A masterpiece of icon painting and its connection to Nicholas II

A masterpiece of icon painting – the image of the Mother of God “Seraphim-Ponetaevka” is currently on display at the Andrey Rublev Museum in Moscow

This beautiful icon has an extremely interesting history and its connection with the family of Emperor Nicholas II.

Before the revolution, it belonged to Colonel Dmitry Nikolaevich Loman (1868-1918), who held several important government positions. Loman maintained a deep and personal relationship with Nicholas II and Alexandra Fedorovna – the latter was the godmother of his son Yuri.

The icon, painted by one of the best icon painters of the time, Nikolai Yemelyanov, was presented to Loman by the Empress for his work on the construction of Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo.

After the 1917 Revolution, the icon, was sold abroad, where it changed several owners, and then returned to Russia and is now in the private collection of Igor Sysolyatin.

© Paul Gilbert. 30 January 2021

“Heir” to Tsar Nicholas II to marry an Italian

PHOTO: George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Victoria Bettarini

NOTE: this article was updated with additional information on 28th January 2021 – PG

An interesting headline in the Russian media this morning caught my attention: «Наследник царя Николая II женится на итальянке» – which roughly translated reads “The heir to Tsar Nicholas II to marry an Italian”. 

Clearly, whoever wrote the announcement in Rosbalt.ru, needs a history lesson. It is a well known fact that Nicholas II’s only son Alexei Nikolaevich (1904-1918), was the sole heir to the Russian throne. The tsesarevich was brutally murdered along with the rest of his family on 17th July 1918.

The article which caught my attention, was referring to the upcoming nuptials of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Bettarini, the daughter of Italian Ambassador Roberto Bettarini and Carla Bettarini. The announcement was made on 20th January 2021 by the Head of the Russian Imperial House Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who lives in Madrid, her son currently lives in Moscow.

Rebecca Bettarini was received into the Orthodox faith on 12 July 2020 in the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, taking the name Victoria Romanovna [named after Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, wife of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich]. The wedding is expected to take place in Russia in the fall of 2021.

Shortly before the engagement of Rebecca Bettarini with Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna awarded the Order of St. Anne 1st Class to the bride-to-be’s father the Italian diplomat Roberto Bettarini. This ceremony thus set the stage for awarding a “false nobility” on both father and daughter. 

The Italian surname Bettarini never had any connection with the nobility. Ms. Bettarini’s pedigree can hardly be traced back to the early 19th century. Thus, despite her conversion to the Orthodox faith, and her upcoming marriage to George Mikhailovich, their union remains a morganatic marriage.

On 23rd January, a group of 6 monarchist and Orthodox organizations in Russia issued a statement denouncing the marriage, two of the main reasons which are noted at the end of this article.

But, let us take a look back to some interesting details about this union and the hypocrisy of the Vladimir branch of the Russian Imperial Family . . . 

In January 2019, the RU_ROYALTY blog reported that Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, had made a formal request to the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, to change the law of the succession to the Russian throne, according to which the children of a representative of the dynasty who entered into an unequal marriage would be deprived of their rights to the throne.

The Russian Imperial House today consists of two people: Maria herself and her son George, and she considers all the other descendants of the Romanovs to be born in morganatic marriages.

PHOTO: Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and her son Grand Duke
George Mikhailovich pose in front of a portrait of Emperor Nicholas II

Up until recently the 39-year-old Grand Duke George Mikhailovich was still not married and despaired of finding himself a blue-blooded Orthodox princess who would meet the requirements of the law on succession to the throne. To appear in public with his mistresses for the future “Head of the Russian Imperial House” was not comme il faut, so in order to correct this matter, Maria and her son sought the help of Patriarch Kirill.

Of course, Maria Vladimirovna wanted to remove the oath by holding a public event with the participation of the patriarch, and not as a result of some dubious behind-the-scenes negotiations. According to one source: “the Patriarchy, to put it mildly, are not delighted with the idea and are waiting for the Grand Duchess to propose an alternative plan, something which would not jeopardize the reputational risks from Kirill’s participation”.

George Mikhailovich was already is in a relationship with Ms. Bettarini at the time his mother made the request. While her timing was perfect, her request was also somewhat hypocritical. Following the 1917 Revolution, numerous Princes and Princesses of the Russian Imperial House living in exile, were ostracized from the Russian Imperial House, due to the fact that they had entered into morganatic marriages.

The descendants – many of whom make up the Romanov Family Association today – have been treated in the most appalling manner by the Vladimirovichi branch of the dynasty.

For example, according to the late Robert K. Massie, “Following the discovery of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and most of his immediate family in 1991, Maria Vladimirovna wrote to President Boris Yeltsin regarding the burial of the remains, saying of her Romanov cousins, that they “do not have the slightest right to speak their mind and wishes on this question. They can only go and pray at the grave, as can any other Russian, who so wishes”.

At the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Maria did not recognise the authenticity of the remains and declined to attend the reburial ceremony in 1998.

Massie further notes that she also said, regarding some of her Romanov cousins, that “My feeling about them is that now that something important is happening in Russia, they suddenly have awakened and said, ‘Ah ha! There might be something to gain out of this.”

