Two NEW books on the Alexander Palace

I cannot think of a better way to kick off the summer than the release of two NEW titles on the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo: The Empress’s Balcony and the Empress’s Chair.

I have compiled two unique pictorials dedicated to two of the most iconic spots in the former residence of Russia’s last Imperial Family, both of them favourite spots for the rest and relaxation of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

The Empress’s famous balcony and the corner chair in her Mauve Boudoir served as the settings for hundreds of iconic photographs of herself, the Tsar, their children, as well as extended family members and those close to the Imperial Family.

Each of these pictorials feature more than 100 full-page black-and-white photos. The accompanying text explores the history of both the balcony and chair, as well as the history and recreation of the Maple Drawing Room and Mauve Boudoir. While the balcony was demolished during the Soviet years, the Empress’s chair has recently been recreated for the recreated interior of her Mauve Boudoir, which opened to the public in 2021.

Each of these charming pictorials will be a welcome addition to any one who shares an interest in the Alexander Palace and its Imperial residents during the late 19th to early 20th centuries.


*This title is available from AMAZON in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia,
France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Japan


English. 110 pages, 98 black & white photos

Between 1896-1898 – the Court architect Silvio Danini carried out the reconstruction of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which included the personal apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

In addition, he installed the famous L-shaped iron balcony for the Empress, which was accessed via the Maple Drawing Room.

The Empress’s balcony became a favourite setting for taking family photographs, taken by the Empress and her children, all of whom were avid amateur photographers. More than a century later, these iconic images provide us with a rare glimpse into the private world of the Imperial Family.

The photographs presented in this pictorial, have all been selected from the private albums of the Empress and her children, and that of Alexandra’s friend and lady-in-waiting Anna Vyrubova.

The balcony was dismantled between 1947-49, with no plans to restore it. In the meantime, we have to content ourselves with the selection of vintage photographs which have survived to this day, and are presented in this pictorial.

*This title is available from AMAZON in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia,
France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Japan


English. 120 pages, 107 black & white photos

Between 1896-1898 – the Court architect Silvio Danini carried out the reconstruction of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which included the personal apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

Among the Empress’s quarters was the Mauve Boudoir, which would become her favourite room. According to legend, the Empress gave Alexnder Meltzer a lilac branch, her favourite flower, so that he could choose the colour scheme for the decoration of the room.

Among the most notable pieces of furniture in this room was a corner chair, which became a popular spot for family photographs, taken by the Empress and her children, all of whom were avid amateur photographers. More than a century later, these iconic images provide us with a rare glimpse into the private world of the Imperial Family.

Like many other rooms in the Alexander Palace, the Mauve Boudoir suffered a sad fate – the decoration and the interior were lost during the Great Patriotic War. The room has since been reconstructed and restored to its original historic look, as has the Empress’s famous chair.

© Paul Gilbert. 31 May 2023

More than 2000 flowers planted at Ganina Yama in memory of the Imperial Family

During the month of May, thousands of flowers, apple blossoms and the lilac alley named after Empress Alexandra Feodorovna[1], began to bloom on the grounds of the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama [situated 15 km/10 miles northeast of Ekaterinburg].

On 7th June 2022, the laying of an The Lilac Valley named in honour of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna took place at the monastery. Following a Divine Liturgy, 30 lilac bushes were planted next to the church in Honour of the Icon of the Mother of God. The event was one of many held across Russia marking the 150th anniversary of her birth on 6th June 1872 at the New Palace in Darmstadt.

Today, the following varieties beloved by the Empress and her family are presented here – “Madame Lemoine” (1890), “Memories of Ludwig Späth (1883), Alfos Laval (1887) and Charles Joly (1898).” The monastery noted that all the bushes survived the winter safely, took root and are now gaining colour.

Visitors to the monastery will be delighted by the variety of blooms, including numerous varieties of daffodils, tulips, fragrant peonies, lilies, and more than 50 varieties of roses. In addition, are the apple trees that were planted next to the refectory, bursting with the abundance of snow-white inflorescences, and delicate aromas.

