A Russian Moment No. 63 - Nicholas II's 17th Costume from the 1903 Ball in the Winter Palace Topic: A Russian Moment
During my recent visit to Moscow in March, I took the opportunity to revisit the Armoury Museum located within the walls of the Kremlin. It is without question one of Russia’s finest museums, filled with treasures that will certainly appeal to any one with an interest in the Romanov dynasty.
Among the treasures is the 17th-century costume worn by Emperor Nicholas II at the famous luxurious ball held in the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg on February 11 and 13, 1903. All the visitors wore fancy dress of the 17th century, from the time of Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich (1629-1676), the second tsar from Romanov dynasty.
Nicholas II’s costume is on display in Room 6 of the museum, which houses a rich collection of secular and ceremonial costume. The tsar’s 1903 costume can be seen in Showcase 45, which also includes the dresses and uniforms worn by the empresses and emperors during their respective coronations. Among them are the uniform worn by Emperor Nicholas II, the dress and mantle worn by Empress Alexandra Feodorovna during their coronation held in May 1896.
His 17th-century costume and shashka (hat) are made from the finest materials and design: “velvet, brocade, silk, satin, leather, sable, gilded thread braid, gold, precious stones, pearls, weaving, braiding, casting, chasing, engravings, carving and enamel.”
During my visit to St. Petersburg in June 2014, I attended the exhibition, At the Russian Imperial Court, held in the State Hermitage Museum. Among the hundreds of costumes dating from the 18th to early 20th centuries were 10 original costumes worn by members of the Russian Imperial family and the aristocracy from the 1903 Costume Ball. These include Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Prince Dimitry Golitsyn, Princess Zinaida Yusupova, among others. On the reverse side of the display case hang 18 black and white portraits of others in attendance at the historic ball. To date it is one of the finest Romanov themed exhibitions which I have ever had the privilege to view.
This stunning aerial view of Red Square in Moscow was taken from a series of pictures of Moscow taken with a drone by photographer Amos Chapple.
Amos notes in The Telegraph: "I had been commissioned by a Russian book company to photograph various landmarks of Moscow. The view of Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral had been discussed but permission to fly the drone above the Kremlin was ruled out because I was a foreign citizen.
"The area around the Kremlin is crawling with police and undercover FSB agents who walk around with beanies and tracksuits and introduce themselves as "KGB" if they don't like what you're doing.
"I desperately wanted to attempt the picture so over the course of two days I scoped out the area and eventually settled on a spot which was tucked just out of sight of the nearby police.
"I waited for a burst of traffic to block the noise of the drone on the way up, but it was far slower on the way down and I ended up snatching the drone out of the air and running through the alleyways to get away.
"It was risky, but so much history has walked through that space I just couldn't resist".
The photograph shows some of the most famous buildings in and around Red Square: St. Basil’s Cathedral, GUM Department Store, the Resurrection Gate and Iberian Chapel, the State Historical Museum and Lenin’s Mausoleum. Also visible is the Spasskaya (Saviour) Tower, which can be seen to the left of St. Basil's Cathedral. The tower is currently under restoration. President Vladimir Putin has proposed that once complete that it be open to visitors offering alternative access to the Kremlin.
It is the large yellow and white building in the left hand side of the photograph which I would like to draw to your attention. This is the Kremlin Presidium or "Building 14" which was constructed on the site of the former Chudov Monastery, the Small Nicholas Palace and the Ascension Convent. These beautiful historic buildings, rich in Russian and Orthodox history were demolished in 1929-1930 to make room for the new Kremlin Presidium.
The enormous structure is a relatively recent addition to the Kremlin ensemble. It was built by the architect Ivan Rerberg in 1934. In the 1930s it housed a Military College; however, it soon moved to a more spacious location and the Secretariat of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was located there in the 1930s.
In 1958, part of the building was even rebuilt as part of the Kremlin Theater, but the building was not equipped for large events from the very beginning; moreover it was located in the Kremlin’s administrative zone, which made receiving large numbers of spectators more difficult. So in 1961 the idea was rejected. At the end of the Soviet period in 1991, then-president Mikhail Gorbachev allocated part of the building to Boris Yeltsin, who shortly thereafter was elected president of the Russian Federation (then within the framework of the Soviet Union). After the collapse of the USSR, Building 14 returned to the spotlight – Russian presidents’ press conferences were held there periodically through 2008.
In August 2014, President Vladimir Putin, in a conversation with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, suggested demolishing Building 14 altogether, and reconstructing the Chudov Monastery and Ascension Convent in its place.
