Exhibition: ‘Russian Charity Under the Auspices of the Imperial House of Romanov’

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On 7th December 2018, an exhibition featuring a unique collection of paintings, sculptures and other artefacts showing the scale of charitable endeavors of the Romanov dynasty over 300 years opened in the Grand Palace in the Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve in Moscow.

The exhibition Russian Charity Under the Auspices of the Imperial House of Romanov is organized by the “Elisavetinsko-Sergievsky Educational Society” and the Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve with the support of the Moscow Government opens in the Grand Palace.

The exhibition, timed to the 100th anniversary of the death of the Imperial family in Ekaterinburg in July 1918, presents more than 1,000 items – displayed in eleven halls in the palace museum – from state museums in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and private collections. 

The centuries-old traditions of personal charity were laid by the first monarchs from the Romanov dynasty. Tsars Mikhail Fedorovich and Alexey Mikhailovich provided assistance to the starving, exiled, prisoners from personal funds. Empress Catherine the Great made all charities state institutions in the 18th century. Under the law, they were granted government funding, aside from receiving private donations.

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Sisters of Mercy in the infirmary of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. 1915 Novgorod

At the end of the 18th century, Empress Maria Feodorovna, the wife of Paul I, took under her personal guidance and reorganized charitable and educational institutions founded by Catherine II. She created a whole complex of educational and medical charitable institutions. Thus was founded the Office of Institutions of the Empress Maria – a huge structure that existed for 120 years, until 1917. Personal participation in matters of mercy by the representatives of the Imperial House saw the creation of charitable institutions inside the Imperial residences: in Lefortovo and Tsarskoye Selo, Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Oranienbaum, Peterhof, Livadia, Ilyinskoye, Ramon and Ostashevo.

The Romanovs founded several notable charity organizations, such as the Russian Red Cross and the Imperial Philanthropic Society, the largest charity in the Russian Empire. 

By the end of the 19th – early 20th centuries, charitable activities developed rapidly, which involved tens of thousands of people. The members of the Imperial House worked tirelessly in the field of mercy. The tsesarevich, and the grand dukes from early childhood assimilated their duties towards their subjects and, in particular, to those who needed care.

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Unknown artist. Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna.
1870 – early 1880s Oil on canvas (Novgorod Museum-Reserve)

Personal financial investments in charities of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II at the beginning of the 20th century were unprecedented. He personally donated sizable funds to charity, and during WWI he turned the Imperial residences into hospitals for sick and wounded soldiers. His consort Alexandra Feodorovna and their daughters Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, as well as Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, Mother Superior of the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent of Mercy in Moscow, worked tirelessly in serving and caring for his subjects.

The members of the imperial family provided patronage and themselves established numerous charitable societies and institutions that were part of the Office of Institutions of the Empress Maria. These included educational institutions, homes for the disabled, orphanages, almshouses, and other social institutions that were in charge of several million empire nationals. One of the largest was the Committee of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna to provide charitable assistance to families called to war.For the period from 1914 to 1916, the Committee provided assistance to 895 thousand people. 

The activities of the Imperial family were oriented to ensure that charity, while continuing to be a religious duty, also became a social and civic duty as well. Due to the wide dynastic ties, the most progressive Western European traditions were actively introduced into Russia, which contributed to the emergence of new forms and areas of charitable activity. 

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The exhibition Russian Charity Under the Auspices of the Imperial House of Romanov runs until 24th March 2019, in the Grand Palace, Tsaritsyno, Moscow

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 8 December 2018