Ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II found in Mogilev, now a holy icon

PHOTO: Ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II. Artist and year unknown.

This year marks 30 years since the revival of the St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev. This Orthodox monastery is one of the oldest – the first mentions of the monastery appears in the annals of 1522 – and most famous spiritual centers in eastern Belarus, its history is closely connected with Emperor Nicholas II.

The pearl of the monastery is a unique wooden carved iconostasis, made in a special technique of Belarusian carving of the 17th century. Only three such iconostases have survived in the world: in the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow, in the Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk and in the St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev. The first abbess of the revived monastery, Abbess Evgenia Voloshchuk and her sisters worked hard during the restoration of the St. Nicholas Monastery.

Difficult fate

St. Nicholas Convent operated from 1637 to 1719, and then was transformed into a male monastery, which existed until 1754. Later, the St. Nicholas Cathedral became the parish church.

Like all Orthodox places of worship, the monastery shared a similar fate – during the years of persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church during the Soviet years, the church’s icons and other contents were confiscated, the iconostasis was destroyed. In 1934, with the death of the priest Mikhail Pleshchinsky, St. Nicholas Cathedral was closed. In 1937, the Mogilev diocese ceased to exist.

In 1937, St. Nicholas Cathedral was used as a transit prison (closed in 1941). In 1991, during the restoration of the monastery, numerous human remains were discovered – most likely victims of Stalinist repressions.

It was not until 1989, that the Mogilev Diocese was restored. It was at this time, that the reigning archbishop of Mogilev and Mstislavsky Maxim (Krokha) began the revival of the St. Nicholas Monastery.

On 28th March 1991, the St. Onufrievsky Church was consecrated. On 18th June of the same year, the monastery was visited by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II (1929-2008) of Moscow and All Russia.

PHOTO: St. Nicholas Cathedral, St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev

Monastery and the Romanov family

The history of the monastery is closely connected with the last Tsar and his family. Between 1915-1917, the headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces was located in Mogilev. During that time, Nicholas II and his family often attended Divine Liturgies held in St. Nicholas Cathedral.

During the canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia of the 20th century in the summer of 2000, a ceremonial portrait of the emperor was miraculously found in the niche of an old wall of one of the houses in Mogilev. Local Orthodox Christians, believing the discovery as a blessed meaning in coincidence and turned the portrait into an icon, transferring it to the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

The icon hangs today, on the left side-altar of the church consecrated in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs. A five-ruble gold coin is also attached to the icon, which was once presented to the boy Simeon Khalipov by Emperor Nicholas II during a visit to the monastery.

© Paul Gilbert. 28 March 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. As a result, the fate of Karelin’s portrait of the Imperial Family, as well as many of his significant works commissioned by the Imperial Court remains unknown to this day.

© Paul Gilbert. 16 January 2021

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A tale of three portraits of Russia’s last tsar

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History has preserved thousands of photographs and dozens of portraits of Nicholas II. The most titled artists of their time were honoured to paint the tsar’s portrait. Among them were both Russian and foreign artists, such as Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov, Boris Kustodiev, Lauritz Tuxen – and many others. Each master captured his own vision of the emperor on canvas. This article explores three of the most famous portraits of Russia’s last emperor and tsar by two of Russia’s most famous portrait artists: Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov.

Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II by Ilya Repin (1895)

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The above portrait of His Majesty the Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II was painted in 1895 by Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844-1930) by order of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, mother of Nicholas. Up until 1917, the portrait hung in the Mariinsky Palace in St. Petersburg, in the very hall where meetings of the State Duma took place.

After the revolution, the painting was considered lost. It “surfaced” in the early 1980s in the collection of the famous St. Petersburg collector Nikolai Kozhevnikov. He claimed that he had found it during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) in a garbage dump.

It is believed that many other works of art from the Tsarist period believed to be “lost” have in fact been squirreled away by private Russian collectors, all of whom are well aware of their historic value. This offers a ray of hope that other Romanov treasures may have survived the ravages of revolution and war, including the missing Faberge Imperial Eggs. 

In his letters, Repin recalled: “Last week, three sessions took place, that is, on Monday, the 28th, – the first session, one and a half hours; Tuesday, – an hour and half; and an hour yesterday. I arrived at the palace an hour earlier. The emperor comes at two o’clock, the empress accompanies him every time and stays here all the time during work.” Later he added: “I finished the Sovereign’s portrait; there were a total of seven sessions. The sovereign posed poorly, however, everyone likes my portrait and do not criticize.” This portrait was painted shortly after Nicholas II ascended the Russian throne following the death of his father Alexander III.

