Memories of Nicholas and Alexandra’s love that have transcended time

PHOTO: aerial view of Schloss Wolfsgarten, near Darmstadt

Hidden away from the eyes of most visitors to Wolfgarten in Germany and the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, are two haunting mementoes etched into simple window panes of each of the two former royal residences. Despite revolution, two world wars and palace renovations, these glass windows with inscriptions written by Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna have miraculously survived to this day.

Wolfsgarten, Germany

Schloss Wolfsgarten is a former hunting seat of the ruling family of Hesse-Darmstadt, located in the German state of Hessen, situated 15 kilometers south of Frankfurt. The hunting lodge was established between 1722 and 1724 by Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1768, Wolfsgarten was abandoned until the 1830s when the grand ducal family began to restore and expand the property. From 1879, Wolfsgarten became a favourite country retreat for Grand Dukes Ludwig IV and his son Ernst Ludwig, brother of Princess Alix, the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

PHOTO: the years marking visits by Nicholas and Alexandra are etched in a window at Schloss Wolfsgarten

In November 1903 Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna visited the *divorced and not yet remarried Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig. It was on this occasion, that the couple updated the record of their visits to Wolfsgarten, by carving the year on a glass window, as they had done on prior visits in 1896 and 1899 respectively. The Imperial couple returned to Wolfsgarten in 1910.

*On 19th April 1894 Ernst Ludwig married his cousin Victoria Melita von Edinburgh, among the European royals and nobility in Coburg. Ernst and Victoria divorced on 21st November 1901. Victoria married Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich on 8th October 1905.

On 9th October 1937, Ernest Louis died after a long illness at Schloß Wolfsgarten. He received what amounted to a state funeral on 16 November 1937 and was buried next to his daughter, Elisabeth, in a new open air burial ground next to the New Mausoleum he had built in the Rosenhöhe park in Darmstadt.

PHOTO: contemporary view of the Winter Palace (State Hermitage Museum)

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

From December 1895, Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, resided for periods during the winter in the Winter Palace. They extended and redesigned the rooms which had been prepared for Nicholas, as Tsesarevich two years earlier. The architect Alexander Krasovsky was commissioned to redecorate a suite of rooms in the northwest corner of the palace.

Following the events of Bloody Sunday in 1905, Nicholas II and his family abandoned the Winter Palace in favour of the more private Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. From this date until the fall of the monarchy, the Winter Palace was used only for formal state occasions.

PHOTO: Alexandra records a memory from March 1902 on a window in her Study

On 25th October 1917, following the Provisional Government’s arrest in the Small Dining Room of the Winter Palace, an eyewitness account records a systematic destruction of the Imperial apartments by the Bolsheviks. The only original interior to have survived to the present is Nicholas II’s Gothic Library. The remainder of the Imperial couple’s private apartments including the bulk of their contents have been lost.

One tiny memento, however, has survived. Hidden from view by a lace curtain in the former Study of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, a memory was recorded by Alexandra. On 7th March 1902, taking her diamond ring, she etched the following in one of the windows: “Nicky 1902 looking at the Hussars. 7 March”.

In 1926 the former living quarters of the Imperial couple were handed over to the State Hermitage Museum for use as exhibition halls. The same year the décor of the Study was destroyed: the yellow damask wall covering was removed and the vault painting with flowers and garlands was painted over (it has since been restored). The viewing platform in the corner was dismantled, from which the Imperial couple liked to look at the Neva River at different times of the year from “Alix’s window” as Nicholas II used to call it in his diary.

Today, Room 185 houses the exhibition dedicated to the work of the famous St Petersburg furniture maker Heinrich Gambs. On view here are pieces of furniture and objects of decorative and applied art executed in the Classicism style.

CLICK on the VIDEO below, which shows not only the former Study of Alexandra Feodorovna, but also the view from the window, which will give you a better perspective of where the engraved window is exactly:

© Paul Gilbert. 4 May 2021

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Dear Reader

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

Gothic Library of Nicholas II in the Winter Palace

PHOTO: The Gothic Library of Emperor Nicholas II in the Winter Palace, as it looks today

The Gothic Library of Emperor Nicholas II in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, remains one of the most beautiful interiors to have survived to the present day. In addition, the library is the only interior of the Emperor’s private apartments in the Winter Palace to have retained its historical appearance without undergoing any changes.

