Thursday, 20 July 2017

Prince Albert and Grand Duchess Olga in Teplitz 1835

After visiting Danzig and Silesia in September 1835, the imperial family went to Teplitz for the Congress of Sovereigns and the dedication of the 1813 Battle of Kulm monument.

Nicholas I wore his hussar uniform and Alexandra wore a cornflower blue dress with a big hat of feathers when they arrived at Prince Clary’s Schloss for the reception of all the sovereigns and their suites.

Eduard Gurk’s painting (below) of the 1835 meeting of Emperor Franz I of Austria and Nicholas I in Teplitz


That evening a dance was held in the Assembly Rooms. Grand Duchess Olga later wrote that she had danced with Archdukes Albrecht and Ferdinand, Prussian cousins and finally Prince Albert of Coburg. He was considered handsome. I found him boring. He wanted to teach me how to waltz but I preferred to dance the gallop with Archduke Albrecht’.

Carl Mayer engraving c1835 (below) of Prince Ernest and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha

Photograph (below) of Grand Duchess Olga c1840s

Christine Robertson painting c1843 (below) of Grand Duchess Olga

A tantalizing thought of ‘what if’ Albert and Olga had married. It is apparent from her memoirs that Olga considered herself destined as a wife of a crown prince. A marriage with a second son of a small insignificant duchy was unthinkable.

It is curious why the Teplitz trip was never mentioned in Charles Grey’s biography of the young Prince Albert that was largely dictated by Queen Victoria. This small insight into the fun-loving prince during his teen years gives a new interpretation of ‘Albert the Good’.


Teplitz was the first meeting between Nicholas I and Prince Albert. Did they reminisce when they met again in London in 1844?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Amber Room and the Wine Bottle

In the 1830s and 1840s, artists from the Imperial Russian and French troupes would arrange stage performances twice a week in the Great Hall of the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. A dinner was held after for all the performers.

F. Burdin in his ‘Memories of an Artist to Nicholas 1st ’ wrote of an incident that happened during one of the dinners in the Amber Room. Two of the actors, Goduonov and Becker, had drunk too much and started quarrelling. It reached a point where Godunov threw a bottle of wine at Becker. It missed him, hitting the wall and splintering pieces of amber. All were terribly frightened.

The Minister of the Court Prince Volkonsky and the theatre director were horrified at the thought of what would happen when the emperor learned of it. The ruined amber could not be hidden. The minister feared a reprimand, the director his resignation and the actors arrested.

A few days later Nicholas was passing by the room and, seeing the damage, asked Volkonsky what had happened. The minister nervously said the accident occurred during dinner when the actors were drinking glasses of wine. Nicholas replied ‘So, give them more water in the future’.

The minister had said he did not know if or when the amber pieces could be repaired. Was it restored? Can you spot flaws in the photos below?

Photograph (below) of the Amber Room in 1917

Photographs (below) of the Amber Room in 1931


 The former Empress Marie lived in her house at Hvidøre near Copenhagen after the revolution. In her diary she writes of her passion searching for amber on the beach.

On Wednesday August 20th 1919 she wrote ‘I had my coffee, went out into my lovely garden and spoke for a while with the good old gardener. Dolgorukij and Vyazemsky also went down to the shore. I showed them the neighborhood and was very proud that I found right away ten pieces of amber’ and on the following Saturday ‘I went down all by myself to the shore and found pieces of amber, which made me very happy’.

A year later on September 30th she ‘walked a little by the shore and found two pieces of amber’. The next month on Tuesday the 5th she ‘again went off for a walk down by the shore, where I found five pieces of amber which made me very proud’.

Photograph (below) of Empress Marie on the beach of Hvidøre by her sister Queen Alexandra

Whenever we stayed in Tsarskoe Selo, the restoration of the Amber Room was still in progress. Viewing recent photos of the walls, I felt the room heavy, closing in on one, as in the Millions Room in Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Then I saw the panorama below with the beautiful ceiling and tall windows. The room is magnificent!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Raphael Replica in the Malachite Hall

A replica of Raphael’s allegorical figures was created by the Italian painter of classicism Antonio Vigi in the Jasper Drawing Room. Vigi recreated the figures after the 1837 fire in the new Malachite Hall in the Winter Palace.

The central figure is called ‘Poetry’ from Raphael’s series ‘Stanza Della Segnatura’ in the Vatican. I describe in my book Vigi’s use of the old technique by order of Nicholas I in applying the figures on the white imitation marble. The seams visible on the wall, misidentified as cracks, reproduce the appearance of authentic marble.

Photograph (below) of Vigi’s replica of Raphael’s allegorical figure ‘Poetry’ in the Malachite Hall

Photograph (below) or Raphael’s ‘Poetry’ c1508 in the Vatican

The cupid on the left holds a tablet with the letters NVMI NE and on the right AFFLA TVR. What words do the Latin letters represent? If it was in English, Raphael would be known as another Nostradamus with the premonition, 300 years in the future, that Nicholas I (N I) and Alexandra (AF) would reign!