PHOTO: The monument to Emperor Nicholas II was installed on 19th May 2008, the day marking the Sovereign’s birthday.

The floral development and landscaping of the grounds of the monastery at Ganina Yama, which preserves the memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs, is being improved from year to year.

This year, the number of flowers has increased significantly. Moreover, they are selected in such a way as to delight pilgrims and visitors with their variable flowering and delicate aromas throughout the summer months.

At the beginning of May, several hundred tulips bloomed. After the tulips, daffodils bloomed, followed by fragrant peonies. In addition, pilgrims and tourists will be able to admire the colourful irises, petunias and other floral arrangements that adorn the grounds of the monastery in abundance, including the pedestals of each of each of the three monuments dedicated to members of the Holy Royal Martyrs [see below].

PHOTO: The monument to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was installed in 2011.

“There are noticeably more flowers in the monastery this year,” said one pilgrim – “it’s as if you have found yourself in a kind of Garden of Eden. For me, this is Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” come to life! I like to come on a weekday when it’s not so crowded. You can walk for hours along these paths, enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in peace and solitude, and pray to the Holy Royal Martyrs, praise the Lord” – she added.

By the time that this year’s Tsar’s Days begins, in mid-July, the buds of more than a thousand snow-white lilies – 300 varieties from all over the world – will be in full bloom.

The dean of the monastery, Hieromonk John (Nevryuev), noted that every year on 17th July – the day of remembrance of the Holy Royal Martyrs, Mine No. 7 is decorated with hundreds of flowers. This is the place where the regicides tried to hide all traces of their crime – the murder of the Tsar, his wife, their five children and four faithful retainers. It is this place, in which the blood of the Holy Royal Martyrs was spilled, that is the heart of the monastery.

PHOTO: Monument to Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Tsesarevich Alexei was also installed in 2011.


[1] Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was very fond of lilacs, decorating the rooms of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo with blooms of various colours: white, mauve, purple and pink, from the gardens and greenhouses at Tsarskoye Selo – even during the cold winter months.

“The lilac is coming out and its fragrance in the evening is marvelous” – letter from Emperor Nicholas II to his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, written at Tsarskoye Selo, 10th May 1895

In January 2022, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum revived the tradition of placing lilacs in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir and the Maple Drawing Room of the Alexander Palace. The white lilacs bloomed over the past winter.

For the first time in more than a hundred years, the fragrant scent of lilacs once again fill the interiors of the Alexander Palace during the cold winter months.

© Paul Gilbert. 30 May 2023

OTMA and Alexei exhibition opens in St. Petersburg

On 19th May 2023, a new exhibition “OTMA and Alexei. The Children of the Last Russian Emperor” opened in the Manege of the Small Hermitage, in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The exhibition was originally planned to be held in the Hermitage Amsterdam, however, it was cancelled due to EU sanctions against Russia.

The exhibition spans the period from 1895 to 1914 – that is to say, exploring their days of untroubled childhood and youth, unaffected as yet by the First World War and the revolution that followed.

The Emperor’s daughters, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, born at two-year intervals, were very friendly with each other and signed their letters to their parents with the initial letter of each of their names. Hence the abbreviation OTMA. The youngest child and only boy – Alexei, Tsesarevich and heir to the throne – was the favourite of the entire family.

The exhibition showcases more than 270 items, including a unique group of personal belongings and costumes from the stocks of the Hermitage: from baby jackets to formal court dresses, as well as toys and items that the imperial family used in their everyday life. Of particular interest is the clothing of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolayevich, who from an early age wore uniforms of the regiments of which he was the ceremonial patron. Many items on display at this exhibition are being shown for the first time after the completion of lengthy restoration that has brought these historically significant pieces back to life.

As Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, stated: “The tragic end of this happy family, which everyone knows, makes each everyday object emotionally charged and the whole exhibition a dreadful omen.”