Now, the Grand Duchess has seen it fit to “permit” a morganatic marriage, simply to suit the dynastic position of her family. One source claims that George’s “wife will be a Serene Princess, not a Grand Duchess, and their children will have no dynastic status”. There is no question that once a child is born, that Maria will make yet another change to the laws, simply to ensure that her descendants are at the head of the line – should the monarchy ever be restored in Russia!

The announcement of the marriage of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Bettarini made media headlines in Russia, as well as Great Britain, France and Italy, among other countries, and generated much attention on social media.

The Director of the Chancellery of the Russian Imperial House Alexander Zakatov enthusiastically reported to journalists about the upcoming marriage, noting: “… This will be the first marriage of a member of the House of Romanov in his homeland after the revolution of 1917”.

Zakatov’s comment, however, is incorrect . . .

Between 1917 and 1920, five marriages among the members of the Russian Imperial House were concluded in their homeland: on 22nd April 1917 Prince Gabriel Konstantinovich (1887-1955) married Antonina Rafailovna Nesterovskaya (1890-1950) in Petrograd. On the same day Prince Alexander Georgievich Romanovsky, Duke of Leichtenberg (1881-1942) married Nadezhda Nikolaevna Karelli (1883-1964) in Petrograd. On 25th April 1917, Princess Nadezhda Petrovna (1898-1988) married Prince Nikolai Orlov (1891-1961). On 18th July 1917 Princess Elena Georgievna Romanovskaya, Duchess of Leichtenberg (1892-1971) married Count Stefan Tyshkevich (1894-1976) in Yalta, Crimea. And the last marriage before emigration took place on 25th November 1918 in Ai-Todor, when Prince Andrey Alexandrovich (1897-1981) married Duchess Elizabeth Sasso-Ruffo (1887-1940).

PHOTO: Grand George Mikhailovich and Rebecca Victoria Bettarini, with their retinue at the Epiphany Cathedral of the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma, on 24th January 2021. Russia currently has the 4th highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world: 3.7 million! Despite this, you see NO masks, NO social distancing among those in the photograph. This is nothing short of blatant disrespect for the nearly 69,000 Russians who have died from the disease in the past year.

As a lifelong monarchist myself, one who has lived under monarchy from the day I was born, I of course support the idea of restoring the monarchy in Russia. While many non-Russians also support a restoration, I can not stress enough that no foreigner has the right to force the issue in Russia. The Russian people of today are still trying to come to terms with more than 70 years of Soviet oppression, and struggling with their own form of democracy in a post-Soviet Russia. At the end of the day, it is up the people of Russia “if” they choose to restore the monarchy, no one else’s.

The idea of restoring monarchy in post-Soviet Russia is not popular with most Russians. In the summer of 2019, a poll conducted by REGNUM of some 35,000 Russian citizens showed that only 28% supported the idea of restoring the monarchy, more than half (52%) of which would not support placing a Romanov on the throne!

Further still, many Russians, including many self-proclaimed monarchists do not recognize Maria Vladimirovna and her son George Mikhailovich [many recognize George as a Hohenzollern, NOT a Romanov] as the heirs to the Russian throne. Their detractors cite numerous reasons, the most pressing of which are:

(a) That Maria’s grandfather Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876-1938) entered into an incestuous marriage with his first cousin Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1876-1936). It was common for European royal cousins to marry, however, Kirill married without consent from Nicholas II. Kirill’s marriage was in violation of the house law which forbid the marriage of any member of the Imperial Family without the advance permission of the Emperor. Kirill’s marriage also violated the canon of the Russian Orthodox Church prohibiting marriages between cousins.

(b) That during the February Revolution of 1917, Kirill marched to the Tauride Palace at the head of the Garde Equipage (Marine Guard) to swear allegiance to the Russian Provisional Government, wearing a red band on his uniform. Kirill had authorised the flying of a red flag over his palace on Glinka Street in Petrograd. This act was nothing short of treason! 

While those who support Grand Duchess Maria and her son continue to argue their case, they overlook one simple fact: that the Russian monarchy ceased to exist upon the abdication of the reigning Nicholas II on 15th (O.S. 2nd) March 1917 and the murder of both him and his family on 17th July 1918.

A colleague of mine recently brought to my attention the following: “I met Grand Duchess Leonida in the 1990s. She was a charming, intelligent woman. I asked her “do you think the monarchy will be restored in Russia?” Without hesitation, she replied: “It will never happen!”

© Paul Gilbert. 26 January 2021

The fate of the gilded bronze plaque to Nicholas II at Tamerlane Gate

PHOTO: detail of the plaque to Nicholas II at Tamerlane Gate. 1898

The Trans-Caspian Railway follows the path of the Silk Road through much of western Central Asia. It was built by the Russian Empire during its expansion into Central Asia in the 19th century. Construction on the railway began in 1879, and originally served a military purpose of facilitating the Imperial Russian Army in actions against the local resistance to their rule.

The railway had a huge impact on the Russian economy, permitting a massive increase in the amount of cotton exported from the region. This increased from 873,092 pudy in 1888 to 3,588,025 in 1893. Also sugar, kerosene, wood, iron and construction material were imported into the area. These rising trade figures were used by Governor-General Nikolai Rozenbakh (1836-1901) to argue for the extension to Tashkent.

