State Hermitage Museum to host OTMAA exhibition next month

A new exhibition OTMA and Alexei. The Children of the Last Russian Emperor will open next month at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The exhibition which will open on 19th May [Nicholas II’s birthday] in the Manege of the Small Hermitage is a joint project of the State Hermitage Museum, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum and the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF).

The exhibition will cover the period from the birth of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna’s first child Olga in 1895 to August 1914, and the Imperial Family’s house arrest in the Alexander Palace and their subsequent exile to Siberia.

Among the more than 300 exhibits, are Court dresses and other accessories worn by the Grand Duchesses from the State Hermitage Museum’s Costume Collection, as well as toys and other personal items of the Imperial Children from the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum.

Of particular interest to visitors will be the military uniforms of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, who from childhood wore the uniforms of the regiments under his patronage. Many of these uniforms will be displayed for the first time following the completion of their restoration.

A richly illustrated Russian language catalogue has been prepared for the exhibition (State Hermitage Publishing House, 2023), which includes an introduction by Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage Museum. The authors of the articles are Y.V. Plotnikova, A.V. Sabenina (State Archives of the Russian Federation), M.P. Filiptseva (Tsarskoye Selo State Museum).

“This is a very touching exhibition”, said Mikhail Piotrovsky, general director of the museum. Piotrovsky noted that the exhibition was originally planned to premiere at the Hermitage Amsterdam (Netherlands), however, the exhibit has been cancelled, due to current EU sanctions on Russia.

OTMA was an acronym used by the four daughters – Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia – of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, as a group nickname for themselves, built from the first letter of each girl’s name in the order of their births. It was with this acronym that they signed their letters to their parents. Alexei’s initial is an addition made in the late 20th century.

The Children of the Last Russian Emperor. OTMA and Alexei exhibition will run from 19th May 2023 to 10th September 2023 at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Click HERE to read about other exhibitions dedicated to OTMAA

© Paul Gilbert. 28 April 2023

Blue Line route marks places associated with Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg

The city of Ekaterinburg is already making preparation for ‘Tsar’s Days‘, the annual event held in July, marking the deaths and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family.

Over the past few years, a blue line has been painted on the streets in Ekaterinburg. The blue line is a 6.3 km pedestrian route for pilgrims and tourists, which connects a dozen places associated with the final days Nicholas II and his family in the Ural city.

This year participants can make use of a printed guidebook or download a special app to their mobile phone, both of which provide details about the Holy Royal Martyrs, and the places highlighted along the Holy Route.

Five of the places on the route are churches and cathedrals – such as the Church on the Blood (built on the site of the Ipatiev House) seen in the photo above.

The idea was implemented jointly with the Ekaterinburg diocese and the city administration in 2018. It is a wonderful idea, and I found it very helpful during my visit to the city in July 2018.

This year (2023) marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of Ekaterinburg in 1723; the 155th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II in 1868; and and the 105th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of the Imperial Family in 1918.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 April 2023

Nicholas II. Family and Throne exhibition opens in Tula

On Friday 21st April, a new exhibition “Nicholas II. Family and Throne”, opened in the Tula branch of the State Historical Museum.

The exhibit marks the 155th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II on 19th May [O.S. 6th May] 1868 and the105th anniversary of the death and martyrdom [17th July 1918].

The exhibition will give visitors an opportunity to “look” at the life of the Russian ruler and his family through the impartial lens of the camera. The exposition is emphatically documentary: rare photographs from the collection of the State Historical Museum which depict the private life of the Russian monarch.

PHOTOS: the director of the State Historical Museum (Moscow) and curator of the exhibition Evgeny Lukyanov discusses watercolours (above) and photographs (below) depicting the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II in Moscow, May 1896

The Emperor and members of his family were all avid photographers: they all had cameras and took pictures of each other, family events and their relatives. The Emperor was almost always accompanied by professional Court photographers who photographed the Emperor almost every day of his reign (among the most notable being “K. E. von Hahn and Co.” and its owner, and the Court photographer A. K. Yagelsky). The museum’s collection contains more than 750 photographs from the life of Nicholas II. A number of photographs come from the Tsar’s favourite residences: the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, the Lower Dacha at Peterhof, and Livadia Palace in Crimea, depicting the private world of the Imperial Family.

The exhibit focuses on two topics: “Nicholas II as the head of the Russian Empire” and “Nicholas II as the head of the Imperial Family”.

The first – official – section shows photographs depicting the Emperor during meetings with foreign heads of state (King Edward VII of Great Britain, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, French Presidents Felix Faure and Armand Falier); celebrations on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of St. Petersburg and the 100th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812; parades, reviews and regimental holidays; consecration of churches and monuments; as well as during the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War. A significant place is given to the display of two major dynastic events – the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II (1896) and the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov (1913).

