Love of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna to be immortalized in Crimea

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Tsesarevich Nikolai Alexandrovich and Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt

In 2020, a monument will be established in Alushta (situated 36 km from Yalta), at the site of the historic meeting between Tsesarevich Nikolai Alexandrovich and his future wife, Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt.

The St. Basil the Great Foundation has announced a competition for the best monument project commemorating the meeting of the future Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in Alushta on 10th October 1894.

It was in the autumn of 1894, that Emperor Alexander III’s health began to further deteriorate. Nicholas obtained the permission of his dying father to summon Alix to the Imperial family’s Crimean palace of Livadia.

A stone laying ceremony will be held at the end of October, at the site of the future monument with a sign on which the historical background of the event 125 years ago will be indicated.

According to the organizer of the contest, the creation of such a monument should be a great cultural event for the Crimea and for the whole of Russia, bearing educational and moral significance, reflecting the of love of the August couple.

The results of the competition for the best design of the monument will be announced on 15th December 2019. The winner of the competition will be determined by a competition committee, headed by Grand Duke Georgy Mikhailovich.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 September 2019

NEW photos reveal progress of the reconstruction of historic interiors in the Alexander Palace

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The Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo surrounded by the colours of autumn

These are indeed exciting times for those of us, who share an interest in the last Russian Imperial Family. The recreation of the historic interiors of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna in the Alexander Palace, has to rank among the most exciting restoration projects since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The restoration and reconstruction of the Alexander Palace has generated tremendous interest since the palace-museum was closed in August 2015. There is much optimism that several historic interiors will be open to the public at the end of 2019, or early 2020. I for one, am looking forward to travelling to St. Petersburg next year, to see these rooms in all their glory.

NOTE: these four photographs reveal the most recent results of the reconstruction of the Alexander Palace interiors, courtesy of 66salomon1986@Instagram

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The curtains have been installed in the Imperial Bedroom in the Alexander Palace
PHOTO: 66salomon1986@Instagram

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The corner fireplace in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace
PHOTO: 66salomon1986@Instagram

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The corner fireplace in the Tsar’s Working-Study in the Alexander Palace
PHOTO: 66salomon1986@Instagram

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Stunning view of Nicholas II’s Bathroom, includes the fireplace and bath in the Alexander Palace
PHOTO: 66salomon1986@Instagram

Click HERE to review more articles, news and photos about the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace from Nicholas II. Emperor. Tsar. Saint. and HERE from Royal Russia News

© Paul Gilbert. 26 September 2019

Moscow thanks US for return of historic documents related to Russia’s last tsar

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US Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman (left) with deputy head of the Rosarchive Andrei Yurasov (right), review the sixteen stolen documents returned to Russia

During a ceremony held on 18th September at Spaso House, the residence of U.S. Ambassador in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its gratitude to the US Embassy in Russia and US law-enforcement agencies for the return of historic documents, dated from the reign of Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917) and stolen from Russian archives in the 1990s.

“The documents include sixteen original decrees, signed by Tsar Nicholas II on bestowing the Russian Empire’s state imperial and royal awards of 1905, 1913 and 1914,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “We express our gratitude to US law enforcement agencies and the US Embassy in Moscow for their contribution in restoring the historical justice.”

The documents were stolen from the Russian State Historical Archive of St. Petersburg in 1994, and surfaced 10 years later at an auction in the United States. At auction, a single document can sell for $3,000 USD or more.

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Stolen decrees bearing the signature of Nicholas II, were returned to Russia on 18th September, during an official ceremony hosted at Spaso House, the residence of U.S. Ambassador in Moscow

In 2014, US Department of Homeland Security received information from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation that documents of historical importance were being sold by a US auction house. After an investigation was held, the documents were found to be genuine.

This is the fifth stolen document transfer ceremony to take place in the past 13 years, thanks to the US Department of Homeland Security. “These documents are of great importance for studying the history of Russia, the award system of the Russian Empire, biographies of state, military, public figures of the beginning of the 20th century,” said the deputy head of the Rosarchive Andrei Yurasov.

