Restoring the Golden Gate of the Catherine Palace


After almost 58 years, the famous Golden Gate, located opposite the central entrance to the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, is currently undergoing a much needed restoration.

Originally designed and assembled in the 18th century by the architect Francesco Rastrelli, the gate has not been restored since the 1960s. In the decades since, the condition of the gate itself has deteriorated badly, losing its original black colour, the gilding on the plant ornaments and copper petals, as well as the double-headed eagles, have all been affected by harsh weather conditions.

In late August, experts began to dismantle the figured details. Most of them have already been restored: the ornaments are laid out in the workshop of the contractor “Slavic Project” in Tsarskoye Selo. In total, experts will repair about 3,500 thousand ornaments and the gate itself. 

“First of all, we clean the ornaments, removing the dirt, grease, dust and other substances that have accumulated on them,” said Rozalia Shaihova, deputy head of the restoration department of the Directorate for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation (KGIOP).  “We grind some elements, align them where necessary, and restore any lost pieces of  the ornaments. Then we prepare a special substrate for the coating, and finally gilt gold leaf”, she added.

The task of the restorers is not easy. On the one hand, you need to preserve the original historical appearance of the ornament, that is, you simply cannot clean the coating, restore the lost pieces and re-cover all this with gilding. On the other hand, among the ornaments there are many details which require the special attention of specialists. Therefore, all work is done under the strict guidance of KGIOP. 

It should be noted that there are also ornaments in the lattice of the gate, which cannot be dismantled. They will have to be restored together with the gate. “The gate and ornaments with which we are working now, in fact, were created in the 1960s. The gate was restored by specialists according to Rastrelli’s sketches, and other historical documents” – said Rozalia Shaihova. – “Among these elements, it can be said for sure that the double-headed eagle (see photo below) on the top of the gate is the original. Whether there are any genuine ornaments made by Rastrelli among the ornaments will become clear after the restorers have examined them more closely.” 


It is interesting to note, before the beginning of the first restoration in the 1960s, the gate was partially hidden from prying eyes. Experts attribute this to the beginning of the Second World War, because at that time many monuments and objects of cultural heritage were either buried or hidden, some even covered with wooden boxes. Now, of course, the gates are not hidden, so they often become “victims” of vandals. And this is another reason why the gates and ornaments need urgent restoration. Once the restoration has been completed, experts will reassemble the gate, thanks to a special cartogram, which depicts the entire artistic composition with numbers that are attached to each individual ornament. 

Restoration work is scheduled for completion by the end of the year, and is expected to be on display in December. 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 2 October 2018

Four Museums Centenary Project Opens in St. Petersburg

As Tsarskoye Selo, Peterhof, Pavlovsk and Gatchina celebrate their 100th anniversary as museums in 2018, their Four Museums’ Centenary Project culminates in their joint exhibition running at St Petersburg’s Manege Central Exhibition Hall from 19th September to 8th October 2018.

A museum and theatre project titled To Keep Forever, is conceptually curated by stage director Anderey Moguchy and essentially recites the biographies of the four former imperial residences by the language of modern theatre.

The display starts in a “theatre hall” with a huge golden traveler curtain which does not move but lets the viewer into a “labyrinth of time”. The exhibition’s narrative is based on a diary of a fictional character named “Olga” (voiced by the Russian movie and theatre star Alice Freindlich). Her voice on the audio guide set accompanies the visitor through the whole “travel in time”. Born in Tsarskoye Selo, Olga worked as a guide at Peterhof, then as a curator she evacuated art objects from the Pavlovsk Palace and later restored the Gatchina Palace. Her “diary” is full of real people, such as museum employees and other witnesses of historical events.

Following the narration, the exhibition space is divided into several areas representing different time periods. From the former royal residences the viewer proceeds to a Soviet park of culture and recreation and then, as the war begins, takes part in a large-scale evacuation of the museum collections and follows them along to the victory. The culmination is the palaces’ triumphal revival from the ashes and further paths into the present.

