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Monday, 31 March 2014
A Russian Moment No 34 - Peterhof
Topic: A Russian Moment

Aerial view of the palaces and churches of Peterhof. Photo © Amos Chapple
This stunning aerial view of Peterhof showcases some of the city’s most beautiful architectural monuments, all set in a beautiful fairytale like winter scene. In the foreground is the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral - a superb example of Russian Revival architecture. Construction of the cathedral began in 1894, a year after the plans were approved by Emperor Alexander III himself. 

In the background is the expansive Grand Palace (upper left) flanked by the Church of Saints Peter and Paul or Grand Palace Church. The single golden dome on the left or Western wing of the palace is known as the Double-Headed Eagle Pavilion. Today, it houses the Special Treasury, a museum of jewels and imperial treasures from Peter the Great to Nicholas II. The Special Treasury contains over 800 priceless objects, including a special section recreating a workshop of the House of Faberge, displaying some of the fabulous creations of this famous jewellery firm.

The long building (upper right) is the Benois Family Museum-House. Built in 1854, the palace is now a museum (opened in 1988) offering a unique exposition which presents the diverse phenomena of Russian and world artistic life of the second half of the 19th - early 20th centuries. It consists of beautiful, sculptural and graphic works, theatrical-decorative art objects, architectural projects, rare photographs and original items belonging to the most famous representatives of several generations of the Benois dynasty. Among those are such names as the talented painter and theatrical designer, creator of works on the history of Russian and world art, Alexander Benois, the watercolor virtuoso Albert Benoit, and the architect Leonti Benois. 

The street that the Benois Family Museum-House is situated leads to the Alexandria Park nearby. The park contains the Gothic Chapel, the Farm Palace, the Alexandria Dacha, and the ruins of the Lower Dacha. Visitors are required to pay admission to the park, as well as the respective museums. 

In the background one can see the Gulf of Finland. During the summer months, one can journey from St. Petersburg to Peterhof by hydrofoil, arriving at the pier which jets out into the water. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 31 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:54 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 31 March 2014 11:16 AM EDT
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Friday, 7 March 2014
A Russian Moment No 33 - The Monument to the Millennium of Russia, Novgorod
Topic: A Russian Moment

The Monument to the Millennium of Russia consists of 129 individual figures representing Russian monarchs, clerics, generals, and artists 
The Monument to the Millennium of Russia, standing at the centre of Novgorod, was unveiled on September 8, 1862. It was erected to celebrate the millennium of Rurik's arrival to Novgorod, an event traditionally taken as a starting point of Russian history. The bronze monument is the work of Mikhail Mikeshin, an eminent Russian sculptor active in the second half of the 19th century.

The monument consists of a grandiose, 15.7-metre-high bell crowned by a cross symbolizing the tsar's power. The bell is encircled with several tiers of sculptures, 129 individual figures representing Russian monarchs, clerics, generals, and artists active during various periods of Russian history.

The kneeling figure in the upper tier of the monument personifies Russia. Below, around the sphere, there are six groups symbolizing different periods of Russian history up to the first quarter of the 18th century. Represented, among others, are Prince Rurik who, according to legend, was invited in 862 to rule Novgorodian lands; Princes Vladimir, Dmitry Donskoi, Tsars Ivan III, Mikhail I and Peter I. 

The high-relief frieze in the lower tier of the memorial depicts military heroes, statesmen, educators, poets, writers and artists - 109 figures altogether. Here one can see the chronicler Nestor, Princes Yaroslav the Wise and Alexander the Nevsky, the Ukrainian hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky, the founder of the Russian theatre Volkov, the satirical writer Fonvizin, the composer Glinka, the poets Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Pushkin, Lermontov, the historian Karamzin, and the artist Karl Briullov. 

The most expensive Russian monument up to that time, it was erected at a cost of 400,000 roubles, mostly raised by public subscription. In order to provide an appropriate pedestal for the huge sculpture, sixteen blocks of Sortavala granite were brought to Novgorod, each weighing in excess of 35 tons. The bronze monument itself weighs 100 tons.

During the World War II , the Nazis dismantled the monument and prepared it for transportation to Germany. Luckily, they never succeeded to accomplish this plan. After Novgorod's liberation, the monument was restored and in November 1944 once again unveiled to the public. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 07 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:36 AM EST
Updated: Friday, 7 March 2014 6:51 AM EST
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Saturday, 1 March 2014
A Russian Moment No 32 - Jordan Staircase, Winter Palace
Topic: A Russian Moment

A stunning view of the Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace
In the 18th century the main staircase in the Winter Palace was known as the Ambassadorial Staircase because the envoys of foreign countries ascended it when going to the palace for official receptions.