The looting of cultural property is one of the oldest types of crime that has spread around the world, said Katie Bay, the regional attache of the US Department of Homeland Security Investigation Service, promising to continue cooperation with Russia in the search for documents and memorabilia of historic significance, declared as missing from Russian archives and museums, which resurface on the US antiquarian market.

Katie Bey stated during a news conference that the US authorities suspect the theft of documents by Vladimir Weinberg, who is currently allegedly hiding from justice in Israel.

He is professionally interested in art, said Katie Bey. – He was already arrested in the 1980s by Russian law enforcement agencies and spent some time in prison. But immediately after his release, he took up the old. I believe that he had accomplices who provided him access to the archives, where he stole thousands of various documents.

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This *ukase bearing the signature of Nicholas II was one of sixteen stolen in the 1990s.
*A ukase, or ukaz, in Imperial Russia, was a proclamation of the tsar that had the force of law

The director of the Department of Museums of the Ministry of Culture Vladislav Kononov also added, that during the past 10 years of cooperation with the United States, more than 100 stolen items had been returned to Russia. In particular, were documents with authentic autographs of the Russian Emperors.

“The joint meticulous work between the two states’ relevant government agencies to locate missing valuables and return them to Russia shall continue for many years, thus demonstrating a great positive potential of a constructive approach to bilateral ties,” the ministry added.

Prior to transferring them back to the archive, US Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman was told in detail which figures were awarded the last Russian emperor. For example, he awarded the Order of St. Anne, 3rd Class to the photographer of the Imperial family Alexander Yagelsky.

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Ukase bearing the signature of Nicholas II was one of sixteen stolen in the 1990s.

At present, our relationship is undergoing a crisis of confidence. And there is no better way to take it to a new level than to take such steps. This confirms that there are areas where the United States and Russia can cooperate and truly cooperate. And our goal as diplomats is to create such trust. Today we are taking a small step in a positive direction, and I would be glad if we could take such steps every day. In that case, in a year we would have advanced far,” the US ambassador to Russia smiled.

According to Andrei Yurasov, in the 1990s, thousands of documents were stolen from Russian archives, many of which have not been recovered so far. But today the level of theft has been reduced to zero thanks to improved security systems, the establishment of control over the use of scripts in reading rooms and the digitization of the most requested documents. 

And Andrei Yurasov assured him that now the archive, where 6.5 million files are stored, is equipped with the most modern security systems – thieves shall not pass!

© Paul Gilbert. 26 September 2019

 

Monument to Nicholas II Established in Donetsk

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On 8th September 2019, a new monument to Tsar Nicholas II was installed in the Kuybyshevsky district of Donetsk.

The bronze bust was established on the grounds of the Church of the Holy Royal Martyrs in the village of Gornyak. The opening ceremony of the monument was attended by clergy, soldiers of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and residents of the village.

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The newly built Church of the Holy Royal Martyrs is currently being constructed in honour of Nicholas II and members of his family, who were all murdered in July 1918 in Ekaterinburg.

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© Paul Gilbert. 9 September 2019

Monument to General who remained faithful to Nicholas II established in Russia

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Monument to General Count Fyodor Arturovich Keller, Peterhof,

On 5th September, Russia’s first monument to General Count Fyodor Arturovich Keller was established in Peterhof, where the Izmailovsky Life Guard Regiment, which had been under Keller’s command from 1906, had been housed before the 1917 Revolution.

Sadly, the barracks have only been partially preserved, and currently house the Military Institute of Railway Troops and Military Communications, where there is also a museum dedicated to the history of Izmailovsky Life Guard Regiment. It is here that the monument to their legendary commander was established.

The completion of the project is thanks to the efforts of the Emperor Alexander III Educational Society.

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Monument to General Count Fyodor Arturovich Keller, Peterhof,

General who did not betray Nicholas II

The abdication of Nicholas II, continues to be shrouded in controversy, myths and lies. Historians have led us to believe that the tsar was betrayed by all of his generals in the days leading up to his abdication.