This library was created in 1894-95 by the Russian architect Alexander Fedorovich Krasovsky (1848 – 1918). Krasovsky embodied the restrained spirit of old English castles: an abundance of wood trim, a ceiling with caissons and openwork chandeliers, bookcases placed along the walls as well as a massive fireplace. For it’s decoration, the architect made extensive use of the English Gothic style.

This interior with its decorative panels of tooled and gilded leather, monumental fireplace and tall windows with tracery carry visitors back to the Middle Ages, thus creating an incredible historical ambiance. It also features a coffered walnut ceiling embellished by quatrefoils. On the desk is a porcelain sculpture portrait of Nicholas II, an identical copy of the original the biscuit porcelain bust of the Emperor completed in 1896 by the Russian sculptor Léopold Bernstamm.

The library was located in a separate wing of the private apartments of Nicholas II. To accommodate the vast library, an upper balustrade and staircase were added. The walls above the bookcases were decorated with panels of embossed gilded leather.

An important element of the interior was the Gothic fireplace decorated with images of griffins and lions – heraldic figures of the family coats of arms of the House of Romanovs and the House of Hesse-Darmstadt, to which the empress belonged.

PHOTO: Furniture for the Gothic Library of Nicholas II, designed by N. V. Nabokov, made by N. F. Svirsky

The furniture which decorates the room was designed by the architect Nikolay Vasilyevich Nabokov (1838 – after 1907), and made by Nikolai Fedorovich Svirsky, at his workshop located at 45/47 Borovaya Street in St. Petersburg. The Russian State Historical Archive [RGIA] has preserved Svirsky’s furniture design drawings to the present day. Some of his creations for the Gothic Library were displayed in a temporary exhibition held in the State Hermitage Museum in 2018.

In 1905, Nicholas II and his family moved to Tsarskoye Selo, where they took up permanent residence in the Alexander Palace. Following his abdication in February 1917, the Imperial Residences were all nationalized under the new Provisional Government. It’s leader Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970) wasted little time in acquisitioning the Gothic Library for his own personal use.

PHOTO: Kerensky seated in Nicholas II’s Gothic Library in the Winter Palace, 1917

In March 1917, a decree was issued declaring the contents of the Winter Palace as state property. Only a portion of the library’s original book collection have been *preserved. Today’s caretakers in the State Hermitage mUSEUM confirm that the Emperor read all the books that were kept, often leaving his notes in them.

*In the 1930s and early 1940s, 10,915 titles, 15,720 volumes from Nicholas II’s library in the Winter Palace, were sold to various libraries in the United States, including Harvard, NYPL, and Stanford. In addition, about 2,800 volumes were acquired by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

I am pleased to share a link to a beautiful three-dimensional panorama of the Gothic library of Nicholas II in the Winter Palace, courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum – Click HERE to view.

© Paul Gilbert. 22 April 2021

Nicholas II at the 1903 Ball in the Winter Palace

In February, 1903, a grand party was held in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, followed two days later by a grandiose fancy dress ball, whereby guests dressed in bejeweled 17th-century style costumes. The ball, timed to coincide with the 290th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, took place at the end of the Nativity Fast. 

Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna saw the ball as a first step towards the restoration of the rituals and costumes of the Moscow court, continuing the traditions bequeathed by the glorious ancestors of the Romanov dynasty of the distant pre-Petrine times.

Gathering in the Romanov Gallery on 24th (O.S. 11th) February, guests followed in pairs to the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace to give their hosts a “Russian bow”. The party’s central event was a concert in the Hermitage Theater with scenes from Modest Musorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov (key parts were performed by Feodor Chaliapin and Nina Figner), Minkus’ ballet La Bayadère and Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake directed by Marius Petipa (performed by the prima ballerina Anna Pavlova). The performance was followed by a Russian dance in the Pavilion Hall. Dinner was given in the Spanish, Italian and Flemish Rooms of the Hermitage. Thereupon Their Majesties and the guests proceeded to the Pavilion Hall where the party culminated in dancing.