The second – family – section of the exhibition presents photographs related to the personal life of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The central place is given to the August children – Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Tsesarevich Alexei. Of particular note in this section, are unique photographs depicting the stay of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in Livadia in 1911, 1912 and 1913 respectively.

In addition to the hundreds of photographs, are portraits of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, watercolours depicting episodes from the life of the Imperial Family, drawings of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, unique historical documents, including autographs of the last Romanovs, are all on display.

The exhibition also includes uniforms worn by Nicholas II and his son Tsesarevich Alexei, as well as precious orders presented to Nicholas II from the collection of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. “These precious orders from European and Asian countries, stored in the collection of the numismatics department of the museum, rarely leave the walls of the fund,” said Director Alexey Levykin.

The exhibition presents Russian Orders awarded to Nicholas II[1], in addition to those given by Great Britain, Prussia, France, Austria-Hungary, Japan, Thailand and other European and Asian countries[2]. Many orders are being exhibited for the first time.

“The orders were made of silver and gold and decorated with precious stones. Each exhibit outstanding craftsmanship, utilizing various jewelry techniques: gold embroidery, filigree, various types of enameling, engraving, and casting,” he added.

PHOTOS: memorial hall (above) to Emperor Nicholas II and his family. On display in the foreground is a reliquary frame with a portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and a lock of his hair (below).

The last hall of the exhibition resembles a basement or crypt, where there are seven stelae each depicting photographic portraits of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their five children, who were murdered in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on the night of 16/17 July 1918. In the center of this miniature memorial hall is a unique item – a reliquary frame with a portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and a lock of his hair.

The exhibition is supplemented by excerpts from the diary of Emperor Nicholas II and quotes from contemporaries who knew the Emperor and his family closely: Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the Swiss tutor Pierre Gilliard, Prince Felix Yusupov, French Ambassador to Russia Maurice Paléologue, Chief Hofmeisterina of the Imperial Court E.A. Naryshkina, Head of the Chancellery of the Ministry of the Imperial Court A.A. Mosolov, Minister of Foreign Affairs S.D. Sazonov, maid of honour of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna Anna Vyrubova.

The director of the Tula branch of the State Historical Museum notes: “Understanding all the inconsistency and ambiguity of the personality of Emperor Nicholas II, we do not presume to judge his role and place in the history of our country, but provide such an opportunity for visitors to the exhibition, who will be able to “look” at the life of the Russian monarch and his family through the lens of a camera. We hope that the exposition in the branch of the Historical Museum in Tula will be a worthy occasion to honour the memory of the last Russian sovereign, who was martyred more than a century ago.”

The State Historical Museum in Moscow, opened the first regional branch in Tula at the end of September 2020 as part of the celebration marking the 500th anniversary of the Tula Kremlin.

The “Nicholas II. Family and Throne” Exhibition runs until 11th September 2023 at the Tula branch of the State Historical Museum. A Russian-language illustrated catalogue has been prepared for the exhibition.


[1] Nicholas II was the recipient of 7 national honours

[2] Nicholas II was the recipient of 51 foreign honours from 35 countries, duchies, etc

©  Paul Gilbert. 22 April 2023

Tsarskoye Selo publishes rare Romanov Family Archive

NOTE: the source of the this article is from the web site of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum, it has been edited and updated with additional information by Paul Gilbert. ALL the photographs are © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum.

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum has composed and published a new research catalogue based on an archive of materials of Romanov family members. This priceless archive was purchased for over ₽ 5,300,000 [$65,000 USD] from a private collector in London in 2017, thanks to financial support from Sberbank, also the sponsor of the catalogue’s publication.

The new Russian language catalogue includes private correspondence, drawings and photographs of members of the Imperial Family. The catalogue is authored by researchers Irina Raspopova and Victoria Plaude of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum.

The presentation of the catalogue was held on 7th April 2023 [see poster above] by the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Olga Taratynova and the Chairman of Sberbank’s North-Western Office Viktor Ventimilla Alonso. The museum’s deputy director for research and education Dr Iraida Bott, delivered a talk on the Alexander Palace after the Romanovs. 

The archive includes more than 200 previously unpublished private correspondence, drawings and photographs spans over half a century, of the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, from 1866 to 1922.

The catalogue contains full texts with detailed comments to all the letters, telegrams and notes, as well as detailed descriptions of the photographs. An annotated name index includes 215 names mentioned in the texts. 

Most of the documents relate to Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna (1875-1960), Emperor Alexander III’s daughter and Emperor Nicholas II’s sister, and to Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878-1918), Nicholas II’s brother, as well as to George Vladimirovitch Shervashidze (1894-1978), titular Prince of Abkhazia, who was close to members of the Imperial Family.