This is incorrect.

Commander of the Guard Cavalry Corps Huseyn Khan Nakhchivanski (1863-1919), a Muslim by religion, turned out to be one of two Tsarist generals, who remained loyal to the Russian Orthodox emperor and refused to swear allegiance to the Provisional Government.

The second general whose loyalty and readiness to defend the tsar was the commander of the Third Cavalry Corps of the Russian Imperial Army, General Count Fyodor Arturovich Keller (1857-1918).

Both sent telegrams to the tsar at Mogliev expressing their loyalty to Nicholas II, offering their troops to defend the monarchy. Neither telegram ever reached their sovereign, having been intercepted by supporters of the Provisional Government.

Keller was shot by Petliurists on 21 (O.S. 8) December 1918. His body was buried under a false name in the Intercession Monastery in Kiev. His grave has not been preserved.

I have written a comprehensive article on Nakhchivanski and Keller Loyal to Their Sovereign. Generals Who Did Not Betray Nicholas II, to be published in Sovereign No. 12 Autumn 2019 – COMING SOON!

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SOVEREIGN

© Paul Gilbert. 6 September 2019

Moscow artist breathes new life into Russia’s last tsar

Nicholas II | Николай II

Nicholas II of Russia in the uniform of the Life-Guards 4th The Imperial Family’s Rifle Regiment, 1912
Photo © Olga Shirnina

With an artist’s eye and a surgeon’s precision, Olga Shirnina — who works under the name Color By Klimbim — uses Photoshop to breathe new life into black-and-white photos from Russian history.

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Olga Shirnina — who works under the name Color By Klimbim

Olga Shirnina was born in Schwerin (former DDR). She studied at Moscow State Pedagogic Institute of Foreign Languages, where she received a Ph.D. in Germanisctic. Following her studies, she has worked as a professor of German at Moscow State Pedagogic Institute of Foreign Languages and that of Alma-Ata.

Having a special love for arts, she started working as a picture colourist, producing her first work in 2011. Continuing, she published a website and a Facebook page with her colourings, which led her in receiving some significant commissions.

She colorizes photos purely “for pleasure.” The most thrilling part of the coloring process, says Shirnina, is “when suddenly the person looks back at you as if he’s alive.”

Shirnina says it takes her around one full day to colorize a photo, though she’ll usually wait another day before publishing in order to see things with “a fresh eye.”

Olga is fascinated by Russian history, which she finds full of dramatic, cataclysmic events, which not only had an impact on the history of the country, but also on the rest of the world. According to her, “Sometimes a picture can say more than many words are able to, and it gives me great pleasure to add to people’s knowledge and learning about Russia, through my work in colourings”. She also finds it interesting to work with colours, achieving different effects or copying the manner of great painters of the past.

​Olga has contributed to the The Romanov Royal Martyrs Project by undertaking the colourization of all the pictures of the project. In addition to her artwork, she has been able to locate most of the Russian archival material used for the project and has undertaken the transcription work of many handwritten manuscripts.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO WATCH MY INTERVIEW

Olga Shirnina’s colourized photos are also featured in my interview The Conspiracy Against Nicholas II, which aired on YouTube in August 2018. My seven-minute interview was one of a special six-part video series commemorating the Romanovs Martyrdom Centennial in 2018, prepared by the Monastery of St John the Forerunner Mesa Potamos in Cyprus.

To date she has colourized dozens of black-and-white photos of members of the last Russian Imperial Family, all of which are exceptional in their own right. It is Shirnina’s collection of colourized photographs of Emperor Nicholas II, which are my personal favourites:

Nicholas II | Николай II

Nicholas II on the Imperial Train, 1916| Photo © Olga Shirnina

Nicholas II of Russia

Nicholas II | Photo © Olga Shirnina

[Click on the images to enlarge and view caption and copyright]

Nicholas II | Николай II

Nicholas II under House Arrest, Tsarskoye Selo 1916| Photo © Olga Shirnina

Click HERE to view Olga’s collection of colourized photographs The Romanovs. An Imperial Family

© Paul Gilbert. 4 September 2019

 

Photos of the Reconstruction of the Historic Interiors of the Alexander Palace

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I am pleased to present these new photographs of the ongoing reconstruction of the historic interiors and the recreation of their respective furnishings and elements of the Private Apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace.