In 1895, Emperor Nicholas II issued an Imperial Decree, ordering that the line be extended to Tashkent and Margelan. Thus, the Tashkent Railway connecting the Tran-Caspian Military Railway with the network of other Russian and European railways was completed in 1906.

PHOTO: Alexander Ivanovich Ursati posing next to the plaque to Nicholas II. 1898

Alexander Ivanovich Ursati (1848 -1918) was appointed to the post of the head of the construction of the Samarkand-Andijan line. Ursati was a hereditary nobleman, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Institute of Railway Engineers, and outstanding engineer-tracker of pre-revolutionary Russia.

The new railway line passed along the ancient caravan route through the Nurata mountain range, along the narrow part of the Ilan-Uta gorge through the Jizzakh passage or through the so-called Tamerlane Gate.

PHOTO: plaque to Nicholas II at Tamerlane Gate. 1898

Upon completion of the construction of a highway which ran parralell to the railway track, Ursati ordered a commemorative bronze plaque and mounted with a double-headed eagle from one of the Ural factories. The inscription read: “Nicholas II in 1895 ordered construction of the railway. 1898 completed.” Both the text on the plaque and the double-headed eagle were gilded. It was installed on the steep northern slope of the Nurata rock, directly above two Arabic inscriptions carved into the rock: the first dates back to 1425, and the second to 1571.

In 1899, for the successful completion of the construction of the railway ahead of schedule, Ursati was promoted to acting state councilor. Thus, according to the Table of Ranks, he became a general.

In recognition of Alexander Ivanovich in Central Asia, one of the stations was named Ursat’evskaya (renamed Khavastsince in 1963, ). In 1899, Ursati left his mark in Tashkent, with the construction of one of the most beautiful churches of the city – the Church of the Annunciation, popularly called the Railway Church, on the station square of the city. Following the 1917 Revolution, the church was closed, and demolished in the 1920s.

PHOTO: Tamerlane Gate as it looks today

While the two ancient Arabic inscriptions carved into the rock at Tamerlane Gate have survived to the present day, the bronze and gilded plaque to Nicholas II was destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The railway became one of the most important means of communication in the area, and the workers on the railway became key activists during the Russian revolution. Both railway and workers also played an important role in the Russian Civil War. Troops of the British Indian Army participated in some of the battles along the railway line. Tashkent was an important bastion for the Red Army.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, vandals have repeatedly defaced the historic rock face at Tamerlane Gate with graffiti, including anti government slogans and profanity. Truly, a very sad example of the troubled times we live today.

© Paul Gilbert. 23 January 2021

Unique retro style postcards of the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

The 23rd of September 2020, marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama, which is situated 26 km (16 miles) from Ekaterinburg.

As part of the events marking the anniversary, the brethren of the monastery and the staff of the Museum and Exhibition Center – located in the the Church of the Reigning Mother of God – have prepared a unique gift for all pilgrims who visit the monastery with an excursion – a set of unique postcards with retro style photographs of the monastery taken with a 19th century camera.

In order to receive a set of the postcards, visitors need to obtain a special postcard-flyer at the Tsarsky Cultural and Educational Center – located in the Patriarchal Compound of the Church on the Blood – which must be presented to the guide at the monastery.

At the end of the tour, each visitor receives a set of these unique postcards with retro style photographs of the monastery. The photographs were taken by professional photographer, Candidate of Historical Sciences Vasily Zapariy, who used an old camera with glass plates of the late 19th – early 20th centuries, at the special request of the  Museum and Exhibition Center of the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs.

The postcards were issued in a limited edition, and show how the churches, landscapes and brethren of the monastery would look through the lens of old photographic equipment.

The exhibition also features an interesting collection of old cameras. In order for visitors to gain a better understanding of the history of pre-revolutionary photography in Russia, using the example of the August amateur photographers – the family of Emperor Nicholas II.

The postcard promotion is valid until 28th February. The number of gifts is limited to 400 sets.


CLICK on the IMAGE above to watch the VIDEO – duration 1 minute, 48 seconds

The excursion includes the photo-exhibition “August Photo Amateurs”, which opened on 19th September 2020, in the Museum and Exhibition Center – located in the the Church of the Reigning Mother of God – of the Monastery of the Royal Martyrs in Ganina Yama

The exhibition is one of numerous events marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the monastery. This particular exhibition presents the history of the development of the Imperial family’s passion for photography.

The exhibit presents a unique selection of photographs of Nicholas II and his family, testifying their deep interest and technical capabilities in the field of photography. The exhibition also features those taken by professional court photographers. Admission is FREE.

© Paul Gilbert. 22 January 2021

Last church where Nicholas II prayed before his abdication will be restored

PHOTO: Chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Staraya Russa

The Chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Staraya Russa is inextricably linked with the Imperial Family, in particular, with Emperor Nicholas II, who travelled here in 1904 to bless troops of the Villmanstrand Infantry Regiment, before being sent to fight in the Russo-Japanese War.

