnerware is set out in a festive display.
The exquisite porcelain services, comprising no less than 1,034 pieces, exhibited on authentically laid tables with decorative centrepieces, reveal the enchanting grandeur of the Tsars’ banquets. The exhibition tells the story of the lavish ball and banqueting culture that reached its zenith under the reign (1762-1796) of Catherine the Great, Queen of Feasts, when hundreds of dishes would be served at a single banquet and thousands of guests attended the balls. The last tsar, Nicholas II (ruled 1894–1917) and his wife Alexandra, who organised the largest balls but were only present for as briefly as possible. With their abdication, the ball and banqueting customs that had once captured the imagination of all the courts of Europe came to an end.
The finest pieces are from the dinnerware collections of Catherine the Great, such as the Green Frog Service (Wedgwood, England), the Cameo Service (Sèvres, Paris, exhibited for the first time with silver gilt flatware), which at one time comprised nearly a thousand pieces, and the Berlin Dessert Service (Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin). The services of later Tsars were no less impressive and significant for their connection to European history. The services are exhibited in accordance with the rules of etiquette, augmented with ornate centrepieces, gold-rimmed crystal glassware, candelabras, vases, detailed silverwork and wall decorations. The exhibition features a wide range of pieces, from ice buckets for liqueur bottles and ice-cream coupes to salt and pepper sets and table figurines.
The exhibition also offers a culinary view of imperial dining customs, in a culture where banquets of 300 dishes were no exception. Dessert was the highpoint of the meal and the ideal course for showing off the host’s wealth and refined taste. Richly decorated delicacies were served with exceptional inventiveness. There is attention for iconography and the diplomatic function of giving services as gifts and hosting state dinners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And the balls and performances, gossip and scandal also feature in the exhibition. Evidence of the excesses of the imperial court abounds. Particularly revealing are the quotes drawn from the memoirs of Marie Cornélie van Wassenaer Obdam. She visited the Winter Palace in 1824 as a member of the retinue of Anna Paulowna and the later King Willem II.
The surprising final exhibit is the service given to Stalin by the Hungarian people in 1949, which has never been used or exhibited before. It illustrates the diplomatic role that dinnerware also played in the twentieth century.
Never before have so many porcelain dinnerware pieces from the Hermitage been exhibited in the Netherlands. The rich collection of European porcelain from the Hermitage in St Petersburg comprises over 15,000 items, purchased by or given as gifts to the Tsars of Russia between 1745 and the years prior to the First World War. The services, which include many unique pieces, were produced by leading porcelain manufacturers such as Meissen, Sèvres, Gardner and Wedgwood and decorated to the highest artistic standard.
Dining with the Tsars. Fragile Beauty from the Hermitage runs 6 September 2014 – 1 March 2015 at the Hermitage Amsterdam
Exhibition: Return of a Century. Romanovs. Oldenburg Topic: Exhibitions
The former palace of the Oldenburg's in Ramon
On June 16th a new exhibition, The Return of a Century. Romanovs. Oldenburg, opened in the town of Ramon, situated about 500 km south of Moscow in the Voronezh region. The venue for the exhibition is the former palace of the Oldenburg princes. Built in the late 19th century in the Gothic Revival style, the palace belonged to the Russian branch of the House of Oldenburg. The exhibition is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the visit to Voronezh by Emperor Nicholas II in 1914.
The exhibition explores the relationship linking the Romanov and Oldenburg families, with a significant part of the exhibition dedicated to the extensive charitable activities of both families. A significant part of the exhibition is devoted to the charitable activities of the Romanovs and the Oldenburgs. Under the patronage of Princess Eugenie of Oldenburg (granddaughter of Nicholas I and niece of Alexander) were many artistic, medical and charitable societies throughout Russia.
Numerous photographs of the Romanovs include Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna and the Oldenburgs include Duke Peter Alexandrovich (center)
The exhibition features portraits of the Romanov dynasty and the Oldenburg family (on loan from the Moscow State Historical Museum), as well as paintings, photographs, postcards from museums in Voronezh and Ramon. The exhibition also includes copies of documents and photographs stored in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (Moscow), the Russian State Historical Archive (St. Petersburg) and the State Archive of the Voronezh region. A documentary on the participation of the Romanov and Oldenburg in the cultural life of the province of Voronezh and Russia is also shown to visitors.