These images are courtesy of Studio44, ArtCorpus interiors, and Stavros (St. Petersburg), the firms commissioned to carry out this important project.

According to Stavros, the reconstruction of the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir is nearing completion, including the installation of the wall panels, doors and furniture. The next stage is the launch of the production of furniture for the Maple Drawing Room.

Reconstruction of the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir

Reconstruction of the Maple Drawing Room

Reconstruction of Nicholas II’ Bathroom

The Alexander Palace, has been closed for restoration since August 2015. The palace was scheduled to reopen in July 2018,  however, numerous delays have pushed now back the reopening date to the end of 2019.

For more articles and photographs of the reconstruction and recreation of the historic interiors of the Private Apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the Alexander Palace, please refer to the following:

Reconstruction of Nicholas II’s Bathroom in the Alexander Palace + 13 PHOTOS

Recreation of Furniture for Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir Underway + 7 PHOTOS

Furniture for Interiors of the Alexander Palace to be Recreated + 6 PHOTOS

Will the Alexander Palace Open in 2019?

If you found this post interesting, please support my research by purchasing one of my Nicholas II 2020 Calendars

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© Paul Gilbert. 31 August 2019

Consecration of monument to Alexander II in the presence of Emperor Nicholas II in Kiev 1911

VIDEO: The consecration of monument to Alexander II in the presence of Emperor Nicholas II, Kiev 30th August 1911. Duration: 11 minutes, 17 seconds. Music.

In 1911, a monument to Emperor Alexander II by the sculptor Ettore Ximenes and architect Hippolyte Nikolaev, was established in Kiev. The monument was established in connection with the 50th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom and was the largest monument to Alexander II in the Russian Empire.

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Photo: Emperor Nicholas II, Metropolitan of Kiev, members of the imperial family including Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her five children, and Crown Prince Boris of Bulgaria

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Photo: Members of the Clergy, Emperor Nicholas II, Grand Duchesses Olga (left) and Tatiana (right), Minister of the Imperial Court Count V. B. Frederiks (second right), and Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich (far right)

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Photo: Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchesses, members of the Clergy at the tomb of Iskra and Kochubey, in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Description

The monument to Alexander II was located in the central part of Kiev, on Tsarskaya Square at the entrance to the Merchants Garden.

The monument consisted of three pedestals. On the central tower stood a bronze statue of the emperor. He was depicted in full height in a uniform and a mantle thrown over his shoulders, in his right hand he held the Manifesto on the abolition of serfdom, his other hand resting on the arm of his throne. Around the monument on the lower pedestal was a bas-relief depicting peasants – representatives of the peoples of the empire in national costumes, among which stood out the figure of a woman in traditional Russian costume symbolizing Russia.

The central pedestal was decorated with the emblem of the Russian Empire – a two-headed eagle – and the inscription: “The South-Western Territory is grateful to the Tsar-Liberator. 1911″. In front of the flank pedestals, sculptural compositions of Mercy and Justice were installed. All three pedestals were united by a wide pediment with bas-reliefs depicting individual moments of the emperor’s life and work. The pedestal was made of pink granite, the steps of grey granite. Imperial bronze crowns were installed on the side ledges of the steps

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Photo: Participants at the opening ceremony of the monument before the parade

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Photo: The mayor of Kiev brings the traditional bread and salt to Emperor Nicholas II

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Photo: A moleben is performed at the monument to Emperor Alexander II

Consecration

A visit to Kiev by Emperor Nicholas II with his family and members of the Imperial Court was scheduled for August 1911. The delegations prepared a special program of events during their stay in Kiev, including solemn prayers, theatre visits, troop reviews, a walk along the Dnieper to Chernigov among other events. The main event of the program and the main purpose of the tsar’s visit to Kiev was the opening of the monument to Alexander II on Tsarskaya Square.