Members of the Imperial Court often visited Staraya Russa, celebrated for its mineral springs used for baths, drinking, and inhalations, and medicinal silt mud of nearby lakes and artificial reservoirs.

In 2017, an unknown fact from the life of the last emperor of Russia, was discovered by the Novgorod ethnographer Leonid Kirillov. According to his research, it was on 14th March (O.S. 1 March) 1917, that Nicholas II spent a whole day at the station in Staraya Russa, visiting the station’s chapel. This was the last church in which the Tsar prayed before signing his abdication at Pskov on 15 March (O.S. 2 March) 1917. The last church in which he prayed as “Citizen Romanov” was the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin in Tobolsk.

On the morning of 13 March (O.S. 28 February) 1917, the Imperial Trains left the Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief at Mogilev The following day, the train on which the Emperor was returning to Tsarskoye Selo, was stopped at the Malaya Vishera station, and forced to reroute in order to avoid an encounter with a band of rebellious soldiers, to go in a roundabout way: travelling instead through Valdai and Staraya Russa to Pskov.

At the time, an eyewitness Alexander Rozbaum, wrote in the local newspaper about the Imperial Train stopping in Staraya Russa:

“The Tsar embarked from his carriage and walked along the platform for a long time. The day was calm and clear, the station was crowded with people. A group of nuns stood near the railway station chapel. The mood of the audience, was deeply sympathetic to the Tsar. People did not shout revolutionary slogans, but, taking off their caps, bowed to their sovereign. The Tsar stopped and talked with some of them and then, leaving his retinue outside the door, went to pray in the small station chapel. Who knows, perhaps it was at that very hour in the station chapel at Staraya Russa that he made the most important decision for himself – to relinquish power”.

The chapel was built in 1899, by the Ikolo-Kosinsky Monastery (closed in 1920) at the railway station with an additional house for the sisters. Both the train station and the Chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was completely destroyed during the Great Patriotic War (1941-44).

PHOTO: bust of Nicholas II by Belarusian sculptor Igor Golubev

In 2000, local entrepreneur Nikolai Shirokov at his own expense erected a new chapel, but at a different location – to the left of the station. Governor Andrei Nikitin supports the idea of ​​restoring the chapel to its original, and is working with the regional Ministry of Transport in an effort to get the Russian Railways involved in the project.

In addition, Belarusian sculptor Igor Golubev has proposed to erect a bronze bust of Nicholas II at the Staraya Russa railway station in memory of the “last place where Nicholas II prayed before his abdication”.
© Paul Gilbert. 21 January 2021


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If you enjoy my articles, news stories and translations, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

The fate of the contents of the Alexander Palace in the 20th century

PHOTO: the Alexander Palace was established as a museum in June 1918

Thousands of items from the Alexander Palace were destroyed or stolen in the decades that followed the 1917 Revolution. Thousands more were moved to other locations, where they remain to this day. This article examines the fate of the Alexander Palace collection, researched from Russian archival sources.

The ‘Romanov Museum’

On 1st August 1917, Emperor Nicholas and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time. It was on this day that the Imperial family were sent into exile to Tobolsk, where they spent 8 months under house arrest, before being transferred to Ekaterinburg, where they were murdered by the Ural Soviet on 17th July 1918.

In June 1918, the Alexander Palace was established as a museum and opened to the public. Throngs of visitors – among them many revolutionaries and their families – filed silently through the state halls located in the central part of the building and the private apartments of the last tsar and his family located in the east wing of the palace.

The Bolsheviks had led the Russian people into believing that Nicholas II and his family lived in great luxury, however, the interiors of the Alexander Palace proved otherwise. Compared to their 18th century ancestors, Nicholas II and his family lived rather modestly. The Alexander Palace lacked the ostentatious interiors of the nearby Catherine Palace the Great Palace at Peterhof, and even that of the Winter Palace in Petrograd (St. Petersburg).

Following the uncertainty of the political climate during 1917, members of the Tsarskoye Selo Commission prepared for the evacuation of highly artistic items from the collection of the Imperial residences, including the Alexander Palace. These included paintings by outstanding artists, sculptures, the finest examples of furniture, bronze, porcelain and crystal. In total, 50 crates with items from the Alexander Palace were packed and transported by train to Moscow in two separate shipments – 15-17th September 6-8th October. The items were placed in storage in the Armoury and the Grand Kremlin Palace.

In October 1917, the Artistic and Historical Commission began to compile descriptions of the interiors of the Alexander Palace. They refused to compile new inventories, preferring instead to draw up cards with descriptions of objects, carry out plans for the arrangement of furniture, explication of interiors and take photographs of each room, its possessions and decoration.

This decision was made due to the fact that there was an enormous number of items in the Alexander Palace, which meant that to list every item, not to mention their description, would take a lot of time, which the Artistic-Historical Commission did not have, due to the growing political unrest in Petrograd.

In December 1920, the valuables evacuated in 1917 were returned to Tsarskoye Selo from Moscow, among them were 32 crates containing items from the Alexander Palace. In parallel with the rest of the work, the researchers began unpacking the re-evacuated exhibits, examining them, checking against the inventories, and by 1923 all items were returned to their historical places in the Alexander Palace.