Innovative technologies used in the organization of the exhibition - video projection and installation, unusual interior design and unique style solutions in the organization of the exhibition space - all of which help visitors to immerse themselves in a bygone era, demonstate a string of historical events and evaluate the contribution of members of the Romanov and Oldenburg families in the development of Russian statehood, culture and life.
It is interesting to note that Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (youngest sister of Nicholas II) married Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg 0n 9th August 1901. Each year they visited Peter’s mother at Ramon, and eventually purchased their own estate nearby, Olgino. Their marriage was annulled on 16th October 1916.
Exhibition: The Family Album. Danish-Russian Dynastic Ties Topic: Exhibitions
A new exhibition Family Album. Danish-Russian Dynastic Ties, has opened at the Pavlovsk State Museum Preserve. The exhibit is a joint effort between the National History Museum at the Castle of Frederiksborg (Hillerød, Denmark) and the Pavlovsk State Museum-Preserve. Russia and Denmark have enjoyed strong cultural ties for many years, the Pavlovsk Palace Museum and the Danish royal museums have worked repeatedly over the years on the creation of joint exhibitions, both in Denmark and in Russia.
The main items on display at this current exhibit are unique historical photos from the family album of the Danish royal family and the Pavlovsk State Museum. Close family ties between Denmark and Imperial Russia began from the moment in 1866 when the Danish Princess Dagmar, who upon adopting the Orthodox faith received the name of Maria Feodorovna, became the wife of Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich, heir to the Russian throne. After the assassination of his father Alexander II in 1881, he would become Emperor Alexander III.
Princess Dagmar was originally engaged to Alexander’s older brother Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, who suddenly died of cerebro-spinal meningitis in 1865. His fiancée, Princess Dagmar, consented to become the wife of his brother Alexander, and it proved to be a happy marriage. Alexander III was a faithful husband to his wife, and an exemplary father to his children.
Through the Empress Maria Feodorovna, the Russian Imperial House intermarried with the royal houses of Britain and Greece. The son of Maria Feodorovna and Alexander III, the future Emperor Nicholas II and King George V of Great Britain, the nephew of Maria Feodorovna, were cousins. A cousin of Alexander III, Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinovna, became the wife of the King George I of Greece, the brother of Maria Feodorovna. Thus, the Danish-Russian dynastic ties expanded their influence throughout Europe at the end of 19th-early 20th century. All this is reflected in the exhibition Family Album, in which about 100 photographs form the background in which family relationships reflects the history, life and tastes of the era.
Emperor Alexander III and his family at the court of King Christian IX of Denmark.
Painted in the Garden Pavilion of Fredensberg Palace by the Danish painter, Laurits Tuxen 1883-86
The exhibition is on display in the Rossi Library at Pavlovsk Palace. Along with photos are showcased a number of works of the Danish school of painting. Of particular interest is the painting, The Family of Emperor Alexander III in Denmark, by one of the most famous artists of the late 19th century, Laurits Tuxen. Other paintings include views of the interiors of the Danish royal palaces, by artists Joseph Theodore and Adolf Heinrich Ganzen. These paintings reflect the atmosphere of the era which is seen in these historic photographs. Decoration of the exhibition are enhanced by vases dating from the private collection of Empress Maria Feodorovna (c. 1890s) from the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory. An oval portrait of Maria Feodorovna by artist I. Galkin is considered an iconic symbol of the exhibition.
The exhibition The Family Album. Danish-Russian Dynastic Ties runs from June 18th to September 14th, 2014 at the Pavlovsk State Museum-Preserve.
The Exhibition "Orthodox Russia. The Romanovs. My Story" Heads to the Urals Topic: Exhibitions
The exhibition "Orthodox Russia. The Romanovs. My Story" opens in Tyumen on June 21st, the third Russian venue after Moscow and St. Petersburg
The multimedia exhibition, "Orthodox Russia. The Romanovs. My Story" will be held in Tyumen from June 21 to July 6, 2014. Founded in 1586, Tyumen was the first Russian settlement in Siberia. On 1 August 1917, Emperor Nicholas II and his family boarded the steamer “Rus” at Tyumen and sailed up the Tura river to their exile which began at Tobolsk and ended in Ekaterinburg the following year.