For the past few years, Building 14 has been draped with a large yellow linen poster depicting the Soviet structure hidden behind it. During my recent visit to Moscow in March 2015, I can confirm that construction had come to a grinding halt. The final decision on the buildings fate remains in limbo as the Russian government and UNESCO review plans for the reconstruction of the lost monastery and convent. On a personal note, I believe it is the moral responsibility of the current Russian administration to resurrect these historic monuments which were wantonly destroyed by their Soviet predecessors.
For more information on the proposed reconstruction of the Chudov Monastery and the Ascension Convent, please refer to the following articles in the Royal Russia web site and blog:
A Russian Moment No. 61 - Iconostasis of the Ascension Convent, Moscow Kremlin Topic: A Russian Moment
The grand six-tier iconostasis of the Ascension (Voznesensky) Convent has been preserved to the present day
in the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles in the former Patriarch’s Palace of the Moscow Kremlin
The Ascension (Voznesensky) Convent was founded at the beginning of the 15th century very near the Spassky (Saviour's) Gate of the Moscow Kremlin. Over the centuries, many of the wives and sisters of the Moscow grand princes found peace in the Ascension Convent, which was one of the most famous and respected convents in Russia.
In Soviet times religious buildings in Russia were ruthlessly destroyed or reconfigured as warehouses, museums or archives. In 1929, this destiny also befell the Ascension Convent in the Kremlin to make way for a military training facility. Its demolition caused unprecedented opposition within society and well-known figures from around the world wrote letters to Stalin. However, despite the outcry, the monastery was demolished. Today its previous location in the Kremlin is recalled as an empty rectangle next to Spasskaya Tower.
However, few know that the historic iconostasis of the Ascension Convent has been preserved to the present day. Despite having little time to save the church’s cultural valuables, the employees of the Armoury Museum managed to save the grand six-tier iconostasis, created around 1679. It was moved to the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles in the former Patriarch’s Palace of the Moscow Kremlin, where it can be seen during a visit to the Kremlin.
In August 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the reconstruction of the Ascension Convent and the nearby Chudov Monastery. As of January 2015, the decision remains unresolved, and during my recent visit to Moscow in March, I can confirm that work on the Kremlin Presidium or "Building 14" which was constructed on the site of the Chudov and Ascension monasteries had come to a grinding halt. The fate of the reconstruction of these historic buildings now rests with UNESCO and the Russian government.
A Russian Moment No. 60 - Ostrovsky (Alexandrinskaya) Square, St. Petersburg Topic: A Russian Moment
Alexandrinskaya Square was renamed Ostrovsky Square in 1923
Ostrovsky Square is one of 13 squares designed by Carlo Rossi (1775-1849), the major architect in St Petersburg of the early 19th century. The square faces Nevsky Prospekt, and is surrounded by numerous historical buildings, including the Alexandrinsky Theatre. Both the square and the magnificent Empire style theatre were named after the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Emperor Nicholas I. To the east is the garden and pavilions of the Anichkov Palace. To the west is the multicolumn Russian National Library. In 1923, the square was renamed in honour of the Russian playwright Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-1886).
Situated in the center of Ostrovsky Square is Catherine’s Garden and St. Petersburg’s only monument to Empress Catherine II. Built in 1873, the monument is endowed with the symbols of power (sceptre and laurel crown) and surrounded by Catherine’s favourites: Alexander Suvorov, perhaps the most famous general in Russian history, Prince Potemkin, the general and politician, Ekaterina Dashkova, the first woman to chair the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the celebrated poet Gavrila Derzhavin.. This statue escaped the fury of the Soviet government, which toppled all the other ones of the empress after the 1917 Revolution.
A Russian Moment No. 59 - Bip Castle (Marienthal), Pavlovsk Topic: A Russian Moment
A bridge leads to the beautifully restored Bip Castle (Marienthal) in Pavlovsk Park
Bip Castle, also known as Paul’s Fortress or Bastion of Emperor Paul I, was built during the years 1795 to 1797 by order of Emperor Paul I, on the site of the former Marienthal Palace. This architectural whim of the son of Empress Catherine II is situated at the fork of the Slav and Tyzva rivers in the southern section of Pavlovsk park.
Soon after his ascension to the throne, Emperor Paul I issued a decree allocating 6,100 rubles for the construction of Paul’s Fortress, by the architect Vincenzo Brenna in 1795, construction lasted two years.
Theatrical in concept, the castle consisted of a two-storey pentagonal building with courtyard. It was surrounded by a wide moat, across which a single drawbridge provided access. Three towers, each more flamboyant than the last, lent it a bellicose air, which was reinforced by the daily—and grandiose—ceremony of the changing of the guard. The building was surrounded by fortifications constructed under the supervision of a military engineer Caus, including bastions, ravelins, lunettes and flushes. The castle was also equipped with 28 guns.
