The Romanovs and Photography:
Tsarskoye Selo Hosts Unique Exhibition

Video © Tsarskoye Selo Palace Museum-Preserve. Language: Russian. Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

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Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia and Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark on their wedding day in the Portrait Hall of the Catherine Palace.
Photo by L. Gorodetsky, 1902. Photo © Tsarskoye Selo Palace Museum-Preserve.

An unusual exhibition was unveiled in a place near St. Petersburg called Tsarskoe Selo, which used to be a summer residence of Russian emperors.

The exhibition consists mainly of photos of representatives of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs – and photos made by the Romanovs themselves.

It is small wonder that the Russian tsars and members of their families often had their photographs taken. However, today, only few people know that many of the Romanovs were devoted photographers themselves. Moreover, they even were trendsetters in the art of photography in Russia. The exhibition takes place in a pavilion which once used to be the royal family’s bathhouse. Besides lots of photographs, the exhibition also presents camera devices from the 19th and the early 20th centuries, military uniform, ladies’ dresses and furniture of that epoch.

The first photograph in the world was made by a Frenchman called Joseph Nicephore Niepce on a sheet of tin, in 1826. In 1839, another Frenchman, Jacques Daguerre, invented a more perfect technique of making photos on sheets of brass covered with silver. Thus, what is now called photography was initially called “daguerreotype”, after Daguerre.

In Russia, photography became popular in the time of Emperor Nicholas I, who reigned from 1825 till 1855. Since the 1840s, Nicholas and his family had several court photographers, who highlighted their public life. The majority of their photos were published in the press.

The laying of the Realschule foundation stone in Tsarskoye Selo on 5th of May, 1901.
Tsarskoye Selo Photographic Studio K.E. von Gann & Co.
© Tsarskoye Selo Palace Museum-Preserve.

The last Russian emperor Nicholas II was a very good photographer himself. The director of the Tsarskoe Selo Museum Larisa Bardovskaya says:

“When photography first appeared in Russia, the majority of people, who wanted to have photos of themselves, came to a photographer and said: “Please make me look as beautiful as possible!” They posed to the photographer like they would have posed to a painter. However, Nicholas II’s ideas about the art of photography were quite different.”

“The court photographers of the last Russian tsar – Karl Bulla, Wilhelm Lapre and Karl von Hahn – were the best artists of photography of that time. They didn’t glamorize people in their photos. They believed that people in photographs should look natural, the way they look in everyday life.”

“The photographer known as K.E. von Hahn, but whose real name was Alexander Yagelsky, had a photo studio in Tsarskoe Selo, and the royal family learned the art of photography from him. The emperor, his wife Alexandra, their children and Alexandra’s waiting-lady Anna Vyrubova all had photo cameras of their own. Very soon, they became so artistic in photography that their works could compete with those of their court photographers.”

The last Russian royal couple, Nicholas and Alexandra, were very devoted to their children, and they wanted to have a photo record of how their children were growing up. Thanks to old photographs, we can now trace not only the official life of the royal family, like military parades or receiving high-ranking foreign guests, but their family life as well.

However, looking at old photos is not the only way for visitors of this exhibition to feel the atmosphere of an old epoch. You can feel yourself a part of this epoch as well. At the exhibition, you can rent a military uniform or a luxurious lady’s dress, which imitate costumes of the 19th century, and have a photograph of yourself in this costume, taken in a hall of the palace, or, say, on a bench near a picturesque pond.

Source & Copyright: The Voice of Russia
21 June, 2012