Much attention is devoted in the exhibition to telling about the children’s family upbringing and education. Artistic and documentary artefacts – personal possessions, toys, books, favourite games that shaped the individual nature of each sibling – present details of the children’s daily life. It would, however, be difficult to reveal their characters using just the “world of objects”. Archive documents and photographs serve as accompanying illustrations and include many of the items on display.

Besides exhibits from the stocks of the State Hermitage, the display also includes items on loan from the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve and the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) in Moscow.

The exhibition curators are Yulia Valeryevna Plotnikova, leading researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of the History of Russian Culture, and Yulia Vadimovna Sharovskaya, head of the Fine Art Sector in that department.

The exhibition “OTMA and Alexei. The Children of the Last Russian Emperor” is included in the price of all tickets to the State Hermitage Museum. The exhibition runs until th September 2023.

The exhibition is arranged along chronological and thematic lines. The first part shows the early childhood of the Grand Duchesses, including items of infants’ and children’s clothing – baby jackets, blouses, chemises, and some pieces of knitwear made by Empress Alexandra Feodorovna herself among them. Here visitors will find little lace-trimmed cambric frocks with coloured silk underskirts that the girls wore in early childhood; white piqué overcoats with wide turn-down collars and broad-brimmed hats made of unstiffened cambric. The display also contains accessories – footwear, fans and umbrellas. The rarer articles from the wardrobe of the grown-up Grand Duchesses have marks making it possible to tell who exactly wore them, since the Empress liked to dress her daughters identically not only as young children, but at a more advanced age as well.

Items in the exhibition that seem to have come off the pages of the fashion magazines of the day give an idea of how girls were clothed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were, however, certain articles that set the children of the imperial family apart from others of the same age belonging to even well-to-do families. These include the Grand Duchesses’ formal court dresses: from the childish ones sewn in 1904 for the baptism of the heir to the throne, to those for the teenage girls and young ladies made in Olga Bulbenkova’s famous atelier, and also Tsesarevich Alexei’s uniforms. Immediately after his birth, the heir to the throne was “enrolled in the military” and appointed ceremonial patron of several Guards regiments, having the corresponding uniforms made for him. As he grew older, Alexei took part in parades and reviews along with his father. All the Grand Duchesses were also patrons of regiments. Olga, Tatiana and Maria even had special unforms sewn for them.

Photographs and watercolours show the imperial family’s favourite places: their primary residence – the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo; the palace at Livadia in the Crimea for the spring and autumn seasons, and also their “second home” – the imperial yacht Shtandart. Voyages on that ship were a treat to which the children eagerly looked forward, bringing some variety to their heavily regulated lives. The girls were dressed in sailor costumes and the Tsesarevich in naval unform, from which only two sailor’s caps have survived. The family spent the summer months at the Lower Dacha in Peterhof, which no longer exists. The exhibition includes two pieces of furniture made at Friedrich Melzer’s factory in Saint Petersburg – one for the drawing-room of the Lower Dacha, the other for the Grand Duchesses’ schoolroom at the Alexander Palace.

Separate attention is paid in the display to Tsesarevich Alexei. The long-awaited heir to the throne was dearly loved by his parents and sisters. The children spent much time playing and doing other activities together. Despite his serious illness – haemophilia, in his rare moments of good health, the Tsesarevich strove to live a normal life, which included both schoolwork and amusements. In order to recreate the everyday world of the heir to the throne more precisely, the State Hermitage and the State Archive have provided from their collections a boy’s military uniform, toys, letters, drawings, exercise books and a timetable of lessons.

The characters of all five children can be grasped from a unique set of materials – personal diaries, family letters, schoolwork and exercise books. The two eldest siblings, Olga and Tatiana, studied well, were diligent and neat, reading extensively. Grand Duchess Maria was very fond of drawing but fell short of her elder sisters when it came to learning. The youngest, Anastasia, had the nickname Shvybzik (perhaps “little imp”) and was the most playful and lively. She disliked learning but was very good in comic roles in the family’s amateur dramatics and took a leading part in games. Tsesarevich Alexei was a very bright youngster, but his lessons were often interrupted due to the illness that affected him throughout his life.