The most important part of the display consists of over 200 artefacts and archival photographs from the four museums’ collections, including 37 art objects, 12 surviving sculpture and décor fragments and photographic materials from Tsarskoye Selo. 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve. 26 September 2018

Restoration of the Chapelle Pavilion at Tsarskoye Selo Completed


Views of the restored Chapelle Pavilion in the Alexander Park, Tsarskoye Selo


On 15th September, the Chapelle Pavilion at Tsarskoye Selo welcomed visitors for the first time in more than 70 years.

Part of the restoration project included the redevelopment of the area surrounding the pavilion, such as the creation of Lilac Alley. Garden artists Ilya Kononov and Fedor Lyamin, planted 70 lilac bushes of historical French varieties along the path.

The Chapelle is considered by many to be the “most romantic pavilion in the Alexander Park”, and the museum staff agree that the restored pavilion combined with Lilac Alley will become one of the most beautiful walking routes in the park. 

The pavilion was constructed between 1825 and 1828 on the edge of the Alexander Park in the Landscape Park, and was given the French name chapelle (chapel). 

The Scottish-born architect Adam Menelaw’s (1753-1831) design for the Chapelle took the form of a small Gothic church, dilapidated by time. It consisted of two square-based towers, one of which had totally “collapsed”, and a broad arch connecting them. Among the deliberate echoes of the Gothic period was the architect’s installation of coloured glass in the windows of the building. Light penetrating through them gave a spectral shimmer to the interior. The figures of angels at the base of the vaults were, like the sculpture on the White Tower, the work of Vasily Demuth-Malinovsky, while the statue of Christ that stood in the Chapelle (and is now in the collection of the State Hermitage) was commissioned by Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (wife of Emperor Paul I) from the German sculptor Johann Heinrich von Dannecker (1758-1841).


Chapelle Pavilion. Artist: PF Borel, 1892

After the 1917 Revolution, the Chapelle was opened as a museum, however, it was closed in the early 1930s due to low attendance. By 1933, the pavilion was already in a deplorable state, in which bricks had fallen off the walls, and nearly all the beautiful coloured glass windows knocked out.

At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), anti-aircraft guns were mounted in the clock room, located in the pavilion’s tower. During the Nazi occupation of Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo), the tower was used as an observation post by the enemy. By the end of the war, the interior, the roof of the tower, and the weather vane had all sustained extensive damage. 

In the first post-war years, due to the lack of materials, cost of repairs, and the elements, damage to the pavilion only worsened. By the end of the 1940s, archival documents show that, “the bulk of the iron was torn off, the remains of it hung down and continued to be torn by heavy winds. Due to long-term leaks, the rafter system is partially rotten, the brickwork of the ruin and the stone staircase are partially damaged by projectiles.  Window and door bindings are completely broken … a sculpture and stucco figures of angels have partial damages.” 


Early 19th century drawing of the facade of the Chapelle Pavilion

In the years 1950-1951, conservation work was carried out, including major roof repairs. In 1953, a restoration project was created, but was never implemented due to lack of funding. 

In 1963, another decision was adopted on the restoration of the pavilion and conversion to an ice cream parlor. Fortunately, this project was never carried out, however, by 1966, the ground floor was still used for housing.

In 1987, the question was again raised about the restoration and overhaul of the pavilion, but the project was not realized, again, due to lack of funds. 

In 2011, a comprehensive survey of the Chapelle was completed and design and estimate documentation for the restoration and adaptation of the pavilion as a museum was developed. In 2014, a historical and cultural examination of the project was carried out.

In 2015-2016, within the framework of the Culture of Russia Federal Target Program (2012-2018), priority repair and restoration works were carried out on the pavilion. In April 2017, a tender was issued for the subsequent restoration of the Chapelle Pavilion, which was awarded to the Lapin Enterprise Company.

Specialists carried out extensive work: repair and strengthening of structural elements of the building; repair and restoration work on the turret of the tower; roof repair; restoration of carpentry fillings; equipping the building with engineering support systems; restoration of the interior. Work on the interior included the restoration of the stucco gothic vault, and the preservation of the original scenic decorations.


Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve Director  Olga V. Taratynova  places a time capsule inside the weather vane

The roof of the pavilion was originally adorned with a rooster in the form of a cockerel, made of copper, a symbol of the abdication of the apostle Peter. On the weather vane there were traces of bullets from the Great Patriotic War, and the tail was completely lost. A copy of the cockerel has now been installed, in the base of which, before the installation on the roof, in July 2018 the museum staff placed a time capsule with a message to future generations.

The interior of the chapel is decorated with paintings, imitating Gothic windows and wall coverings with a light blue border. Restorers have preserved the surviving fragments of painting. 

The ceiling of the main room of the chapel has a fan-shaped arch, typical of late English Gothic buildings. During it’s restoration, specialists discovered the historical color scheme. 


Specialists work on the restoration of the fan-shaped arch ceiling of the Chapelle

In exchange for the statue of the Savior, now in the Hermitage collection, a sculpture of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna (Adini), the daughter of Emperor Nicholas I, the work of Ivan Vitali, was installed in it’s place. 

The total cost of the restoration of the Chapelle Pavilion is 132 million rubles ($2 million USD). The project was financed by the Culture of Russia Federal Target Program (2012-2018) and extra-budgetary funds of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. 

The opening of the Chapelle Pavilion is the main restoration project of the year – one which marks the 100th anniversary of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. Admission to the pavilion is free, and open to visitors daily from 9 am to 7 pm.

Click HERE to read an article announcing the restoration of the Chapelle Pavilion, published on 26th September 2015.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 20 September 2018

Third lazurite portal to be installed in the Lyons Hall of the Catherine Palace


Boris Iğdalov, Head of the Lyons Hall restoration project

The reconstruction of the third lazurite portal has been completed, and will soon be installed in the Lyons Hall of the Catherine Palace. For its construction, it took more than 200 kilograms of lapis lazuli, and dozens of people, eight months to complete. The portal was made in the famous Amber Workshop at Tsarskoye Selo, where the Amber and Agate rooms were recreated by a team of experts and artists.

The Lyons Hall was created by the architect Charles Cameron in 1781 – 1783 and was named after the elegant walls, which were made with silk, manufactured in Lyon, France. The room was one of the private apartments of the Empress Catherine II, along with the Arabesque and Chinese halls, the Silver and the Blue rooms.


The reconstruction of the third lazurite portal is presented at a press conference 

The Lyons Hall featured bright Lyon gold silk, and rich blue lapis lazuli – creating a combination of luxury and impeccable taste. The blue lapis lazuli is mined in the Baikal region of Siberia, as well as from the north-east provinces of Afghanistan.

The Lyons Hall was lost during the Second World War. The legendary art historian Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov (1912-1993) was here on April 27, 1944. He wandered among the ruins of the Catherine Palace and found pieces of charred lapis lazuli on the floor of the former Lyons Hall. He recovered 25 pieces of lapis lazuli and a chandelier. Three gilded bronze and lapis lazuli portals, as well as the Lyons silk, perished in the shelling and subsequent fire.


The Lyons Hall as it looked at the end of the Great Patriotic War

The Nazis had stolen the parquet floor of the Lyons Hall “made from twelve varieties of rare woods”, inlaid with mother of pearl. It was discovered in 1947 in Berlin and returned to Tsarskoye Selo. The original parquet floors are currently being restored, and once completed, will be reinstalled in the hall. 

The Lyons Hall was recreated when the Catherine Palace was rebuilt after the Great Patriotic War. The interior restoration project of the Lyon Hall was prepared in 1983 under the guidance of the unique architect-restorer, the chief architect of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve Alexander Kedrinsky, who also initiated the project for the reconstruction of the Amber Room. Sadly, however, the restoration of the Lyons Hall sat idle for many years. The museum required three and a half tons of lapis lazuli, and genuine Lyon silk – made be the same manufacturer, using the same technology, in order to recreate the golden shining, weaving garlands and branches, pheasants, peacocks and swans. In 2013, the Trans-soyuz Charitable Foundation provided the museum with the necessary funding. 