The construction of the monument to Alexander II was completed. Triumphal arches were built. The streets and the facades of buildings were richly decorated with flags, wreaths and buntings. Troops of the Russian Imperial Army arrived in the city to participate in manoeuvres.

Nicholas II arrived to open the monument to his grandfather in late August 1911. The ceremony itself took place on 12th September (O.S. 30th August) 1911), the day of memory of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky, in whose honour his emperor grandfather Alexander Nikolaevich was named. The monument was opened in the presence of Emperor Nicholas II and members of his family, Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin , Chief Prosecutor of the Holy Synod Vladimir Sabler , chief of the gendarmes Kurlov, Minister of Education Kasso, son and heir of Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, government and Court officials, representatives of the Austro-Swedish and Swiss consulates. During the festivities, citizens received postcards with photographic reproductions of the monument.

Sadly, the celebration on the occasion of the unveiling of the monument in Kiev was overshadowed by the assassination of Prime Minister Peter Stolypin, whom the terrorist Social Revolutionary Dmitry Bogrov shot dead on 14 (O.S 1 September 1911.

Work on the improvement of the monument continued after its opening. In particular, in July 1914, elegant bronze grates were installed, decorated with state emblems, and a parterre lawn was built around the monument. The monument was illuminated by four lamps.

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Photo: Emperor Nicholas II and members of the City Duma at the monument to Emperor Alexander II

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Photo: Priests and Emperor Nicholas II at the monument to Emperor Alexander II

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Photo: Emperor Nicholas II greets Crown Prince Boris Of Bulgaria at the monument to Emperor Alexander II

Destruction by the Soviets

The monument as part of the city’s history was a short one, ending nine years after its consecration. In April 1919, the Bolshevik city newspaper raised the question of liquidating the monument to Alexander II by 14 (O.S. 1 May), but the plan failed, and the monument was covered with a large black drape. The tsar’s figure was removed from the pedestal in November 1920, while all the metal parts were dismantled and sent to the Arsenal smelting plant.

The preserved pedestal of the monument has long been used by the Bolsheviks as a propaganda tool. In particular, in place of the tsar, an eight-meter figure of a Red Army soldier made of plywood in a Budenovka coat, overcoat and a rifle in his hands was installed. This work was called the “Monument to the Red Army – Defender of the Masses.” There were plans to replace the Monument to the Red Army, and replace it with a monument to the October Revolution on this site, however, the project never came to fruition.

In 1932, the city authorities decided to dismantle the pedestal, which had previously been designed as a decoration for the entrance of the Proletarian Garden. At the end of the 1930s, a cascade of fountains was built here and a statue of Joseph Stalin was installed. After the liberation of Kiev from Nazi troops, the statue of Joseph Stalin was restored; while the square itself was renamed in honour of Stalin (on the eve of his 65th birthday in December 1944). But this lasted only until the decisions of the XX Congress of the CPSU in 1956. Since that time, no monuments stood in the park. Now where the monument to Alexander II stood, the entrance to Khreshchaty Park is located, there are pedestrian sidewalks, a small amount of green space, an entrance to the underpass, advertising signs.

© Paul Gilbert. 29 August 2019

‘Ten years in the Imperial Yacht Standart’ by Nikolai Sablin

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Since the fall of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, there have been hundreds of new Russian language books published on the life, reign and era of Emperor Nicholas II.

Sadly, very few of these titles will ever be translated into English. The reasons are many, but most importantly are the cost of translations (which can cost thousands of dollars), and a limited English language market. These two factors alone make such publishing endeavours economically unfeasible.

One interesting fact about the Russian publishing, is that the number of copies printed is indicated in each book. For instance, only 3000 copies of the title listed below were published in Russian. This is also an indication of the limited market such books have even in Russia.