The sisters shared their parents’ love of photography. Each of them had her own Kodak camera that was enthusiastically used to take many pictures of themselves, their family and friends, hundreds of them then being pasted into albums. Two of those albums, embellished with the Grand Duchesses’ own drawings, feature in the display.



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).

PHOTO: cover of the Russian language exhibition catalogue

© State Hermitage Museum. 20 May 2023

Ekaterinburg Diocese celebrates the 155th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II

The anniversary of the birth of Russia’s last Tsar has been celebrated in the Ural capital of Ekaterinburg for many years.

On 19th May 2023, with the blessing of Metropolitan Evgeny of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye, a series of events will be held dedicated to the memory of the last Russian emperor, the Holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II.

On the morning of 19th May, a Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at 8:00 a.m., in the Church on the Blood, built on the site of the Ipatiev House, where the Imperial Family and their four faithful retainers met their deaths and martyrdom.

A liturgy will also be celebrated at the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs in Ganina Yama, followed by a Cross Procession  celebrating the patronal feast day in the name of the Righteous Job the Long-Suffering [on whose feast day Nicholas was born].

In addition, Divine services in memory of the last Russian emperor will be held in many churches of the Ekaterinburg diocese, including the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky at the Novo-Tikhvin Convent, whose history is closely connected with the last Tsar and his family.

At 12:00 p.m., the Tsarsky Cultural and Educational Center [situated across the square from the Church on the Blood] will host the opening of Emperor Nicholas II During the First World War, an exhibition timed to coincide with the 155th anniversary of the birth of Nicholas II and the 105th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The exhibition runs until 31st August 2023.

At 1:30 p.m., a Liturgy will be performed in the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker at the Ural State Mining University of Emperor Nicholas II, followed by a festive concert at 14:00 in the Tsar’s Hall of the USMU.

In addition, the Blue Line of Ekaterinburg will be launched. The route connects a dozen sights of the city, each of them, in one way or another are associated with the final days Nicholas II and his family during their house arrest in the Ural city, from April to July 1918.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 May 2023

Bikers hold rally in memory of Nicholas II

On 17th May, members of the Tyumen Motorcycle Club began a 6-day a motorcycle rally – “The Way of the Cross of the Tsar’s Family” – dedicated to Emperor Nicholas II. 

The small group of Harley Davidson enthusiasts began their rally on 17th May at the Abalak Znamenski Monastery (located 20 km east of Tobolsk) and finish at the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama (near Ekaterinburg).

PHOTO: bikers at the monument to the Imperial Family in Tyumen

The route will pass along the route taken by the Emperor, his wife Alexandra and their daughter Grand Duchess Maria, when they were transferred from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg in April 1918. The route was recreated by local historians from the diaries of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, as well as archival documents.

Along the entire route, motorcyclists will ride with the flags of the club, the flag depicting the image of Nicholas II and the flag of Russia. The participants will also bring icons consecrated at the Abalak Znamenski Monastery with the face of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and the Holy Royal Martyrs. The latter will be presented to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs in Ganina Yama.

PHOTO: bikers at the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

The entire 6-day route will cover some 2610 km, passing0 through Tobolsk, Tyumen, Omsk and Ekaterinburg. Bikers arrived in Tyumen on 18th May, where they made a stop at the city’s monument to the Imperial Family created by the Russian sculptor Irina Makarova, installed in June 2020.

The rally is timed to coincide with the 155th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II on 19th May [O.S. 6th May] 1918, as well as the 105th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of the Imperial Family and their four faithful retainers on 18th July 1918.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 May 2023

Boris Yeltsin Had Plans to Demolish Lenin’sMausoleum and Restore Monarchy

PHOTO: Sergei Stepashin (left) and Boris Yeltsin (right)

During an interview with Istorik magazine in April 2017, former Russian prime minister Sergei Vadimovich Stepashin, claims that in 1998 acting Russian president Boris Yeltsin gave him an order to demolish Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square.