PHOTO: Guests pose for a photograph in the Hermitage Theater

The second part of the ball took place two nights later, on 26th (O.S. 13th) February: all the guests dressed in 17th-century style costumes, made from designs by the artist Sergey Solomko, in collaboration with historical experts. Among the 390 guests, were 65 “dancing officers” – all dressed as 17th century archers or falconers – and personally appointed by the Empress . Members of the Imperial Family gathered in the Malachite Room, others in the adjacent areas. When ten o’clock struck, the guests went to the Concert Hall to dance. The court orchestra, wearing costumes of trumpet-players of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich performed behind a gilt grating, while 34 round tables were arranged in the Nicholas Hall for dinner. The Concert Hall and Small Dining Room accommodated bars, the Malachite Room, tables with tea and wine.

When dinner was over, the August hosts and their guests returned to the Concert Hall to dance till one in the morning. After three specially prepared dances were performed (Russian dance, round dance and plyasovaya), directed by chief ballet director Aistov and Kshesinsky, waltzes, quadrilles and mazurkas were enjoyed. Young officers of Guards Regiments, Horse-guardsmen, Life-guardsmen and Lancers, acted as male partners in the dances. Participants had received some training: at the dress rehearsal held in the Pavilion Hall on 10 February, 1903, ladies wore sarafans and kokoshniks, while men sported dresses of streletses, falconers, etc. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna acted as “judges”.

Despite all the doubts, disputes and gossip, leading up to the luxurious and memorable event, the ball went wonderfully well. Impressed by the ball, Nicholas II wrote in his diary:

“The hall, filled with ancient Russian people, looked very beautiful.”

The palace commandant, Major General Vladimir Nikolaevich Voeikov noted:

“The impression was fabulous – from the mass of old national costumes, richly decorated with rare furs, magnificent diamonds, pearls and semi-precious stones, mostly in old frames. On this day, family jewels appeared in such an abundance that exceeded all expectations.”

After the balls of 11th and 13th February, 1903, the Empress commissioned the best photographers of St. Petersburg: L. Levitsky, D.M. Asikritov, D.S. Zdobnov, Yves. Voino-Oransky, F.G. Boasson, E.L. Mrozovskaya and many others, to take individual and collective photographs of the participants in their costumes. In 1904, a limited edition album containing the photographs was released, consisting of ten large-format files (folders). 21 heliogravures and 174 phototypes. The album was sold primarily among the participants of the ball, and the proceeds from the sale went to charity.

The 1903 Bal, remains the most celebrated festivity arranged in St. Petersburg during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II (1894-1917). More than a century later, it remains an event of an enduring historical significance.

Official Portraits of Nicholas II taken in the Concert Hall of the Winter Palace

PHOTO: For the background, photographers utilized a stand imitating the walls of a 17th century chamber of the Terem Palace in the Moscow Kremlin was installed in the Concert Hall of the Winter Palace – as seen in the photo above. The throne chair, is a prop, from the storeroom of the Hermitage Theater.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II wearing the costume of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1629-1676); the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the costume of his first wife Tsarina Maria Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya (1624-1669). Photo by L.S. Levitsky, 1903

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Nicholas II’s 17th Century Costume

Emperor Nicholas II was dressed in an exact copy of the 17th century clothes, worn by his beloved ancestor, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1629-1676. :

The costume sketch for Nicholas II was developed by the Director of the Hermitage, Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky (1835-1909) and the artist of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theaters, Yevgeny Petrovich Ponomarev (1852-1906). Two types of velvet and gold brocade were ordered from the Supplier of the Imperial Court – the Sapozhnikovs firm. The fancy dress for Emperor Nicholas II, called “The Small Tsar’s Attire”, was sewn by the theatrical costume designer of the Imperial Theaters Ivan Osipovich Kaffi (1860-19 ??). He was assisted by two dressmakers, whose names have not survived. The tsar’s hat was created in the hat workshop of the brothers “Bruno”, suppliers of the Imperial Court since 1872..