In the years leading up to the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty in 2013, and the 100th anniversary of the death of Nicholas II and his family, a plethora of new titles were published in English. Sadly, the number of new titles are becoming fewer and fewer, and it may be the specialty publishers such as my own publishing business – which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – who will be left to carry on the tradition.

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Commander of the Imperial yacht ‘Standart’ Nikolai Pavlovich Sablin (1880-1937)

One of the many books which I would like to see an English edition is ‘Десять лет на императорской яхте Штандарт‘ (Trans. ‘Ten years in the imperial yacht Standart’) by Nikolai Sablin

These are the memoirs of Nikolai Pavlovich Sablin (1880-1937), who served as commander of the Imperial yacht ‘Standart’ of Emperor Nicholas II. The author describes events between 1906-1914, of which he was a direct witness and participant. His memoirs reflect the last decade, not yet overshadowed by the horrors of the First World War and revolutionary upheavals, which also became the last years of the prosperity of the Russian Empire.

The memoirs of N.V. Sablin acquaints the readers with details of the private life of the imperial family and their immediate environment, as well as little-known aspects of state affairs. The book contains interesting information about the official visits of Nicholas II while sailing on the ‘Standart,’ meetings with the heads of state and representatives of the reigning houses of Europe, gala receptions hosted on board the imperial yacht, and the important political decisions made during these voyages.

The episodes of yachting life, the mood of the officers of the fleet and society in general, subtly noticed by Sablin, convey a bygone era. His observations and humour make his personal memoirs a very interesting story, yet another page from the life and reign of Nicholas II, which has been sadly neglected by Western historians. The 382 pages of text is accompanied by more than 200 photographs, many of which were taken by Sablin himself and are published for the first time in this book.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 August 2019

‘The Russian Imperial Award System 1894-1917’ by Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm

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One of the perks of my job over the past 25 years, is that I receive a copy of each new book published on the Romanovs and Imperial Russia. This is just one reason why my personal library is as large as it is – over 2,000 volumes.

One of the gems of my collection is The Russian Imperial Award System 1894-1917 by Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, published by the Finnish Antiquarian Society in Helsinki (2005)

It is a massive heavy book: it measures 8-1/2” x 11″ x 1-1/2” in diameter, weighs over 2 kg., 566 pages, more than 160 colour and black & white photos, with extensive notes and bibliography. Text is in ENGLISH!

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Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm

Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, Ph.D., is the great-granddaughter of the St. Petersburg goldsmith Alexander Tillander, a leading supplier to the Imperial Russian Court of Nicholas II. She has been researching the oeuvre of Russian jewellers for many years. Her doctoral dissertation was on the labrinthe and intriguing award system of Imperial Russia. Her work takes her around the world: lecturing, consulting for art exhibitions and writing in exhibition catalogues and for art publications. She has published several books on her speciality, the art of the jewellers of Imperial St. Petersburg.

*  *  *

Arja-Leena Paavola offers the following review of this book in the Spring 2006 issue of Universitas Helsingiensis the quarterly of the University of Helsinki:

The practice of rewarding citizens for good work and loyalty proved an efficient way of strengthening the bonds between subject and monarch. In many respects the system was defined by the service hierarchy created by Peter the Great known as the Table of Ranks. Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, Ph.D., who defended her doctoral dissertation in the field of art history in October, examined the Russian imperial award system during the reign of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II.

“A decree of 1898 defined twelve award categories, over half of which were decorations, titles, expression of the emperor’s favour, grants of money, and gifts made of precious materials. For over one hundred years, the system was also in use in the Grand Duchy of Finland, whose subjects were entitled to the same honours as any other individual in the service of the empire,” says Tillander-Godenhielm.

Subsequent generations have often created an image of a system of unsurpassed luxury and opulence that catered exclusively to the elite of the country. In reality, the value of an award could not exceed an individual’s yearly salary. In addition, there were many awards designed specifically for the lower echelons, including factory workers. Each of the twelve categories had an internal hierarchy. A young man who started his career at the lowest rung of the hierarchical ladder, through diligent service, could earn for himself the highest honours the empire had to offer.