Later the staircase received the name of the Jordan Staircase. It was on the Feast of the Epiphany that the Tsar descended this imperial staircase for the ceremony of the "Blessing of the Waters" of the Neva River, a celebration of Christ's baptism in the Jordan River. The staircase is one the few parts of the palace retaining the original 18th-century style. The massive grey granite columns, however, were added in the mid 19th century.

The staircase was badly damaged by a fire that swept the palace in 1837, but Emperor Nicholas I ordered the architect in charge of reconstruction, Vasily Stasov, to restore the staircase using Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli's original plans. Stasov made two small changes: he replaced the original gilt bronze handrails with white marble and the original pink columns with gray granite.

Starting from the Main Gallery, the white marble staircase divides into two flights meeting again on the level of the first floor. The ten solid columns of Serdobolye granite support the vaults of the staircase. Full of light and gleaming with gilding and mirrors, the staircase extends for the whole height of the Winter Palace. 

The stair hall, which has an 18th-century ceiling depicting the Gods at Olympus, is decorated with alabaster statues of Wisdom and Justice by Terebenev; Grandeur and Opulence by Ustinov; Fidelity and Equity by Leppe; and Mercury and Mars by Manuylov. At the centre of the first landing is an anonymous 18th-century marble sculpture, Allegory of the State.

During state receptions and functions the Jordan Staircase was a focal point for arriving guests. After entering the palace through the Ambassadors' entrance, in the central courtyard, they would pass through the colonnaded Jordan Hall, located on the ground floor before mounting the gilded Imperial staircase to the state apartments. Following a ball at the Winter Palace in 1902, The Duchess of Sutherland wrote: "The stairs of the palace were guarded by cossacks, with hundreds of footmen in scarlet liveries, I have never in my life seen so brilliant a sight—the light, the uniforms, the enormous rooms, the crowd, the music, making a spectacle that was almost Barbaric."

Today, as part of the State Hermitage Museum, this room retains its original decoration. In 2011, the Jordan received a much needed facelift. Specialists renewed marble decorations and sculptures, managing to preserve the old gilding of decorative components. The lighting of the staircase proved to be one of the most challenging tasks for architects. The entrance to the building appearance now resembles the architectural concept dating back to its 1830s original. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 01 March. 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:46 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 1 March 2014 12:02 PM EST
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Tuesday, 11 February 2014
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. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 11 February, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:55 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 14 February 2014 1:27 PM EST
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Sunday, 26 January 2014
A Russian Moment No 30 - The Palace of Peter the Great, Strelna
Topic: A Russian Moment

The wooden travelling palace of Peter the Great situated along the Peterhof Highway, not far from the Konstantin Palace at Strelna
In 1710 Peter the Great ordered to build an estate at the Strelin Farmstead (now Strelna). It was here that the tsar originally intended to create a grandiose palace and park ensemble to rival that of Versailles. Problems with the local terrain, however, forced him to abandon these plans and move further down the coast where he constructed the Grand Palace and park at Peterhof.

The estate was constructed in 1711-17, and consisted of a small palace, a church, hothouses, vegetable gardens, an apiary and nurseries. The wooden palace, designed by Jean-Baptiste Le Blond, was designed as a travelling palace for its use by Peter (and later by Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine the Great) for rest on the way from St. Petersburg to Peterhof and Kronstadt. 

The Palace of Peter the Great includes a central two-storey building with two attached wings. The palace is adorned by a six-column portico supporting a balcony and lending the building an imposing view overlooking the Gulf of Finland. 

The original palace consisted of two halls and eight rooms. In 1749-50 the architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli reconstructed the palace. In 1786 the former imperial residence came into the possession of the War Ministry and was used to house a military hospital. In 1837-39 the architect Christian Meyer reconstructed the palace. From the 19th century it was used as a hospital up until the Second World War. 

During World War II the wooden palace of Peter the Great at Strelna suffered extensive damage resulting in many of the original architectural elements being lost. It was reconstructed in the 1950s and used as a kindergarten and nursery. In 1987 the estate became a branch of the Peterhof State Museum-Preserve and restoration work began there. The lost details of the decor of the building were restored, its overall layout was recreated and twelve of its interiors were redecorated. In the summer of 1999 the Palace-Museum of Peter the Great opened its doors to visitors. 