On April 19, 1798, Bip Castle was ranked by the St. Petersburg Engineering Department and, thus, was included in the military registry of fortresses of the Russian Empire. There was a military garrison stationed here, regular service was established, the cannon fired at noon and the drawbridge was raised at sunset. In the basement, the castle had its own guardhouse for military personnel who committed an offence.
On June 15, 1811, the castle was removed from the Engineering Department list and used for civilian purposes - as the country's first school for the deaf (1807-1810), a military hospital (1833-1834), the Alexander school (1835-1851) , parish and city school (early 20th century).
After the October revolution, the castle was occupied by the Board of Deputies. In October 1919, it served as the headquarters of General Yudenich. From the mid-1920s to 1941, the castle served as an orphanage, then a bank, a recruitment office and other warehouses.
During World War II, the castle burned to the ground during the Soviet offensive of 1944. For the next six decades, it was completely neglected as a romantic ruin on the outskirts of the once glorious Pavlovsk.
In the mid-2000s, the castle underwent a complete reconstruction and restoration, and today is used as a private hotel and restaurant.
Two Easter eggs, currently on display at the Moscow Kremlin exposition, Map of Russia. Milestones in History, were produced by the famous Fabergé firm. The one with a model of Trans-Siberian express inside is engraved with a map of the Russian state showing the Trans-Siberian Railway. The other one, commissioned to a renowned craftsman Henrik Wigström (1862-1923) to commemorate the tercentenary of the Romanov House, contains a rotating globe with silhouettes of Russia of 1613 and 1913, demonstrating the extension of its boundaries throughout several centuries.
The Easter egg seen in the photo above, depicts a model of the Trans-Siberian express. It was created in St. Petersburg in 1900 by the Fabergé craftsman Michael Evlampievitch Perchin (1860-1903). It is made of gold, platinum, silver, precious stones, silk, onyx, crystal, velvet, wood; casting, enamel, engraving, filigree, granulation, guilloche, embossing. This magnificent Imperial Easter egg was presented by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna for Easter 1900.
The Moscow Kremlin Armoury currently has ten Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs in it’s collection. They form the largest number of Imperial eggs, and the second-largest overall Fabergé eggs, owned by a single owner.
A Russian Moment No. 57 - Portrait of Empress Catherine I, Ekaterinburg Topic: A Russian Moment
The image of the Empress Catherine I (1684-1727) can now be seen on the sidewall of a five-story building in the Ural city of Ekaterinburg. The mural was painted by the Russian artist Maxim Revansh.
Ekaterinburg was founded in 1723 by Vasily Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, today it is the capital of the Central Urals. Contrary to popular opinion, the city's name (which translates as "Catherine's City") is not due to Empress Catherine II ("the Great"), but an earlier Catherine. Empress Catherine I was the second wife of Tsar Peter the Great, and it was her practical good sense which helped establish this important industrial and mining center - so Peter named the city in her honour.
Empress Catherine I, was born Marfa Samuilovna Skavronskaya; 15 April [O.S. 5 April] 1684. Catherine and Peter married secretly in 1707. They had twelve children, two of whom survived into adulthood. In 1724 Catherine was officially crowned and named co-ruler.
Peter died (28 January 1725 Old Style) without naming a successor. In a meeting of a council to decide on a successor, a coup was arranged by Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov and others in which the guards regiments with whom Catherine was very popular proclaimed her the ruler of Russia, giving her the title of Empress
Catherine was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia, opening the legal path for a century almost entirely dominated by women, including her daughter Elizabeth and Catherine the Great, all of whom continued Peter the Great's policies in modernizing Russia. For most of her reign, Catherine I was controlled by her advisers, however, the peasantry led to the reputation of Catherine I as a just and fair ruler. In general, Catherine's policies were reasonable and cautious. The story of her humble origins was considered by later generations of tsars to be a state secret.
Empress Catherine I was also the first royal owner of the Tsarskoye Selo estate, where the Catherine Palace still bears her name.
She died on 17 May [O.S. 6 May] 1727), just two years after Peter, at age 43, in St. Petersburg, where she was buried at St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress.
A Russian Moment No. 56 - Monument to His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment, Tsarskoye Selo Topic: A Russian Moment
In 2003, a granite monument to His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment was installed on the south side of the park which surrounds St. Sophia Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo. A plaque commemorating the His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment was consecrated on June 10th of the same year by the Metropolitan of St Petersburg and Ladoga Vladimir. The monument was installed in accordance with the program of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation with the support of the administration of St. Petersburg. Funding for the monument was made possible thanks to the Baltic Construction Company.