Stepashin chaired the Ministry of Interior from March 1998 to May 1999, and it was during his term in office that he made an official visit to England.

“When I came back, I went to his office and Yeltsin said:

“Sergei Vadimovich, I made a decision to demolish the mausoleum.” I told him: “Well, but how does it relate to the Ministry of Interior?” “The Ministry of Interior should secure order,” he answers.

“Well,” I said, “I am a minister and should fulfill orders of the Chief Commander, the only thing I can’t secure, Boris Nikolayevich, is that will you still be the president and will I still be a minister after such a decision?” – Stepashin recalled.

PHOTO: Lenin’s mausoleum on Red Square, Moscow

According to him, he started persuading Yeltsin not to demolish the mausoleum.

“If you trust me, then please listen to me, I tell you honestly, it is not the right time. From the Christian point of view, Lenin’s body should not be put on view. It is a sin. But it is not the right time to demolish the mausoleum. Don’t do it! Doesn’t it incommode you?”

Yeltsin grumbled, but listened to my arguments,” Stepashin said.

Since 2007 Stepashin is the head of the revived Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS).

Yeltsin’s sympathetic interest in a restoration of the monarchy

In 1994, unconfirmed reports in the media suggested that Yeltsin also had plans to restore the monarchy in Russia. According to economist and strategist Vladimir Lvovich Kvint events would have taken the following turn: Parliament would vote for the restoration of the monarchy, or Yeltsin would organize a referendum, and the people, tired of the fighting among political leaders would agree. Yeltsin was not in favour of an absolute monarch, but a constitutional monarchy with more power than that of those in Britain and Europe. Once again, Yeltsin was persuaded not to pursue the idea any further.

© Paul Gilbert. 17 May 2023

Dacha of Nicholas II’s court architect in Tsarskoye Selo to be auctioned

PHOTO: the former dacha of Court architect Silvio Danini in Tsarskoye Selo, as it looks today – in a “deplorable state of disrepair”.

The former dacha of Tsar Nicholas II’s Court architect Silvio Amvrosievich Danini (1867-1942), built at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries is to be auctioned in Tsarskoye Selo.

The dacha was part of a complex of buildings constructed by Danini himself between 1899-1902, which included two-story “Large” and “Small” dachas, a stone service wing and a barn. A richly landscaped garden was also laid out. The “Large” dacha featured turrets, bay windows, the timber facades embellished with decorative elements.

The opening bid for the 6500 square foot wooden dacha is set at 18.66 million rubles [$238,000 USD]. The auction will be held on 23rd June. Under the terms of the agreement of sale, the buyer must agree to restore and preserve the buildings historic look, and to be completed within seven years from the date of registration of the transfer of ownership.

PHOTO: early 20th century view of Silvio Danini’s estate at Tsarskoye Selo

Danini’s “Large” dacha is located on Pavlovskoye highway, 26A in Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo], a short drive from the Alexander Palace. Having received the post of architect of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Administration in 1896, Danini rented a small house for his family. By 1899, the architect decided to buy the property and build a larger house.

During the Soviet period the building was used as the Pushkin Palace Administration, and then as a dormitory of the Institute of Economics. After repairs in the 1970s, it was used as a branch of the Institute of Agricultural Cybernetics, then by the Agricultural Institute. In the 1990s, it served as a resident for scientists.

The property was abandoned more than a decade ago. Since that time several unsuccessful attempts have been made to sell and restore the historic dacha.

In August 2016, Danini’s dacha was listed as “an object of cultural heritage of regional significance” by the Committee for State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments (KGIOP).

In 2020 a plan to open an eight-room hotel was proposed, however, nothing ever came of the idea due to lack of funding by developers.