The exhibition features 300 multimedia carriers, including touch screens, 50-inch plasmas, tablet computers with interactive quizzes and cognitive applications designed specifically for this unique exhibit. A series of short documentaries highlight the main milestones and achievements of the Romanovs in the history of the Russian state.
The exhibit which is dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the legendary Romanov dynasty was previously held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The duration of the exhibition in both capitals, lasted a little over 35 days, the exhibition was visited by about 460,000 people, with record attendance of 19,500 per day in St. Petersburg.
The exhibition "Orthodox Russia. The Romanovs. My Story" is established under the auspices of the Patriarchal Council for Culture and organized by the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Culture, and the Government of the Tyumen region.
The exhibition will be open daily from 10-00 - 20-00, at the main exhibition center located at the Tyumen Fair. Admission is free.
State Hermitage Museum Hosts Two Exhibitions on Imperial Court Costume Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 1 minute, 22 seconds Topic: Exhibitions
The new exhibition, At the Court of the Russian Emperors. 18th- and Early 20th-century Costume in the Hermitage Collection
will be open till the end of September so if you are going to visit St Petersburg this summer this exhibition is a must!
On May 17th, the State Hermitage Museum opened two outstanding temporary exhibitions that will most certainly appeal to any one with an interest in the Romanov dynasty and the Russian Imperial Court. If you are going to visit St Petersburg this summer these exhibitions are a must!
At the Court of the Russian Emperors. 18th- and Early 20th-century Costume in the Hermitage Collection
17 May - 21 September 2014
Nicholas Hall, Anteroom, Armorial Hall, Concert Hall, East Gallery of the Winter Palace
The first exhibition, At the Court of the Russian Emperors, showcases the costumes worn by the Russian Royal family and nobility of the 18th-20th centuries. Ceremonial and fancy dresses, military uniforms, and children’s costumes will be showcased in five halls of the Winter Palace.
This new Hermitage exhibition can rightly be called unique. It includes costumes that belonged to Peter I, from his uniforms up to his bathrobes! The museum also possesses two pairs of shoes of the Russian emperor. It is well-known that the 18th century was the time of ladies at the Russian throne. Surprisingly, after the main quaintrelle of the Russian court, Empress Elizabeth, only one dress is left. At the same time it would be of great interest to see the so-called ”uniform dresses” of Catherine II. In fact, since her times Russian emperors or empresses were supposed to be colonels-in-chief of different Russian regiments. That’s why special uniform dresses were created for the female members of the royal family. Nowadays the Hermitage Museum has about 30 such dresses that belonged to Catherine the Great.
In 1834 Emperor Nicolas I established a special law concerning the ceremonies of the court. Thus, ladies-in-waiting of different ranks were obliged to wear dresses of certain colors. For example, a red velvet dress with gold embroidery was typical for the lady-in-waiting of the empress. The length of the train was also important, indicating the status of the lady. Such dresses were either commissioned abroad – at the workshop of Ch. Worth or created in Russia by the famous designer N. Lamanova.
At the exhibition fancy dresses will be represented as well. Masquerades at the Russian court usually had a special theme. In the 1830′s Chinese masquerades were popular. Alexander II preferred European style masquerades.
Servants of the Russian Imperial Court. Late 19th- Early 20th- century Livery in the Hermitage Collection
17 May - 21 September 2014
Arab Hall, Rotunda of the Winter Palace
The second exhibition, Servants of the Russian Imperial Court is the first opportunity ever, both for researchers and a wider audience, to see a major part of the rich Hermitage collection of uniforms, or livery garments, worn by the servants at the Russian Imperial Court. It showcases 250 dress items from the Hermitage collection and unique documents and photographs from the Russian State Historical Archive, Central State Documentary Film and Photo Archive in St Petersburg and private collections of the court servants’ descendants.
The joint exhibitions are accompanied by an illustrated scholarly catalogue (State Hermitage Publishing House, 2014) which includes an Introduction by the Director-General of the State Hermitage Mikhail Piotrowski.
Exhibition on Death of Nicholas II's Family to Open at Peter and Paul Fortress Topic: Exhibitions
The exhibition “The Century-long Investigation. The Death of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II” will open on June 5 at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. The exhibition is dedicated to the history of execution of the royal family near Yekaterinburg in 1918, tells the story of the events leading up to this tragedy, and subsequent events: in particular, the investigation into the murder of the affairs of the royal family in 1918 and 1990, the process of identification of the found remains.