A gilded element of the lazurite portal

The walls of the hall will once again be decorated with Lyons silk. “It is made for us as a gift in Lyon. According to the texture and color, the material fully corresponds to the historical one. We still have fragments of the original. Now we are waiting for delivery, then we will start cutting and sewing,” said artist and restorer Alexander Soloviev.

In the Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop panels and elements of the portal are spread on a large table. Boris Iğdalov, the head of the restoration workshop, says that the reconstruction of the portals: “Is complicated, each element went through a long process of creation and coordinating.” First you need to draw, then sculpt, then create a cast, then consult with the museum experts advice, and finally, we can create the finished element from metal and then gild. When asked about the complexities and peculiarities of the work, Igdalov notes that the most difficult is keeping the workshop together. The average age of restorers – who became famous throughout the world, for the recreation of the Amber Room – are now approaching their sixties.


Panels and elements of the lazurite portal are spread on a large table in the Amber Worshop

“Lapis lazuli is a complex material with many inclusions. You need to first select the raw materials, and then also cut it correctly to reveal the most beautiful areas. All work is done manually, using only a small mechanization. Architects, art historians, metalworkers, jewelers, stone cutters work on the portals – our teamwork, “said Igdalov.

The Lyons Hall is scheduled to open to visitors in June 2019.

Click HERE (includes VIDEO) to read more about the restoration of the Lyons Hall, and HERE to read about the installation of another lazurite portal in the in the Lyons Hall in March 2017.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 31 August 2018

Memorial plaque established at the station where Nicholas II and his family went into exile in 1917


On 14th August,  a memorial plaque in memory of Emperor Nicholas II and his family was unveiled in the railway station of the village of Alexandrovskaya. It was exactly 101 years ago, on 14th August 1917, that Russia’s last imperial family were sent into exile to Tobolsk from the Aleksandrovskaya Station near Tsarskoye Selo.

Nicholas II and his family were sent into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia, by the decision of the Provisional Government, which feared for their lives. On 14 August 1917, early in the morning, the imperial family and their enormous retinue under the sign “Japanese Red Cross Mission” departed from Tsarskoye Selo.

It took two trains to accommodate the travelers, their baggage, government representatives, the jailers and soldiers. Forty-six court attendants voluntarily accompanied the family into exile, making, in all, a party of fifty-three persons, which according to Robert K. Massie included “ladies and gentlemen of Nicholas and Alexandra’s suite, two valets, six chambermaids, ten footmen, three cooks, four assistant cooks, a butler, a wine steward, a nurse, a clerk, a barber, and two pet spaniels.”

Colonel Eugene Kobylinsky (1875-1927) rode in the Tsar’s train, while most of his 330 soldiers followed on the second train. On 14 March [O.S. 1 March], Kobylinsky had been appointed commandant of the Alexander Palace. He served as the commander of the special detachment at Tsarskoye Selo and later in Tobolsk in 1917-18, where he oversaw the imprisonment of Emperor Nicholas II. 

The unveiling of the memorial plaque included a liturgy, performed by Archpriest Boris Leonidovich Kupriyanov, from the Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, on the former site of the Chapel of the Ascension, in the village of Alexandrovsky. The attendees laid flowers at the place where the chapel once stood. The chapel was demolished by the Soviet in 1949, however, a memorial to Nicholas II and his family was erected on the site in 2011.

The memorial plaque is the result of joint efforts of the members of the Public Council of Alexandrovskaya and the administration of the Pushkin Oblast of St. Petersburg. 


© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 16 August 2018

Kazan Exhibition Features Colour Autochromes of the Alexander Palace in 1917


On 17th July, the exhibition Tsarskoye Selo: the Last Residence of the Last Emperor, opened in the E.A. Boratynsky Museum (a branch of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan) in Kazan. The exhibition presents unique autochromes from the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. The exhibition is timed to mark the 100th anniversary of the murder of Russia’s last Imperial family in 1918. 