Today there is a permanent display on the ground floor that recreates the interiors of the 18th and 19th centuries. During my last visit to the palace about 10 years ago, the museum also included a permanent exhibition on the Konstantinovichi branch of the Romanov dynasty, who owned the magnificent Konstantin Palace at Strelna nearby. In 1797, Strelna was granted to Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich (second son of Paul I) and his wife Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna. After Konstantin's death in 1831, the palace passed to his nephew, Grand Duke Konstantin Nicholayevich (second son of Emperor Nicholas I). The Konstantinovichi branch retained ownership of the Konstantin Palace up until the Revolution, the last owner being Grand Duke Dmitri Konstantinovich (1860-1919).
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 26 January, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:24 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 26 January 2014 10:10 AM EST
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Tuesday, 21 January 2014
A Russian Moment 29 - Emperor Nicholas II Opening the Livadia Palace, Yalta
Topic: A Russian Moment

Emperor Nicholas II Opening the Livadia Palace by Sergei Bocharov
This beautiful painting is the work of Russian artist, Sergei Bocharov. It was unveiled for the first time at Livadia who played host to an exhibition which showcased the artist’s work in September of last year. The canvas shows the Emperor Nicholas II at the official opening of the Livadia Palace on September 14th 1911, surrounded by no less than 250 figures.
In the foreground, the Emperor Nicholas II is accompanied by the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, their four daughters, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, as well as their only son and heir, Tsearevich Alexei Nicholayevich. To the right of the August Couple is the architect of the Livadia Palace, Nikolay Krasnov (1864-1939).

Bocharov is a member of the Artists’ Union and the Union of Cinematographers of Russia.  He is a professor of painting, and the recipient of numerous international awards, such as the Grand Prix Award in France and Italy, and the recipient of the Golden Brush Award in Paris.

Sergei Bocharov has painted portraits of King Olaf of Norway, President Kim Il Sung of North Korea, Gianni Versace, Elton John, Luciano Pavarotti, Vladimir Vysotsky and many other celebrities.

Bocharov notes that Yalta is his “favourite place on earth”.  His solo exhibition at Livadia in September 2013 coincided with the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 21 January, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:11 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 21 January 2014 1:13 PM EST
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Saturday, 18 January 2014
A Russian Moment 28 - Monument to Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, St. Petersburg
Topic: A Russian Moment

The monument to the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich (1866-1933) at the Krestovsky Yacht Club in St. Petersburg. The monument was created by the famous Russian sculptor, Albert Charkin, and shows the grand duke looking out onto the Gulf of Finland. The famous St. Petersburg artist has always had an interest in Russian history, particularly those individuals who devoted themselves in the name of the Fatherland. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Prince Dmitry Romanovich (born 1926) on July 12th, 2012.

Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich is remembered for his outstanding service to Russia's army, navy and air force during the Tsarist years. Alexander or "Sandro" as he was known to members of the Russian Imperial family, also served as a trustee of the yacht club in the late 19th century.

Grand Duke Alexander, was the son of the Grand Duke Mikhail Nicholayevich and Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna. In 1894, he married the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, eldest daughter of the Emperor Alexander III and the Empress Maria Feodorovna. The couple had seven children, many of whose descendants are alive today. He was one of the few grand dukes to have escaped the Red Terror in which many members of the Romanov family were murdered by the Bolsheviks. 

During his years in exile in Paris, Alexander penned his memoirs in two volumes: Once a Grand Duke (1932) and Always a Grand Duke (1935), among other books on royalty. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 18 January, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:00 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 18 January 2014 11:15 AM EST
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Monday, 13 January 2014
A Russian Moment 27 - Romanov Restaurant, Tobolsk
Topic: A Russian Moment

The ceiling of the Romanov Restaurant in Tobolsk is highlighted with a beautiful cartouche depicting Tsar Nicholas II and his family
The Siberian city of Tobolsk is becoming increasing popular with tourists who come in search of the city's Romanov connection. It is considered one of Russia's most beautiful and best preserved cities, rich in architecture dating from the tsarist period. It is home to numerous churches, and a Romanov museum which is housed in the former governor’s mansion. It is here that the last Imperial family were held in captivity from August 1917 to April 1918. 

The Hotel Slavyanskaya offers visitors comfortable accommodations and dining. The famous Romanov Restaurant combines 19th century style Russian cuisine, a modern European level of service and a museum to the Tsar and his family.

The Romanov hall accommodates up to 80 on two different levels. A beautifully decorated stairway, the handrails covered with gold mosaic, leads to the upper circle, The decor is in light golden-beige tones showing aspects of Royal life. On the ceiling there is an oval cartouche with a group portrait of Nicolas II and his family. The walls are covered with panels draped in costly fabrics. The classical portieres give a grandiose, palace look to the hall. Corinthian columns with gilt capitals highlight the palace interior. The stylized monogram of Nicholas II is present in many elements of decor, utensils, services, napkins, cloths, etc. A large mirror in a carved gilt frame extends the space. The restored ivory coloured grand piano by F. Mulhbach fits harmoniously into the palatial interior. The whole hall is decorated with heraldic symbols. The large equestrian portrait of Nicolas II in the foyer creates a regal atmosphere where the luxury of the interior combines in harmony with the practical content.