The basis of the exhibition is materials from the State Archive of the Russian Federation (Moscow). Unique exhibits – personal items and relics of the royal family – for the exhibition will be provided by the State Hermitage Museum and the State Museum-Preserve "Tsarskoye Selo", and documents and photographs related to the burial of the remains of Nicholas II, his family and servants in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in July 1998 - by the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg.
Pages from the catalogue for the 2012 exhibition held at GARF in Moscow
The materials of the exhibition illustrate the life of the royal family from March 1917 to July 1918, from being under house arrest in Tsarskoye Selo, then in Tobolsk and Yekaterinburg, before the execution. Among the important historical documents will be the act of abdication of Emperor Nicholas II on the throne, and in the act of abdication of Michael Alexandrovich, telegram of Presidium of the Ural Regional Council to Lenin and Yakov M. Sverdlov on the execution of Nicholas Romanov, 17 July 1918. There will be demonstrated the latest diaries of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, as well as typescripts and audio memories of participants of the execution.
The foundation for this unique exhibition will be based largely on the same exhibit held at GARF in Moscow in June 2012. A comprehensive and richly illustrated catalogue was published for the Moscow exhibit.
For more information on the Moscow exhibit, please refer to the following articles at Royal Russia News:
A new exhibit in a new museum opens at the end of May at the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery in Jordanville. It features rare artifacts spanning four centuries of a culture that was once elusive to Americans.
The 'Russian Word and Image" exhibit starts in the 1500's. It features both secular and sacred pieces of history, including a complete collection of Pushkin's work, artifacts from the times of the Tsars, and post-revolutionary pieces.
One section of the exhibit holds a special place in the hearts of the descendants of Russian nobility. Their families were exiled from Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution.
From a blouse, worn by royalty, to an earring worn by an empress, to silverware used by the royal family, with the monogramming filed off by revolutionaries, the artifacts document pieces of history like the assassination of the last royal Russian family in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
The curator of the museum Rev. Vladimir von Tsurikov said, " Anything that had to do with pre-revolutionary Russia was destroyed."
That's why what remains of that era, is so special, and important to documenting history.
"A lot of cultural collections of pre-revolutionary Russia have survived very often in the U.S. because the Soviet Union in the 1930's undertook a large sale of cultural goods," Tsurikov said.
Other items were taken out of Russia by fleeing families.
Cyril Geancintov, phD, President of the Russian Nobility Association said, "It was organized many years ago by people like my parents, who escaped the communist regime."
Jordanville became a sort of a safe house to guard their stories.
" We'd like to have a place to put what we inherited from our parents," Geancintov said. "I have an icon from my grandmother, which was given to her by the Czarina in 1914 because she was running a hospital for people in World War I."
He said, what's happening today in the U.S. with a sort of negative feeling toward Russia, is a shame because Russian Americans have served in the U.S. government and military and consider themselves Americans.
Michael Pavlovich, Romanoff Ilyinksy is the great, great grandson of Tsar Alexander II. His great grandfather was Grand Duke Paul. His grandfather was Grand Duke Dmitri. His father was Prince Paul.
He says he's one of only two direct male descendants of the Tsar.
"It means a great deal," Ilyinsky said. "It's difficult to explain. being an American is so different from being a Russian in some respects...I'm very fortunate because my family's history is so well-documented."
Research Scholar and Staff Associate at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute Edward Kasinec has spent years studying Eastern European, and Eurasian history. Kasinec was also present at the special preview opening of the exhibit.
Kasinec said, "The Russians, in a sense, are the latest wave of newcomers to the Mohawk Valley and they bring great tradition of culture and art."
Kasinec is speaking of a long history of immigrants to the region.
The monastery has been in Jordanville for nearly a century, founded by monks who came with very little other than what they could use to create print, and iconography.
"Many individuals who left Russia, came with very little except their intellect and hard work," Kasinec said.
The monastery's museum is a sort of safety deposit box for the memories, the history, and the in-valuables that were able to make way this far.
It opens to the public on May 25th, and will have a regular schedule for viewing. It's one of the only private museums for the descendants of the Russian Royal family.
For more information on this unique exhibit and museum, please refer to the following articles:
Museum of Russian Icons Peeks into Romanov Cupboards Topic: Exhibitions
Copyright Notice - The following article was originally published in the May 3rd, 2014 edition of The Boston Globe. The author Sebastian Smee owns the copyright presented below.