The life of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II is closely connected with Tsarskoye Selo: on 18th May (6th May in the old style) in 1868, he was born in the Alexander Palace. From 1905, Nicholas II made the palace his permanent residence, in which he spent the last 12 years of reign. After his abdication on 15th March [O.S. 2nd March] 1917, the Emperor spent the first months of his house arrest in the palace. On 1st August 1917, the Emperor and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time, his family was sent into exile to Tobolsk.

Immediately after the departure of the imperial family, the Kunsthistorico-Historical Commission, headed by Georgy Lukomsky, began work in the Alexander Palace. Photographer Andrey Zeest took 140 colour autochromes of the palace interiors.


Colour autochromes of the Alexander Palace taken in 1917
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve


The fate of this unique collection is interesting. In November 1918, 843 images from black and white negatives and 83 color transparencies (autochrome) were transferred to the Kopeyka Publishing House. The pictures were supposed to be transferred to the Detskoye Selo department of artistic property, however, the transfer never took place. 

Now the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve now consists of 93 autochromes, shot by Zeest in 1917. Thirty-three autochromes were acquired by the museum in 1968, from the heirs of a photographer, twelve – in 1958, from a British tourist from Oxford, England. In 2013, members of the Friends of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve Club Michael Piles and Mikhail Karisalov, financed the acquisition of another 48 autochromes at an auction in Paris.

The exhibition is complemented by documents relating to the links of Georgiy Lukomsky with Kazan, from the funds of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan, and printed editions issued for the coronation of Nicholas II from the Kazem-bek family collection courtesy of the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books of the Lobachevsky Libraries.

The exhibition Tsarskoye Selo: the Last Residence of the Last Emperor marks the beginning of cooperation between the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. 

The exhibition Tsarskoye Selo: the Last Residence of the Last Emperor, runs from 17th July to 17th August 2018, in the E.A. Boratynsky Museum (a branch of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan) in Kazan.

Click HERE to read more about the colour autochromes of the Alexander Palace, and HERE to watch a VIDEO of the collection.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 8 August 2018

Exhibition: Alexander II at Tsarskoe Selo. ‘Home at last…’


The exhibition Alexander II at Tsarskoye Selo. ‘Home at last …’ dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Alexander II opened on 1st August.

The exhibition occupies the former private apartments of Alexander II on the first floor in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace.

Unfortunately, the interiors of these rooms – as well as the apartments of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, situated on the second floor – were lost during the Great Patriotic War. Today, the interiors have survived only in the watercolours by Luigi Premazzi and Eduard Hau, as well as in illuminated works by photographer Steinmueller and other photographs from the 1930s. The exhibit attempts to “reconstruct”  a few of the rooms with some of their original furnishings and personal items of the Tsar-Liberator.

PHOTOS © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve

About 200 artifacts such as paintings, furniture and porcelain pieces, weapons, bronzes and uniforms which belonged to the emperor and members of his family when they were in residence at Tsarskoe Selo. The Ostankino Estate Museum in Moscow has loaned 25 pieces of furniture from Alexander’s Office in the Ostankino Palace.

The highlights include the arms from the non-restored Asiatic Room of the Catherine Palace, some personal effects – his clock, briefcase and portraits of his grandchildren – from Alexander’s desk, and some pieces of the famous Lyons furniture set from the sitting room of Alexander’s wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna.

The exhibition Alexander II at Tsarskoye Selo. ‘Home at last …’ runs until 31st December 2018, in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 3 August 2018

Russian Historical Rose Garden at Tsarskoye Selo


Empress Alexandra of Russia Rose. Фото: ГМЗ Царское Село

Tsarskoye Selo is currently hosting a small exhibition Russian Historical Rose Garden which features 11 outdoor display stands depicting the historical varieties of roses dedicated to the Russian empresses, members of the Imperial family, and high ranking individuals of the empire. 

The exhibit is located near the Tower Ruins in the Catherine Park. The exhibition is situated near the former Pink Field, commissioned by Catherine the Great.