Everything here allows guests to reflect on the extraordinary Tsarist period of Russian history.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 13 January, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:19 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 13 January 2014 4:55 PM EST
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Sunday, 5 January 2014
A Russian Moment 26 - Portrait Gallery of the Romanov Dynasty, State Hermitage Museum
Topic: A Russian Moment

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is now home to one of the world’s largest repositories of art, however, there are few reminders that this museum once served as the main residence (the Winter Palace) of the Russian Imperial family in the former Russian capital. The private apartments of the tsars and their families did not survive, however, we are reminded of their grandiose legacy in the State Halls and other interiors which are preserved till the present. Of particular interest is a magnificent gallery of portraits which every visitor to the Hermitage should make a point of seeing. Located on the first floor, the Portrait Gallery of the Romanov Dynasty can be accessed through either the Concert Hall or Great Nicholas Hall.

The interior, previously known as the Pompeiian Gallery, was designed by Vasily Stasov after the fire of 1837. In 1886 the gallery was redecorated by the court architect Nikolai Gornostayev and used to display paintings. Today, the gallery features portraits of the Russian Tsars, representatives of the Romanov dynasty, from Peter the Great, the founder of the Russian Empire, to the last Emperor Nicholas II. 

I visit St. Petersburg every year, and always make a point of spending an afternoon at the State Hermitage Museum. This wonderful gallery is always on my agenda. The museum has provided comfortable velvet-cushioned benches for visitors to sit while taking in the majesty of these portraits. Among my personal favourites of the collection are a series of portraits of the daughters of Emperor Nicholas I, by the Scottish-born portrait painter, Christina Robertson (1796-1854) who spent many years at the Russian Imperial Court in St. Petersburg. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 05 January, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 9:11 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 5 January 2014 9:33 AM EST
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Saturday, 28 December 2013
A Russian Moment 25 - The Vladimir Palace, Tsarskoye Selo
Topic: A Russian Moment

The former palace of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich at Tsarskoye Selo
Situated on Sadovaya ulitsa, in one of the oldest part of Tsarskoye Selo, not far from the Catherine Palace stands a small, yet elegant palace which resembles a classic Italian villa - the Reserve Palace.

The land in which the palace sits was presented by Tsar Alexander I to Prince Viktor Pavlovich Kochubey, in 1816. Alexander I was personally involved in the design of the palace, involving the construction of architects, first, Adam Menelaws (1753-1831) and later, Vasily Stasov (1769-1848). Many original drawings retain the mark of the Emperor's Hand. The construction of the palace was carried out between 1817 - 1824. 

The Kochubeys, who had five children traveled from their house on the English Embankment in St. Petersburg to their country palace at Tsarskoye Selo for the summer. In 1834, Emperor Nicholas I, appointed Viktor Pavlovich Chancellor of the State, but in June the same year he died suddenly of an angina attack on the way to his estate at Dikan'ka. After his death, the palace was purchased for the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich (the grandson of the Emperor), who was only 4 years old at the time.

At the end of 1858 the palace was bought by the Office of the Ministry of Court and in 1859 became officially named Tsarskoye Selo Reserve Palace.

In 1875, the Reserve Palace came into the possession of the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909), son of Tsar Alexander II. Vladimir commanded the St. Petersburg Military District, was a highly educated man, and well versed in the arts.

After a fire in 1867, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich ordered a restoration of the palace, employing the services of the Russian architect, Alexander Fomichev Vidov (1829-1896). In 1909, after the owner's death, the palace passed to his widow, the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. She had a bronze bust of her husband erected near the palace, and in 1910 permission was granted by Emperor Nicholas II to rename the Vladimir Palace .

After the 1917 Revolution, the palace was nationalized by the Bolsheviks. During World War II the palace was badly damaged, and reconstructed in the 1950s. In  the 1990s, the Vladimir Palace became part of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Preserve,  however, in July 2008, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko ordered the palace be restored and designated as the Pushkin Wedding Palace. In 2009, the Prime Minister of Russia signed a decree which transferred ownership of the palace to St. Petersburg. On June 24, 2010, the day marking the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo, the newly restored Vladimir Palace hosted the opening of a new Palace of Weddings with the solemn registration and ceremonies of the first three couples. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 28 December, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:27 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 28 December 2013 6:41 AM EST
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