The romance of the Romanov dynasty — in odor so like certain over-evolved orchids — has been affiliated, aptly enough, with fragile accessories forever. One thinks, above all, of the products of the House of Fabergé, but more generally of the decorative arts (particularly porcelain) produced specifically for the Romanovs between the 18th and early 20th centuries, when the dynasty came to its bloody and unambiguous end.
The Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton is currently hosting a show called “The Tsar’s Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Russian Decorative Arts Under the Romanovs” that’s filled with porcelain, as well as glass, lacquer, enamel, and other luxury materials.
Drawn from the private collection of consultant Kathleen Durdin (who, according to a biographical note in the show’s catalog, used to collect magazine advertisements that featured the Forbes Fabergé collection), the show summons the rich history of Romanov rule.
It comes to Clinton at the end of a five-venue tour of Canada and the United States. It was organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art, which is on the campus of the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Va., in collaboration with International Arts and Artists, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
The show is dense with text, most of it typed on object labels that sometimes seem to take up more space inside the glass cases than the objects themselves. But labels and objects together open up a fascinating period in history, and the show gets more compelling the further into it you advance.
Why the emphasis on porcelain?
A taste for fine Chinese and Japanese porcelains had developed in European courts in the 17th and early 18th centuries. It wasn’t until Johann Friedrich Böttger at Meissen, in Saxony, cracked the secret to making it (basically, kaolin clay baked at very high temperatures) that European courts were gradually relieved of the great expense of importing it in quantity, and instead began to compete with each other to produce their own porcelain products.
Elizabeth I of Russia was at the forefront of this push. With crucial technical breakthroughs imminent, she established a porcelain factory in 1746, and two years later, it began producing the real thing.
Grand banquets celebrating marriages, military victories, coronations, and diplomatic visits were regular occurrences at the time. Dining ware — especially porcelain services — played a leading role in establishing prevailing tastes, as well as communicating courtly magnificence and, not incidentally, national pride.
The story told by the various objects in this show is in large part a story of the Russian court’s seesawing sibling rivalry with its more sophisticated confreres in Europe. Under first Elizabeth I, then Catherine the Great, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III, and finally Nicholas II, Russia was nothing if not fickle in its affections for European culture, and many of the objects in this show express an ambivalence that continues to this day. (Hello, Ukraine).
Catherine the Great commissioned services (sets of matching dishes and utensils, often running into the hundreds or thousands) to accompany lavish meals cooked by French chefs, their designs and decorations clearly in thrall to the latest European styles (particularly classicism). But under succeeding czars these European styles alternate with proud reassertions of a unique Russian identity.
Nationalist pride came to the fore under Alexander I after the defeat of Napoleon. It’s hard to associate the image of Napoleon’s horrifically ragged retreat with gorgeously painted soup tureens, but one result of Russia’s defeat of the invaders was a surge in plates, tureens, salts, and chargers all proudly painted with Russian scenes, including views of St. Petersburg, and all manner of military images.
Nicholas I, his successor, had it both ways, commissioning new editions of old services in both Russian and European styles. And so it went — albeit with steadily diminishing returns. Alexander II, having lost the Crimea, and conscious of having inherited an empire in financial distress, showed little interest in porcelain. His son Alexander III and his successor Nicholas II commissioned only three services between them.
In many cases, it’s difficult to distinguish between designs that signify European cosmopolitanism and those that assert a more nationalist viewpoint, because the stylistic waters are constantly muddied by the Romanovs’ ambivalence, and trumped, moreover, by a more brutal prerogative — the glorification of Romanov power.
Many of the later objects, even as they conjure that power, are almost heartbreaking in their delicacy: a porcelain Easter egg painted with a red cross that was produced in the middle of the Great War (and one year before the Bolshevik Revolution); a lacquer cigarette case studded with small diamonds; a Fabergé cigar case in gilded silver and shaded cloisonne enamel, and inscribed with the words, “Dear Sasha from the person who loves him very much Leekee 1916.”
The show comes to an abrupt end with a porcelain plate produced by the Meissen factory in 1950, several decades after the Revolution. It’s painted in blue with a scene of revolutionary soldiers storming the Winter Palace in 1917.