Photographs (below) of ‘Night’ and ‘Day’ allegorical figures next to ‘Poetry’ in the Malachite Hall





Thursday, 6 July 2017

Own Dacha, Peterhof

In the summer of 1797 Emperor Paul had Empress Elizabeth’s stone palace in Peterhof redecorated and gave it to his wife Marie Feodorva. Nicholas I gave his son Alexander II the right to use the renamed Own Dacha in 1843.

Andrei Stakenschneider redesigned the facades and with Alexander Briullov the interiors in the French rococo stye from 1846 to 1850. On July 20th 1850 the solemn consecration of the renewed dacha was held before the imperial family.

Photographs (beow) of the Dacha c1870s to 1900s





Plan and Model (below) of the Dacha


Alexander II’s valet room, dressing room, study, dining room and yellow and blue drawing rooms were on the 1st floor.

The library, Marie’s study, drawing room, bedroom and maid’s room were on the 2nd Floor. Above the canopied bed was a carved ivory image of the Madonna. In the bathroom was a marble tub with the mural ‘Triumph of Galatea on the large wall.

L. Premazzi's watercolor (below) of the bedroom


It was here that Alexander II and Marie Alexandrovna honeymooned in the spring of 1841. A devastating loss for the family was the death of their six-year old daughter Alexandra in the dacha on June 16th, 1849. Although Alexander II lived in the Farm Palace in Peterhof, they continued to use the dacha occasionally. The lady-in-waiting Anna Tiutchev wrote that on the name day of Marie on July 22nd 1854 “… in the evening the imperial family gathered for tea in own little palace …”


Forty years later, Nicholas II wrote on June 26th 1895 that he “ … went with Alix to the Private Dacha. We looked over the house …”

Photographs (below) of the Dacha c1945 and today with restoration work ongoing








Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Pompeian Dining Rooms – Buckingham Palace and Winter Palace

The growing interest by Russian architects with Pompeian design originated in the early1800s with a large number of artists and painters working in Italy. The architect Alexander Briullov studied in Rome and Naples in 1824-1825 funded by the Imperial Court. His book ‘Thermes de Pompéi’ was published in Paris in 1829. After the 1837, Briullov was appointed to supervise restoration works in the Winter Palace.

Ukhtomsky's Painting of Briullov’s Pompeian Dining Room (below) part of Empress Alexandra’s suite on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace

In the early 1840s, Prince Albert commissioned Ludwig Gruner to oversee the decoration of a garden pavilion in the grounds of Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria. One of the rooms was a Pompeian Dining Room painted by the Italian artist Agostino Aglio.

Painting of the Pompeian Dining Room (below) in the garden pavilion of Buckingham Palace

Did Prince Albert and Queen Victoria show the garden pavilion to Nicholas I during his visit to London in 1844?

In the first Russian guidebook to Pompeii in the 1800s, the author noted that ‘the use of garish and contrasting colors strikes a modern spectator unpleasantly and requires a certain effort to comprehend it’. The color scheme of the rooms was one of the reasons why it did not agree with the later tastes of the public.

The garden pavilion in Buckingham Palace has not survived and Briullov’s Pompeian Dining Room in the Winter Palace was dismantled in 1895. 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Aerial View of the Winter Palace c1924

The clarity of the aerial view below of the Winter Palace c1924, looking north from Palace Square, highlights fascinating details.

The atriums above the two porticos at HM Own and Commandant Entrances have been dismantled. On the left the fence to the private garden had been removed but the gates are still standing. The ventilation tower over the northwestern section that had been installed for Nicholas and Alexandra apartments remains, soon be taken down.

The tram tracks in front of the Admiralty are clearly visible.  Across the Neva is Vasilyevsky Island with the former Stock Exchange and Rostral Columns. The long building on the upper left is the Twelve Colleges where Dmitry Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table of elements, had an apartment.

Aerial view (below) of the Winter Palace today

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Jasper Drawing Room / Malachite Hall

After Nicholas I ascended the throne in 1826, the architect Vasily Stasov redesigned the 2nd floor of the northwest section of the Winter Palace for Empress Alexandra.

Auguste de Montferrand redecorated Stasov’s First Drawing Room in the early 1830s with the blue quartz jasper on the columns.

Grigory Chernetsov’s 1833 watercolor (below) of the Jasper Drawing Room

After the 1837 fire, Alexander Briullov restored the drawing room with malachite, a rare green semi-precious stone that was recently discovered in the Urals.

Konstantin Ukhtomsky’s 1865 watercolor (below) of the Malachite Hall

I prefer jasper.  Although malachite is beautiful, by 1865 more gilding was added to Briullov’s original design of the ceiling etc. What is your favorite?

Photograph (below) of the Malachite Hall today