This portrait of Nicholas II is now in the Collection of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II by Valentin Serov (1902)

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This portrait by Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (1865-1911), depicts the Emperor in the full uniform of Colonel-in-Chief (honourary head of the regiment) of the Royal Scots Greys. In 1902, Nicholas II ordered the artist Valentin Serov to paint the portrait as a gift to the regiment – one of the most famous in the United Kingdom.

Nicholas II was awarded this honour by Queen Victoria on the occasion of the wedding of her granddaughter Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine to the future Emperor of Russia. The portrait hangs in the Royal Scots Guards Regiment Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. The ceremonial uniform is now in the Collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve.

Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II by Valentin Serov (1900)

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The artist Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (1865-1911) created the home portrait of Nicholas II, as a gift to Empress Alexandra Fedorovna in just two sittings with the emperor.

The original version of this portrait did not survive: the revolutionaries who stormed the Winter Palace destroyed the canvas with bayonets.

Thankfully, Serov, having just barely finished the portrait in 1900, immediately made a copy of it. He was worried about the fate of the painting, because the Empress did not like it very much. During his sessions with the Emperor, Alexandra Feodorovna closely watched the artist and generously distributed advice on how to “correct” the face of Nicholas II in the portrait. In the end, Valentin Serov could not stand it, handed the empress the palette with brushes and invited her to finish the work herself!

Some art historians believe that this portrait of Nicholas II looks incomplete: noting that it was painted with wide free strokes without subtle light transitions, the details of the canvas were not worked out. But the execution of the portrait itself reflects Serov’s vision, who (again) according to art historians wanted to depict a man who was tired in his service to Russia – although this remains highly unlikely. The canvas does not have the usual attributes of other royal portraits, which often include solemn interiors, ceremonial clothing, etc. Nicholas II is depicted in the jacket of the Preobrazhensky Life Guards Regiment, which he proudly wore every day.

The copy of the portrait is now part of the Collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

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Nicholas II. Portraits by Paul Gilbert

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Published in 2019, this is the first book of its kind ever published! Nicholas II. Portraits by independent researcher Paul Gilbert explores a century of portraits of Russia’s last emperor and tsar.

It features beautiful colour covers, 140 pages, and richly illustrated with 175 black and white photographs, (many full-page), with detailed and informative captions.

This unique title features an introduction, as well as numerous short articles, including: Serov’s Unfinished 1900 Portrait of Nicholas II; A Nun’s Gift to Russia’s New Tsar. The Fate of a Portrait; Galkin’s Ceremonial Portrait of Nicholas II Discovered; and more!

Famous portraits and their respective artists are all represented, including Serov, Repin, Lipgart, Tuxen, Bakmanson, Becker, Bogdanov-Belsky, Kustodiev, among others.

The last section (28 pages) of the book is dedicated to the works of contemporary Russian artists, who have painted outstanding portraits of Nicholas II since the fall of the Soviet Union.

It is interesting to note that my research for this book was primarily from Russian sources, and I discovered portraits which were new, even to me!

Price: $25 + postage. Click HERE to order your copy of Nicholas II. Portraits

© Paul Gilbert. 5 July 2020

Nicholas II monument proposed for Tsarskoye Selo

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© Philipp Moskvitin

The above sketch is for a proposed monument of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II by Russian artist Philipp Moskvitin. Note the crown of thorns that the tsar is holding in his right hand.

The artist’s idea has been presented to Tsarskoye Selo. It would be nice to see such a monument erected in the garden of the Alexander Palace, a perfect welcome to the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family, which is scheduled to officially open on 18th August 2020.

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© Philipp Moskvitin

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© Philipp Moskvitin

Click HERE to visit Philpp Moskvitin’s web site

© Philipp Moskvitin / Paul Gilbert. 28 February 2020

Seven Letters from the Past

Back in July 2018, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo hosted a unique exhibition Seven Letters from the Past timed to the 100th anniversary of the murders of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. 

The highlight of the exhibit were seven portraits of the Imperial family by the St. Petersburg artist Alexander Kondurov. 

The artist depicted the faces and figures of members of the Imperial Family through the mutilated walls of the shooting room of the Ipatiev House, where they were all brutally murdered on 17th July 1918.

Each composition includes a facsimile passage from a letter written by the family member during their captivity in the “House of Special Purpose’ and the outline of a black window frame in which a cross is clearly seen.

Exhibitions showcasing Alexander Kondurovs’ paintings have been held in Russia, USA, Germany, Finland. The artist’s works are in museums and private collections.

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The Murder of the Imperial Family. 2018
by Alexander Kondurov. Private collection

© Paul Gilbert. 13 January 2020