The 17th century-style costume worn by Emperor Nicholas II at the ball held in the 1903 Ball in the Winter Palace, has been preserved to this day in the State Armoury Museum of the Moscow Kremlin. It is on display in Room 6 of the museum, which houses a rich collection of secular and ceremonial costume. The tsar’s 1903 costume can be seen in Showcase 45 (see photo above)

His costume and shashka (hat) were made from the finest materials and design: “velvet, brocade, silk, satin, leather, sable, gilded thread braid, gold, precious stones, pearls, weaving, braiding, casting, chasing, engravings, carving and enamel.”

Opal worn by Emperor Nicholas II (left). Manufactured: Russia, 1903, cufflinks and buttons – Constantinople 2nd half of the 17th century. Materials: Damask, brocade, gold. Work: Sewing, weaving.

Kaftan worn by Emperor Nicholas II (right). Manufactured: Russia, 1903, cufflinks and buttons – Constantinople 2nd half of the 17th century. Materials: Golden velvet, silk, satin. Work: Sewing, casting, chasing.

Rod (staff) of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. Istanbul, mid-17th century Gold, precious stones, pearls, iron; casting, chasing, carving, enamel. Collection of the the State Armoury Museum.

Zapona-pendant of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. Istanbul, second half of the 17th century. Gold, precious stones; chasing, carving, enamel. Collection of the the State Armoury Museum.

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The Costume Ball in the Winter Palace. Luxury 2-Volume Edition

In 2003 the Russian publishing company Русский Антиквариат issued a limited luxury edition printing of The Costume Ball in the Winter Palace in a handsome 2-volume set with slipcase. The publication was a joint project of the State Hermitage Museum, the Moscow Kremlin State Museum, with the participation of researchers, genealogists and descendants of relatives of the nobility who attended the historic event.

The publishing firm offered two variations of the 2-volume set. The first featured one volume in Russian, the second volume in English, however, the firm also issued 100 copies featuring both volumes in English. In 2009, I managed to acquire a number of copies of the 2-volume English edition, and sold them through my bookshop.

Volume I featuredall the documentary and research material, including preserved costumes, unique photos and archival documents, most of which are published for the first time. 128 pages, 50 black and white illustrations, 20 tables with colour images, and introductory article by the Director of the State Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky. The cover is made from high quality dark brown leather substitute with gold lettering.

Volume II – showcases the Ball participants. 464 sepia-colour pages, 198 photos of the Ball participants. The cover is made from high quality dark green leather substitute, with gold lettering. More than half of prints made from the original photos. Each image is accompanied by a biographical article.

Sadly, the publisher of these fine books has since gone out of business. Copies of the rare all English edition set, which are highly sought after by collectors in Britain and North America, are occasionally offered through rare book auctions.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 February 2021

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Dear Reader

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

 

Nicholas II celebrates the Blessing of the Waters, 1904

Note: the video above features a compilation of vintage photographs, set against the ‘Troparion on the Feast of the Epiphany’ sung by the Sretensky Monastery Choir

On 19 (O.S. 6) January 1904, Emperor Nicholas II took part in the annual celebrations marking the Feast of the Epiphany in St. Petersburg.

The Emperor along with members of the Imperial Court, and senior members of the Russian Orthodox Church proceeded down the Jordan Staircase from the first floor of the Winter Palace to the bank of the Neva River for the Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany in commemoration of Christ’s Baptism in the river Jordan.

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Nicholas II descends the stairs leading down to the Neva for the Blessing of the Waters

Situated near the northern entrance to the Winter Palace, a temporary wooden pavilion was constructed on the embankment in front of steps leading down to the Neva. The Metropolitan of St. Petersburg dipped a cross in a hole made in the ice. A small cup was then dipped into the water and presented to the Emperor, who took a sip and then handed the cup back to the Metropolitan. Prayers were said for the health of the Tsar and his family.

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The above photo shows the spot on the embankment of the Neva River, where the temporary wooden pavilion was constructed for the Blessing of the Waters in the early 20th century.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 January 2020