The Soviet regime were always hostile towards the ‘Romanov Museum’ and made constant threats  to close the museum and sell off its treasures. Luckily, the museum staff managed to dissuade the government from this step and the museum operated up until the beginning of the Second World War.

In 1941 the Alexander Palace was closed, the children’s toys and furniture were transferred to the Toy Museum in Moscow [in 1931, the museum was transferred to Zagorsk – renamed Sergiev Posad – where many of OTMAAs toys remain to this day – PG].

PHOTO: the damaged Alexander Palace and SS cemetery, 1944

Nazi occupation

In the first months of the Great Patriotic War (1941-44), only a part of the contents of the Alexander Palace was evacuated: chandeliers, carpets, some pieces of furniture, marble and porcelain. The bulk of the contents remained in the palace during the war, and suffered great losses.

By mid-September 1941, the Alexander Palace – along with the rest of Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo] – was near the front line. During the occupation of Pushkin, the Nazi Headquarters was located in the Alexander Palace, the torture chambers of the Gestapo located in the basement, and a cemetery for 85 SS officers was created in the lawn, situated in front of the palace.

When Soviet troops entered the city in 1944, the Alexander Palace, like all other palaces, was in a terrible state. Historical interiors had been looted, thousands of items stolen or destroyed, some interiors had been completely destroyed.

The building itself suffered to a much lesser extent than the nearby Catherine Palace. The former sustained some shelling by the Soviets, who were determined to drive the Nazi invaders from the Alexander Palace, where they were holed up. The palace had been looted by the retreating Nazi’s which resulted in many of the palaces treasures being stolen. According to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of the Russian Federation, the registered inventory for the Alexander Palace had 30,382 items, of which 22,628 items – more than two thirds – were recorded as lost or stolen at the end of World War II.

PHOTO: the Alexander Palace surrounded by security fence and barbed wire

Post-war Soviet years 

At the end of the war, the palace was mothballed and in 1946 was handed over to the USSR Academy of Sciences to store the collections of the Institute of Russian Literature and to house the exposition of the All-Union Museum of Alexander Pushkin. Between 1947-1951, restoration work began on the Alexander Palace, during which it was planned to restore the surviving interiors of the plans of the architect Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817), and the surviving fragments of the decoration, as well as to recreate the interiors of the time of Emperors Nicholas I and Nicholas II. However, during the work, many elements of the decoration of the Maple and Rosewood drawing rooms of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, as well as the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II were lost. Instead, these interiors were modified according to the project of the Soviet architect Lev Moiseevich Bezverkhny (1908–1963).

‘In 1951, by a government decree, the Alexander Palace was transferred to the Ministry of Defense. The Naval Department used the building as a top-secret, submarine tracking research institute of the Baltic Fleet. As a result, the former palace would be strictly off-limits to visitors for the next 45 years. The Alexander Palace was surrounded by a security fence and barbed wire and closed to the public. Even historians could not gain access inside.

‘The palace’s collection which was among the evacuated items in the Central Repository of Museum Stocks from the Suburban Palace-Museums was transferred to the Pavlovsk Palace Museum. A total of 5,615 items were moved from the palace to Pavlovsk. Of these, nearly 200 pieces were originally from the Alexander Palaces’ three ceremonial halls: the Portrait, Semi-Circular and Marble Halls. These include 39 pieces of porcelain, 41 paintings, 73 decorative bronze pieces, and 28 pieces of furniture.’¹

At the time, no one could have imagined that the Soviet Union would end, so it was just automatically assumed that these items would remain part of the Pavlovsk collection. Most of these items remain at Pavlovsk to this day.

PHOTO: most of the interiors in the “Memories in the Alexander Palace” exhibition,
featured huge floor to ceiling photos depicting the original look of each room,
and served as backdrops, against which items of furniture were displayed

The Post-Soviet years

In 1996, a grant from the World Monuments Fund (WMF) was received for the restoration of the Alexander Palace, and work began to repair the building’s roof.

In 1997, the first museum exposition “Memories in the Alexander Palace” was opened in the east wing of the Alexander Palace. Since almost all the historic interiors of Nicholas II and his family were lost, large floor to ceiling photos depicting the original look of each room, served as backdrops, against which items of furniture were displayed.

In 2009, the Alexander Palace was transferred to the administration of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. In June 2010, the year marking the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo, the Portrait, Semi-Circular and Billiard Halls were opened to the public after an extensive restoration.

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s dresses on display at Pavlovsk

It is interesting to add, that in 2007, Pavlovsk opened a costume museum in one of the wings of the palace. The permanent exhibit showcases a mere fraction of dresses, hats, gloves, fans, and other personal items of Empresses Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra Feodorovna, as well as Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.

Given that Nicholas II and his family never resided at Pavlovsk, how is it that these items from the wardrobes of the last Imperial family are today part of the Pavlovsk collection? As it turns out, they are among the many thousands of items transferred from the Central Repository of Museum Stocks from the Suburban Palace-Museums in 1951.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and in particular since the restoration of the Alexander Palace, the return of the collection has been a bone of contention between the two palace-museums. During a visit to Pavlovsk several years ago, I raised the subject with one of the Directors at Pavlovsk. “If we return these exhibits to the Alexander Palace, then we [Pavlovsk] will have nothing,” he declared.