Xenia’s letters to her brother Michael, whom she always affectionately addresses as “my darling Misha”, date from the early 1880s to 1914. She wrote them on her monogrammed paper and on the headed paper of the palaces and hotels where she stayed. Her letters include those penned by her children, decorated with vignettes and drawings.

In a letter dated 23rd November 1916. Michael writes to Xenia from Ai-Todor in the Crimea. All their family quarrels settled by then, he ends the letter saying, “Natalya Sergeevna [known as Countess Natalya Brasova, from May 1911] thanks you very much and also sends her greetings, and I hug you tightly. Loving you heartily, Your Misha.”

Of particularly great  interest are three letters of 1917-18 and a postcard dated 25th February 1918 to George Shervashidze from Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, a first cousin of Alexander III and an eminent historian. The author describes in detail the situation in Petrograd during the days of the October Revolution and mentions Trotsky, Kerensky, Lunacharsky and Lenin. The envelopes have no postage stamps because the grand duke’s  letters were delivered by trusted individuals. His postcard of 25th February 1918 ends with somewhat prophetic words: “Little by little, all our acquaintances move to where there is no sadness or joy.”

Of great value to the Museum is Nicholas II’s autograph in his laconic note of 1899 to his sister, Grand Duchess Xenia. Also valuable are Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna’s short English messages to her sister-in-law, funnily addressed “Darling Chicken” and signed “Your old Hen”.

Taken away from Russia by Romanov family members, the archive was partially kept by Xenia and later inherited by her descendants.

Besides the Romanovs’ correspondence, Sberbank helped the Museum purchase twenty-three photographs taken by General Alexander Nasvetevich (1837-1911), an aide-de-camp to Emperor Alexander II. The shots include the photographer’s self-portrait, Alexander III and his son Nicholas at a parade in Krasnoe Selo, Empress Maria Feodorovna at Gatchina, and other important events at the imperial court.

The materials in the catalogue will be of interest to historians, archive specialists, museum workers, and anyone interested in the history of the Romanov dynasty and their last representatives in particular. The catalogue is currently only available at the Tsarskoye Selo Museum Shop in the Catherine Palace and at Dom Knigi in St Petersburg.

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. 21 April 2023

Odessa city council orders removal of icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II

On Monday 3rd April, Ukrainian nationalists hung a large black banner denouncing the Moscow Patriarchate [photo above], across the facade of the Chapel in Honour of the Miraculous Image of the Lord Jesus Christ in Odessa. In addition, two icons depicting Fyodor Fyodorovich Ushakov (1745-1817) [1] and the Holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II were dismantled.

Up until recently a sculpture of the famous Russian general Alexander Suvorov (1730-1800) stood in front of the chapel. The sculpture is a copy of the historical original made in 1911. The current monument was opened in 2012.

Behind the monument is a semicircular wall depicting six mosaic icons of Orthodox saints.

On 30th November 2022, deputies of the Odessa City Council ordered that the monument to the “Founders of the City”, better known as the “Monument to Catherine II”[2], as well as the monument to Suvorov be dismantled. As a result, in December 2022, the monument to Catherine II was dismantled, and the monument to Suvorov was removed and transferred to the art museum in Odessa.

PHOTO: mosaic icon of the Holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II has been dismantled from the façade of the chapel – it’s whereabouts unknown

In addition, the deputies ordered the dismantling of the icons of Ushakov and Nicholas II, the latter of whom they referred to as “Nicholas the Bloody”.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukrainian authorities have been going to great lengths to destroy their Imperial Russian past. In July 2022, vandals destroyed a monument to Emperor Alexander III in the village of Pershotravneve, located in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine. The bust of the “Tsar-Peacemaker” was knocked to the ground, while the plaque, which included Putin’s name was also removed from the front of the pedestal. The bust-monument was erected in 2013 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty and the 125th anniversary of the Borki Train Disaster[3] in October 1888.

Heaven forbid that Crimea should ever fall into the hands of Ukraine again, where numerous monuments to Emperors Nicholas II and Alexander III would surely suffer the same fate, not to mention that of Livadia Palace.

PHOTO: the places where the icons of Ushakov (left) and Tsar-Martyr (right) originally hung are now empty


[1] Fyodor Fyodorovich Ushakov (1745-1817) served as commander of the Black Sea Fleet. On 7th August 2001 the Russian Orthodox Church glorified him as a Saint and declared him the patron of the Russian Navy. His relics are enshrined in Sanaksar Monastery, Temnikov, Russia.

[2] The original monument was installed in Odessa in 1900, dismantled by the Bolsheviks in 1920, and restored in 2007.

[3] On 29th October 1888, the Imperial Train carrying Tsar Alexander III and his family from Crimea to St Petersburg derailed at high speed at Borki.

© Paul Gilbert. 3 April 2023