According to the daughter of the great-grandson of the architect Vera Kozlova, the wooden dacha is currently is in a “deplorable state of disrepair”.

PHOTO: Silvio Amvrosievich Danini (1867-1942)

The Last Court Architect

Silvio (Valentin) Amvrosievich Danini was born in Kharkov on 1st July (O.S. 19th June) 1867.

He was born in the family of Italian opera singer Ambrogio Danini (1807-1872) and his wife Emilia. In 1893, Silvio married the Lutheran Vera Stuckenberg (1874-1944), the couple had four children, whose descendants today live in St. Petersburg.

In 1879, after the death of his father, Silvio and his mother Emilia moved to Poltava, and in 1886 to St. Petersburg, where in 1892 he graduated from the Academy of Arts with the title of “Class Artist of the 1st degree”.

He began his career under the guidance of the architect Alexander Fyodorovich Krasovsky (1848-98), abd participated in the restructurtion of the northwestern wing of the Winter Palace for the future emperor Nicholas II. As a result, in 1892 he was hired to repair, and then reconstruct with extensions, the Znamenskaya Church in Tsarskoye Selo. In 1894 he restored the Catherine Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo. In 1896, the Nicholas II personally appointed Danini architect of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Administration, and on 5th October 1911, he was awarded the title of Chief Architect of the Imperial Court.

Danini was responsible for the construction of more than 40 buildings in Tsarskoye Selo [renamed Pushkin in 1937] – many of which have survived to the present day.

He is probably more widely known for his development of the Alexander Palace – the last residence of Nicholas II and his family, from 1905 to 1917 – which included:

1896-1898 – reconstruction of the left [eastern] wing of the Alexander Palace for the personal apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, and the construction of an underground passage-gallery between the palace and the Palace Kitchen.

PHOTO: view of the famous Alexander Palace balcony (circa 1940s)

Danini was also responsible for the installation of the famous balcony in 1896 for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. It was here that many iconic photos of the Imperial Family were taken. The balcony was dismantled between 1947-49.

1896-1898 – the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the park to the Alexander Palace, which has been preserved.

1906-1907 – the Imperial Garage, which housed Nicholas II’s motorcars, which has also been preserved.

After the revolution, in 1923, Danini moved to Petrograd, where he designed hydraulic structures on the Svir River. Silvio Danini died in Leningrad on 11th January 1942 during the siege (his wife and daughter Virginia were later evacuated). He was buried at the Volkovsky Lutheran Cemetery in the family grave of the Stuckenbergs.

© Paul Gilbert. 13 May 2023

Artists assemble mosaic icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs for the Alexander Nevsky Lavra

Photo © Igor Akimov

A three-meter mosaic icon depicting the Holy Royal Martyrs Tsar Nicholas II and his family is being assembled by a team of artists for the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg. According to one of the artists: “each of the coloured smalt[1] mosaic tiles is so tiny, that the assembly is similar to creating a jigsaw puzzle.”

Alexandra Serditova, executive director of the Kedr Charitable Foundation added: “as the icon is so large, we divided it into two parts. The top half has already been completed – the lower part is almost finished. The most difficult thing has been the faces.”

Photo © Igor Akimov

The beautiful icon depicts the seven faces of the Holy Royal Martyrs: Emperor Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, and their five children: Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Nikolaevna.

It is the work of a small group of artists and experts from the Monastyrskaya Sloboda Center, who have alreadly completed other mosaic icons of saints: Alexander Nevsky and his older brother Theodore of Novgorod, Ksenia of Petersburg, John of Kronstadt, and Seraphim of Vyritsky. These four icons now adorn the Alexander Nevsky Lavra[2] in St. Petersburg. The mosaic depicting the Emperor and his family became their most ambitious project, one which utilized all the reserves of the workshop.

“It’s a great team effort! We hope that we will not experience any special challenges in its completion. But there is a possibility that the process may be delayed, so we are not even talking about deadlines at this stage, as we do not want to rush ourselves,” says Alexandra Serditova.