Surely, the Pavlovsk Palace State Museum have a moral responsibility to return all of the items to their rightful home? Their history belongs to the Alexander Palace. It seems that the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Olga Lyubimova will have the final say. Let us hope that she does the right thing, and order the return of these items to the Alexander Palace, where they can be put on display in the rooms from which they originated.

It is interesting to note that during the course of the restoration of the Alexander Palace, which began in 2015, some items which were stolen during the Great Patriotic War have found their way home to the Alexander Palace. In recent years, a number of items have been returned by the descendants of German soldiers who stole from the palace during the Nazi retreat in 1944. Let us hope that their actions set an example to others.

Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, showcasing the private, domestic life of the Russian monarchs who used the palace as an official residence. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family. The multi-museum complex, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

© Paul Gilbert. 17 January 2021

¹ ‘My Russia. The Rebirth of the Alexander Palace’ by Paul Gilbert. Published in ‘Royal Russia No. 3 (2013), pgs. 1-11


Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

The favourite tunes of Nicholas II and his Family – Part 1

This video features a tune, which was apparently a favourite of Nicholas II and his Family. Click on the image above to listen to this haunting melody, performed by the popular Russian singer Valentina Ponomareva [Duration: 3 minutes, 28 seconds]

The romance “Утро туманное” (Misty Morning) is based on the poem by the famous Russian writer Ivan Sergeivich Turgenev (1818-1883), written in 1843. The music was composed by Erast Ageevich Abaza (1819-1855), a gifted amateur musician, guard officer, and hero of the Crimean War.

Misty morning, gray morning,

Sad fields, covered with snow,

Reluctantly remember the times of the past,

Remember the faces long forgotten.

You will remember the frequent passionate talks,

Glances so eagerly and tenderly caught,

First meetings, last meetings,

Favorite sounds of a quiet voice.

You will remember parting with a strange smile,

You will remember a lot of your dear distant past,

Listening to the ceaseless murmur of the wheels,

Looking thoughtfully into the wide sky.

Set against the background of this soulful performances are touching images, which reflect the love story of Nicholas Alexandrovich and Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Emperor and Empress of Russia. The romance is performed by the popular Russian singer Valentina Ponomareva. The video was created by Irina Koroteeva and Elena Illyina..

NOTE: Stay tuned for additional videos, featuring more favourite tunes of Nicholas II and his family – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 16 January 2021

Karelin’s Lost Portrait of the Imperial Family

PHOTO: portrait of the Imperial Family (1910) by A. A. Karelin (1866-1928),

Up until the 1917 Revolution, the collection of the Ancient Depository [opened in 1910] of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg, included a portrait of the Imperial family. The portrait was painted in 1909, the year of the foundation of the new building of the Ancient Depository.

The portrait is quite unique. The Emperor and Empress are depicted in ceremonial robes with orders, standing next to the regalia of imperial power – the crown and ermine mantle, while Tsesarevich Alexei is dressed in a simple sailor’s uniform. The Trinity Cathedral of the Lavra is visible to the left in the background.

The artist was the famous Russian portrait painter of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, Andrey Andreevich Karelin (1866-1928), who, worked on orders from the Ministry of the Imperial Court. He painted historical and religious themes, portraits, and icons. He took part in the painting of the pavilion of the Nizhny Novgorod All-Russian Exhibition in 1896, in the creation of the interior decoration of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in St. Petersburg, the Church of Alexander Nevsky and the Church of the Life Guards of the Ulan Regiment in Warsaw (1907), for the Church of the Resurrection of Christ (Saviour on Blood) in St. Petersburg, he created designs for 10 interior mosaics “Parable about poor Lazarus after death” and designs for an additional 9 mosaics of saints, martyrs, apostles and monks on pilasters.

PHOTO: Andrey Andreevich Karelin (1866-1928),

For the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty in 1913, Karelin created a 10-meter canvas depicting the accession of Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov, for which he received personal nobility from Emperor Nicholas II.

The Ancient Depository of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra was closed in 1922 in the midst of a Bolshevik campaign to confiscate church property, which the monastery. All items of artistic value were transferred to the State Museum Fund, and then distributed among the museums of Russia. It is now known that Karelin’s portrait of the Imperial Family, was destroyed in 1937 by order of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD).

© Paul Gilbert. 16 January 2021


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If you find my articles, news stories and translations interesting, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

The fate of Nicholas II’s Imperial Train

PHOTO: Two carriages of the Imperial Train on display in Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1932
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

In May 1917, the Imperial Train of Emperor Nicholas II was sealed and transferred to Moscow, where it remained mothballed on the side tracks for more than a decade.

In the fall of 1929, two railway carriages were slowly rolled along temporary tracks which were laid from the Novy Peterhof railway station through the Proletarsky (former Alexandria) Park in Peterhof, to a small clearing just south of the Cottage Palace, it was to be the final stop for the former Imperial Train of Emperor Nicholas II.

The history of the Imperial Train dates back to the 1890s. Construction on the first of two trains began in 1894 in the Alexandrovsky Mechanical Plant of the Nikolaev railway, and completed in February 1896. A few years later it was supplemented with three additional carriages manufactured in the St. Petersburg-Warsaw railway assembly workshops. By the early 1910s, the Imperial Train consisted of a total of eleven carriages.