Tillander-Godenhielm points out that the gift items bestowed were not merely symbolic tokens but were in fact a subtle means of remuneration. These gifts were luxurious and often quite elaborate. While they did speak of one’s importance and position within Russia’s service hierarchy – which consisted of fourteen classes, or ranks – they also were a means of augmenting an individual’s wages, which were frequently low. A general, for example, could not always support the lifestyle his position demanded on his official salary. If this was the case, he had the option of returning his gift to the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty for its full value in cash. In fact, over sixty percent of gifts presented to ranks five and lower were sold back in this way. The widows or children of the original recipients could also return them; thus, they served as a kind of pension or life insurance.

“A fine silver or gold pocket watch was a typical gift. When travelling by sea to Finland, the Russian emperors would present watches to the pilot boat captains, and when travelling by train, every station manager along the way would receive one, as would the policemen responsible for the safety of the imperial family.”

Tillander-Godenhielm is herself a fourth generation member of a goldsmith family with Russian connections. Several Finnish goldsmiths were employed as suppliers by the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty, and Tillander-Godenhielm’s grandfather was one of them. While working in the family business, she became interested in Russian gold and silver objects, many of which have remained in Finland, some still in the possession of the original recipient’s family.

Sometimes orders for multiples of the same gift item were placed. “Archival research has revealed account books showing requests for ten silver cigarette cases decorated with a double-headed eagle of a specific design, or twelve rings set with specific gemstones. This type of gift was destined for lower-ranking servitors. The more valuable gifts intended for higher ranking officials were all unique in design.”

Coveted investments

The Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty had inspectors to ensure that the gold and silver objects it received were of the highest quality. Many of these items were bestowed upon foreign dignitaries and thus served as a means of showcasing the skill of Russian craftsmen. During state visits, these valuable gifts were written about in papers and put on public display.

These award items – especially those with a known provenance – have increased steadily in value since the Revolution and nowadays can fetch astronomical sums. For example, a table portrait of Nicholas II presented to the French prime minister René Viviani in 1914 sold at Sotheby’s last year for £350,000. As a result, however, they have become the object of numerous forgeries.

A substantial number of the surviving objects made for the Russian imperial award system are today in museums or in the private collections of various European monarchs and American millionaires. In the 1930s, Stalin had many of these items sold in the West in order to obtain much needed foreign currency.

Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm has had the privilege of personally handling many of the items she discusses in her dissertation. “You cannot really study objects such as these without examining them up close.

A known provenance of course greatly in-creases the interest of an object. Those pieces really make my heart skip a beat. Fortunately, Russian archives have now been opened up to researchers and it has become possible to trace the origins of many of these items.”

The real story uncovered

In the 1930s, all kinds of stories were concocted in order to increase the value of these objects and boost sales. “The empress gave her obstetrician, Professor Ott, a monogrammed snuffbox for every child he helped deliver. Many of these have been sold in the United States as gifts from the emperor to the empress. “But who would seriously believe that a man would give a snuffbox to his wife for giving birth to their baby?” Tillander-Godenhielm chuckles. “I think true stories about the real officials and servitors of the time are much more interesting.”

It is not, after all, that long ago. While in St Petersburg, Tillander-Godenhielm discovered that a hospital built by Dr. Ott was still in operation. “When visiting the hospital, I was asked if I would like to meet the great-granddaughter of the good doctor, who as chance would have it works as an obstetrician there. I met this young woman who told me a great deal about her great-grandfather. The family no longer possessed any of the awards he had been given, so she was delighted when I showed her pictures of two of the thirteen snuffboxes Dr. Ott had received for his services.”

Tillander-Godenhielm’s study has raised interest all over the world, and for once, a dissertation has proved to be a “best seller”, but only 1,200 copies of her book were published.

“A great deal has been written about the Russian nobility and Russian orders and decorations in isolation. My study examines these subjects within the context of the larger system of which they were but one part.”

© Arja-Leena Paavola & Paul Gilbert. 24 August 2019