I have just returned from an 8-day visit to Moscow, my first to the Russian capital in 8 years. The main purposes for my visit were to partake in the wonderful exhibitions marking the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty and to conduct research for the Royal Russia magazine and web site.
The highlights of my October 2013 visit to Moscow include:
The Petrovsky Palace
My personal interest in this palace is based on my fascination with the Coronation ceremonies of the Russian sovereigns. The palace was built during the reign of Catherine the Great, and it was here that all successive Russian monarchs stayed before their official entry into Moscow for their coronation in the Kremlin.
The palace is not open to the public, therefore I was very fortunate to receive a special VIP tour of the palace last Thursday. My three hour tour with the director of the palace included the grounds, the ground floor, which hosts a small museum on the history of the palace, one room of which contains items from the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896, and a scale model of the palace. A vestibule is dominated with majestic pillars and busts of all the Romanov monarchs who stayed in the palace, from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II.
The second floor includes a suite of rooms, all decorated with furniture reproduced from the original. I saw the room in which Napoleon stayed during his unwelcome visit in 1812, as well as the balcony in which he stood while watching Moscow burn.
I will be writing an extensive article on the history of the Petrovsky Palace, which will appear in the No. 5 (Winter 2014) issue of Royal Russia Annual, to be published in January 2014. The article will include my personal notes and photographs taken during my visit to the palace.
The Martha and Mary Convent
A beautiful spot that most visitors to Moscow are unaware. The secluded convent of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna hides behind a stone wall with latticed gates on Ulitsa Bolshaya Ordynka. Passing through an iron gate, one is transported into an island of peace and tranquility. The grounds are beautifully maintained, and a life-size monument to Saint Elizabeth is surrounded by flowers, left by Orthodox Christians who come to pray in the church.
The Holy Protection Cathedral has been restored, and inside, one can still see the wonderful frescoes by the renowned Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov. I purchased a candle from one of the sisters and went into a side chapel which contains icons of Saint Elizabeth and the Holy Royal Martyrs. It was here that I lit the candle and prayed, also taking time to reflect on the the grand duchess and her work among Moscow's less fortunate, which, by the way, continues to this day.
The convent also includes several other buildings including an interesting museum dedicated to the life and work of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. In 2009, the Convent published a blue leatherbound pictorial album, which contains beautiful high quality photographs of Ella, with text in Russian and English.
The Romanovs: Portrait of a Dynasty
The venue for this exhibition is the new War of 1812 Museum (the former City Duma in Tsarist days, and the Lenin Museum in Soviet times) on Red Square, and now part of the State Historical Museum.
The exhibition offers more than 400 works, including colour portraits, busts, miniatures, drawings and photographs of members of the Romanov dynasty. Arranged in chronological order, the exhibit tells the story of the portrait genre in Russia—from the early “parsuna” (secular portraits) of the 1670–80s (represented by a portrait of Tsars Mikhail Fedorovich and Alexei Mikhailovich), up to 70 original pre-revolutionary photographs of members of the Russian Imperial family (mostly the grand dukes and grand duchesses). This exhibition was beautifully presented, with descriptions in both Russian and English. An enormous hard cover exhibition catalogue (in Russian only) compliments this exhibit at 2500 Rubles!
The Coronations and Anointing of Russian Tsars and Emperors at the Moscow Kremlin
This large scale exhibition is spread over three floors in two separate buildings within the Kremlin. The 16th-17th centuries on the ground floor of the Assumption Belfry, the 18th-19th centuries on the ground and upper floor of the Patriarch Palace.
The exhibit is composed of almost 400 historical relics of high artistic merit, from pieces of state regalia to rarely seen archival documents, photographs and etchings, the exhibition is intended to reveal the atmosphere of coronations and consecration ceremonies in Russia as well as to explore the evolution of these solemn rituals throughout several centuries.
Of particular interest are the numerous coronation uniforms and dresses of Russian Emperors and Empresses. Also, the ceremonial uniforms of Cossacks, heralds, senators, etc. The sheer number of exhibits are both exhaustive and breathtaking, I spent an entire afternoon here!
For me personally, this exhibition is the most interesting and beautiful of all the Romanov themed exhibitions that I have attended over the years. The 2-volume catalogue is simply magnificent!
My visit to Moscow would not be complete without a visit to the Christ the Saviour Cathedral to see its stunning interiors, and the Tretyakov Gallery, my favourite art gallery in Russia, and the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world.
During my stay, I did a tremendous amount of research, compiling pages of notes, and more than 300 photographs, some of which are shown above. I look forward to sharing them with Royal Russia subscribers on my web site and blog, as well as the pages of Royal Russia Annual in the coming weeks and months ahead.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 23 October, 2013