Each of the carriages was painted dark blue with gold trim and gilded decorations in the form of the Imperial coats of arms mounted between the windows. The interiors featured panels, ceilings and furniture made of polished oak, walnut, white and gray beech, maple and Karelian birch. 

PHOTO: Workers move carriages to the Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1929
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

With the outbreak of World War I, the number of carriages was reduced to three, and the Imperial Train became a travelling residence for Nicholas II. Travelling back and forth between Tsarskoye Selo and General Headquarters at Mogilev, the train served as a military field office, equipped with telephone and telegraph communications. It was in the Salon Car of on this train that Emperor Nicholas II signed his signed his abdication on 2nd March 1917.

Subsequently, the former Tsar’s train was used by the ministers of the Provisional Government for several months. After the Bolsheviks came to power, the Imperial Train was used by the chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council Leon Trotsky (1879-1940).

PHOTO: Semyon Geychenko (second from the left) and Anatoly Shemansky (far right)
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

One can only speculate what the fate of the Imperial carriages would have been, had it not been for the efforts of two Peterhof museum workers, Semyon Geychenko and Anatoly Shemansky. It is largely thanks to their efforts, that two carriages from the Imperial Train were transferred from the People’s Commissariat of Railways to the Peterhof Museum in 1929.

PHOTO: Carriages of the Imperial Train on display in Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1930
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

The following year, 1930, a permanent exhibition “The Carriages of the Former Tsarist Train” was opened in a small clearing just south of the Cottage Palace in the Proletarsky (Alexandria) Park. At the time of the opening of the exhibition, the interiors of the Tsar’s carriages had survived nearly intact. Near the carriages a platform and two wooden pavilions were built.

The pavilions housed the exposition “Imperialist War and the Fall of Autocracy,” which included four sections: “Causes of the World War”, “Russia in World War”, “The Collapse of Tsarism”, “The Final Journey of Nikolai Romanov from Tsarskoye Selo to Yekaterinburg.” The exhibit was supplemented with items from the Lower Dacha, the summer residence of Nicholas II and his family, located nearby on the shore of the Gulf of Finland.

The first carriage consisted of two parts: a dining room and a salon. In this car, the exhibition outlined the situation that had arisen before the February 1917 Revolution and the projects of the palace coup that preceded it. The dining car was used during the war for staff meetings with the Tsar’s participation.

The second carriage consisted of a maid’s compartment, the Empress’s bedroom, Nicholas II’s office and his valet’s compartment. The interior decoration, furnishings and decoration of the carriages resembled that of the Lower Dacha: Art Nouveau furniture made by Melzer’s firm, a comfortable leather cabinet, family photographs, and numerous icons in the bedroom.

PHOTO: The Imperial Train can be seen through the trees during the years of occupation
© Private Archive

PHOTO: German soldiers stand at the gutted Imperial Train during the years of occupation
© Private Archive

Sadly, the fate of most of the luxurious carriages of the Imperial Train is a sad one, having been destroyed in a fire some time during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922).

Equally sad, “The carriages of the Former Tsarist Train” exhibit at Peterhof was permanently closed in 1936. During the years of Nazi occupation of Peterhof (1941-44), the exhibition complex was virtually destroyed by the invaders: the platform and pavilions were destroyed, as well as the two remaining carriages and their historic interiors.

PHOTO: The salon of the Imperial Train, destroyed by the Nazis
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

PHOTO: The sad state of the carriages of the Imperial Train as they looked in the 1950s
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

In the first decade after the end of the Great Patriotic War, the question of the possibility of restoring the cars remained open. Nevertheless, the revival of the museum turned out to be unrealistic: on 18th February, 1954, a special commission of the October Railway ruled that due to the damage inflicted during the war years, the carriages of the Imperial Train  had become completely unserviceable and could not be restored.

In the summer of 1954, by order of the Department of Culture of the Executive Committee of the Leningrad City Council, the carriages were dismantled. Out of almost one thousand items and memorial items from the carriage interios, nearly all were destroyed or stolen. Today, only 55 items have been preserved in the funds of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve, including writing utensils, furniture, and furnishings.

NOTE: I am currently preparing an article on the Imperial Train and its luxurious interiors. Stay tuned . . . PG

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2021


Dear Reader

If you find my articles, news stories and translations interesting, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

The church where Nicholas II and his family worshiped in Tobolsk


PHOTO: Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, Tobolsk. 1910

During their eight month stay in Tobolsk [August 1917-April 1918], Nicholas II and his family were held under house arrest in the former Governor’s Mansion [renamed the “House of Freedom” by the Bolsheviks]. Their movements were restricted, as they had been at Tsarskoye Selo from March 1917 to the end of July 1917. Several weeks after their arrival in Tobolsk, they were permitted to worship in the nearby Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin up until January 1918, after which services were restricted to the confines of the “House of Freedom”.

The brick church was built between 1735-1758. A two-story quadrangle, completed with an octagon, on which five decorative domes were placed, with a two-aisled refectory and a three-tiered bell tower. The refectory included the chapels of Procopius and Ioann of Ustyug and the Great Martyr Catherine.