The monument is a three-level composition. The first level - three-step pedestal. The second level - the middle part of the mark on which the information elements. On the central front faces of the pyramid is the regimental badge, made of porcelain, and includes the monogram of Emperor Nicholas II. On the side faces - bronze plaque with a description of the regiment and its militant form. On the back side - bronze plaque with sculptural reliefs depicting a ceremonial regiment in Paris in 1814. In the final, the third level of the monument, the central rectangular facade is the emblem of the Russian Army, made of gilded porcelain.
The history of the Hussar Life Guards Regiment (from 1855 His Majesty’s Regiment), dates back to the Life Hussar Squadron, formed in 1775, which in 1796 was incorporated into the Cossack Life Hussar Regiment, in 1798 was formed into its own regiment; enjoyed privileges of the Old Guards, consisted of 2 to 5 squadron battalions, in 1802 was re-formed into a 5-squadron unit. Participated in the wars with France of 1799, 1805, 1806-07, 1812-14, in the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1828-29 and 1877-78, in suppressing of the Polish Uprising of 1830-31. From 1802 the regiment was stationed in Pavlovsk and Krasnoe Selo, from 1814 – in Tsarskoe Selo, (hence the informal name “hussars of Tsarskoe Selo – tsarskoselsky hussars”).
The barracks were situated in the neighbourhood bordered by Volkonskaya (now Parkovaya), Sofiyskaya, Furazhnaya, Gussarskaya, Stesselevskaya (now Krasnoy Zvezdy Street) and Gospitalnaya Streets.
From 1817, Emperor Alexander I decreed St. Sophia Cathedral (the traditional name of the Holy Ascension Cathedral) the regimental church of the Hussar Life Guard Regiment and the regiment trophies and treasures were kept there. From 1855 reigning emperors were the regiment’s patrons, future Emperors Alexander II and Nicholas II commenced their service in its ranks. During WW I 1914-18 the regiment within the 2d Guards Cavalry Division was dispatched to the North-Western front. His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment was disbanded in early 1918.
A Russian Moment No. 55 - Chinese Palace, Oranienbaum Topic: A Russian Moment
Situated at Oranienbaum, the Chinese Palace erected in 1762-1768 by Antonio Rinaldi for Empress Catherine II. It is considered one of the finest monuments of 18th century architecture. From the outside, the palace is a relatively simple building, single-storey except for the small central pavilion.
The seventeen rooms inside, each of them is original in character were decorated by Rinaldi and other leading artists and craftsmen of the day. They feature pink, blue and green scagliola, painted silks, and intricate stucco work. Rinaldi's parquet floors are wonderfully ornate and of immense value, using fifteen types of rare Russian and imported wood.
Among the highlights of the Chinese Palace interiors are the recently restored Glass Beaded Salon, the walls of which are hung with 12 panels of richly coloured tapestries depicting exotic birds and fauna. The fine white glass beads that form the backdrop of the tapestries give the whole room a diaphanous, shimmering quality that was designed to be particularly effective in the glowing twilight of the White Nights.
The full influence of Chinoiserie is in evidence in the Large Chinese Salon, where the walls are covered with marquetry paneling of wood and walrus ivory depicting oriental landscapes, and large Chinese lanterns hanging in the corners. The room also contains an English-made billiard table with superb wood carving.
After the October Revolution the palace and park ensembles of Oranienbaum were nationalized. In the Chinese Palace there was opened a museum housing a collection of eighteenth century applied art. During World War II, from September 1941 to January 19, 1944 Oranienbaum was cut from Nazi troops, becoming an isolated stronghold. Defenders of Oranienbaum saved both the palaces and their works of art.
In recent years, the palace has undergone some extensive restorations giving the palace a new life. The Chinese Palace is the only Romanov palace outside of St. Petersburg spared the destruction that many of the other Romanov palaces suffered during Second World War, making it of immense artistic and historic value.
A Russian Moment No. 54 - Hanging Garden, Small Hermitage Topic: A Russian Moment
The Hanging Garden of the Small Hermitage was laid out by the order of Empress Catherine II on the first floor over the imperial stables. It's intricate irrigation system provided water for growing trees and shrubs on the stables' roof. Placed amidst its luxuriant vegetation were white marble statues and a fountain.
In May of 1942 the lilac bushes no longer flourished in the Hanging Garden. After the previous winter when many citizens of Leningrad had suffered terribly from starvation, the Hermitage staff dug vegetable beds in place of flower beds, lilac and honeysuckle shrubs.
In recent years the Hanging Garden has been beautifully restored and now offers an oasis of colour and fragrance amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy museum.