Photo © Igor Akimov

What is so unique about the mosaic icons is that they have been created by artists with disabilities. These include people with hearing impairments, others suffering from mental and cardiovascular diseases, and those confined to wheelchair. These dedicated souls have been making icons since 2019, for them it is not just a hobby, but a job – each of them receiving a monthly monetary reward for their gifted talent.


[1] a deep blue pigment consisting of a powdered glass that contains oxide of cobalt

[2] Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra or Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery was founded by Peter I of Russia in 1710 at the eastern end of the Nevsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg.

© Paul Gilbert. 7 May 2023

Nicholas II’s little known third brother: Alexander (1869-1870)

PHOTO: The only photograph of the “Angel Alexander”, was taken by his parents posthumously

Up until the early 20th century infant mortality in Imperial Russia was among the highest in the world[1]. Many a family lost at least one child either during childbirth or disease. Infant mortality was something that did not discriminate, regardless of one’s position in life, including members of the Russian Imperial Family.

Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich was born on 7th June (O.S. 26th May) 1869. He was the second child, of the then Tsesarevich Alexander Alexandrovich (future Emperor Alexander III) and Tsesarevna Maria Feodorovna (future Empress Maria Feodorovna, née Princess Dagmar of Denmark).

Alexander was the younger brother of the future Emperor Nicholas II, and third in line to the Russian throne at the time of his birth.

Sadly, the “Angel Alexander” did not live a full year, he died of bacterial meningitis, one month before his first birthday, on 2nd May (O.S. 20th April) 1870, age 10 months and 26 days.

The doctors who observed the infant – obstetrician Jacob Schmidt, pediatrician Karl Rauchfus and surgeon Gustav Hirsch recorded the course of the disease in detail. They noted that on the night of 15/16 April, after the secondary flu which infected the child’s right lung, signs of acute damage to the meninges appeared. On 17th April, there was a “slight improvement in the patient’s condition”, on 18th April – “a feverish state of moderation”, on 19th April – “for the most part he was conscious”, but the next day there was a deterioration and sudden death.

PHOTO: the tiny white marble sarcophagus bearing the remains of Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich in the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg

Tsesarevich Alexander wrote in his diary: “God, what a day You sent us and what is this test that we shall never forget to the end of our lives? Be it Your Will Lord and we shall conciliate before You and Your Will.”

“The doctors maintain he did not suffer, but we suffered terribly to see and hear him,” Maria Feodorovna wrote to her mother, Queen Louise of Denmark.

Grand Duke Alexander was sketched on his deathbed by the famous Russian portrait artist Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837-1887). The only photograph of the “Angel Alexander”, was taken by his parents posthumously.

Sergei D. Sheremetev, the adjutant to Tsesarevich Alexander, accompanied the infant’s body on horseback to the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, where he was buried in the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral. The infant Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich was laid to rest in the northern nave of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in a tiny white marble sarcophagus. On the upper edge of the sarcophagus there is a gilded cross made of bronze, on the side there is a bronze plaque with an epitaph inscribed on it

Alexander’s death was the first of many personal losses which the Empress Maria Feodorovna would endure before her own death in 1928. She outlived her beloved husband “Sasha”, her parents, her sister Alexandra, all four of her sons, and five grandchildren.

Memory Eternal! Вечная Память!


[1] At the beginning of the twentieth century, Russia had the highest infant mortality in Europe – 250 out of 1000 newborns died before they reached one year of age.

Infant mortality under Nicholas II steadily declined. The downward trend in mortality (both children and adults) began before the revolution. According to statistics, the death rate during the reign of Nicholas II per 1000 people had been steadily decreasing.

In 1913, the All-Russian Guardianship for the Protection of Motherhood and Infancy was established by a personalized Imperial Decree, with the goal of reducing infant mortality in Russia, setting up shelters for mothers and children, Russia’s first dairy kitchens, children’s hospitals, maternity hospitals, etc.

© Paul Gilbert. 6 May 2023