Pierre Gilliard recalls: “Finally, on September 21st, the festival of the Nativity of the Virgin, the prisoners were allowed for the first time to go to the church. This pleased them greatly, but the consolation was only to be repeated very rarely. On these occasions we rose very early and, when everyone had collected in the yard, went out through a little gate leading on to the public garden; which we crossed between two lines of soldiers. We always attended the first Mass of the morning, and were almost alone in the church, which was dimly lighted by a few candles; the public was rigorously excluded. While going and returning I have often seen people cross themselves or fall on their knees as Their Majesties passed. On the whole, the inhabitants of Tobolsk were still very attached to the Imperial family, and our guards had repeatedly to intervene to prevent them standing under the windows or removing their hats and crossing themselves as they passed the house.”

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna wrote in her diary: “During the services, officers, the commandant and the commissar stand beside us so that we do not dare to speak”.

On 8th September 1917, the Empress wrote in her diary: “We went to the service in the Cathedral of the Annunciation on foot, I was in my [wheel]chair, through the city garden, the soldiers were stationed all the way, the crowd stood where we had to cross the street. It is very unpleasant, but, nevertheless, I am grateful for being in a real church for [for the first time] in 6 months ”.

PHOTO: View of Tobolsk and the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin

Commissar Vasily Pankratov described this event as follows: “Nicholas Alexandrovich was informed that tomorrow a Liturgy would be performed in the church, and that it was necessary to be ready by 8 o’clock in the morning. The prisoners were so pleased with this news that they got up very early and were ready by 7 o’clock. When I arrived at 7:30, they were already waiting. About 20 minutes later, the duty officer informed me that everything was ready. It turned out that Alexandra Feodorovna decided not to walk, but to ride in a chair, as her legs hurt. Her personal valet quickly wheeled the chair out to the porch. The whole family went out, accompanied by their retinue and servants, and we proceeded to the church. Nicholas II and his children, walking in the garden, looked around in all directions and talked in French about the weather, about the garden, as if they had never seen it. In fact, this garden was located just opposite their balcony, from where they could observe it every day. But it is one thing to see an object from a distance and, as it were, from behind a lattice, and another to walk through it freely. Every tree, every twig, bush, bench acquires charm … From the expressions on their faces, from their movements, one could assume that they were experiencing some special euphoria. As she was walking through the garden and not watching where she was going, Anastasia even fell. Her sisters laughed, even Nicholas himself was amused with this awkwardness of his daughter. Alexandra Feodorovna’s face remained motionless. She sat majestically in her chair and was silent. On leaving the garden, she got up from the chair, from where we crossed the street to enter the church. Outside stood a double line of soldiers, [a chain of riflemen was also placed in the garden along the entire route] and behind them stood curious onlookers. Upon entering the church, Nicholas and his family took their place on the right, their retinue closer to the middle. Alexandra Feodorovna knelt down, Nicholas and the four grand duchesses followed her example. After the service, the whole family received a prosphora [a small loaf of leavened bread used in Orthodox liturgies], which for some reason they always passed to their servants”.

The prisoners were allowed to visit the church again – on 14th September, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. On 18th September, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna wrote to her aunt Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna: “We were twice in church. You can imagine what a joy it was for us after 6 months, because do you remember how uncomfortable our camp church in Tsarskoye Selo was? The church here is good. One large summer room in the middle, where they serve for the parish, and two winter ones on the sides [referring to the side-chapels]. The right side-chapel is reserved for us”.

The family managed to visit the church for a third time on 1st October – on the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos. Then again on 22nd October, the day marking the anniversary of the accession of Nicholas II to the throne and the feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. The entire family received communion on this day of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. “What a spiritual consolation in the time we are going through!” – the Emperor wrote in his diary that day. In addition, the Imperial family were allowed to attend church on 26th November, 3rd and 10th December, and 19th January.

Pierre Gilliard again writes: “The next day, Christmas Day, we went to church. By the orders of the priest the deacon [Fr Vasiliev] intoned the Mnogoletie [the prayer for the long life of the Imperial family] This was an imprudence which was bound to bring reprisals. The soldiers, with threats of death, demanded that the prayer should be revoked. This incident marred the pleasant memories which this day should have left in our minds. It also brought us fresh annoyances and the supervision became still stricter.”

Following the incident involving Fr Vasiliev, the Imperial family were no longer permitted to attend church. Instead, an improvised chapel was set up in the ballroom of the mansion, which consisted of a folding iconostasis and an altar, decorated with the Empress’s bed-spread, which served as an altar cloth. The local priest was invited to perform services for the Imperial family and their retinue up until April 1918, when they were transferred to the Ipatiev House [renamed the “House of Special Purpose”] in  Ekaterinburg, where they were subsequently murdered by members of the Ural Soviet on 17th July.

The Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin was closed by the Soviets in 1930, the building demolished in 1956 – the same year that the author of this article was born.

© Paul Gilbert. 8 January 2021


Dear Reader

If you find my articles, news stories and translations interesting, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by PayPal or credit card. Thank you for your consideration – PG