Known as the “Queen of Flowers” – historically, the rose figured prominently in the lives of kings and emperors around the world. Russia was no exception. The history of the Russian Empire from the beginning of the last century before 1917 was reflected in the names of roses. In the list of “Russian” roses were the names of almost all the emperors and empresses, grand dukes and grand duchesses. They were developed primarily by French rose breeders.

Фото: ГМЗ Царское Село

The exhibit acquaints viewers with historic details written by the efforts of rose breeders and gardeners of many countries of the world.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas I, is dedicated the White Flower Rose or Blanchefleur. It was derived by the French gardener Jean-Pierre Vieber in 1835. The variety has medium white flowers with a slight pink tinge, which have a strong sweet scent. The empress surrounded herself with beautiful silver, and porcelain vases filled with roses. Her favorite flowers were bought in huge quantities and planted in all the gardens and parks wherever the Empress was in residence.

Catherine the Great’s love for roses is an historical fact. Being a native of the part of the world where this flower was elevated to the status of a cult, she paid tribute to it in her new homeland. It was during the reign of Catherine II that the Pink Field appeared in the Catherine Park of Tsarskoe Selo – a huge rose garden stretching over several hectares. Her collection was constantly replenished from Denmark, Holland, Germany, and France. New varieties were introduced – some of which were planted in the Pink Field during the summer, others planted in greenhouses for the winter.

For Catherine II, is dedicated the Catherine II Rose. It was derived by the French gardener Jean Laffey, who developed this variety in 1826, during the reign of the Alexander I, grandson of the Empress. The flowers are small to medium in size, have a very strong scent, the bush does not exceed 50 cm in height, blossoms only once in early summer. The variety has been preserved in many European collector’s rosaries to this day.


The former Pink Field of Empress Catherine II, as it looks today

Visitors can also learn about the breeding of certain varieties of roses inspired by the breeders of the Empress Maria Feodorovna (wife of Alexander III), Alexandra Feodorovna (wife of Nicholas II), Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna and other members of the Russian Imperial family.

The exhibition was prepared based on the materials of the landscape architect of the Alupka Palace and Park Museum-Reserve of Utah Arbatskaya with the participation of students from the International School of Design (St. Petersburg). 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 4 July 2018

Tsarskoye Selo Marks 15th Anniversary of Reconstructed Amber Room

The VIDEO (in Russian) presents stunning photographs of the details and elements of the reconstructed Amber Room

Fifteen years ago today, the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo celebrated a landmark event – the opening of the replicated Amber Room in the majestic Catherine Palace.

The original Amber Room was made in Germany under the guidance of Andreas Schluter, Gottfried Wolfram, Ernst Schacht, and Gottfried Turau from 1701 through 1715. The customer was Friedrich I of Prussia who initially planned installing it in Charlottenburg Palace. Eventually, the amber panels were installed at Berlin City Palace.

The masters used amber in the facing panels, ornamental boards and decorations.

Friedrich Wilhelm I who ascended the throne in 1716 presented the Amber Room to Tsar Peter I of Russia. In response, he received from Peter a group of 55 Russian grenadier soldiers and a cup carved out of ivory by the Russian Tsar himself. 

The disassembled room was delivered to St Petersburg in 1717 and reassembled in the lower lounge of the Visiting Chambers [dismantled in 1801] in the Summer Garden where Peter I also kept his collections and the library.

Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth ordered ‘ameliorations’ in the composition of the room by adding more decorations to it. She also moved it to the Winter Palace. Master Alessandro Martelli ‘ameliorated’ the room under the supervision of arch-architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

Since the amber parlor of the Winter Palace had a much larger space than the similar parlors in German palaces, Rastrelli added new details – he separated the panels and put pilasters with mirrors in gilded frames between them.

The Amber Room was moved to the newly built Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo in 1755. It was here that Rastrelli had it assembled in a hall larger than the one used in the Winter Palace. It had a floor space of 96 square meters. The height of the wall measured 7.5 meters while the height of the amber boards did not exceed 4.75 meters.

Rastrelli added another six pilasters with mirrors to the composition and filled the remaining spaces with painted imitations of amber. He further decorated the upper tier with gilded woodcarving.

Maria Theresia, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, presented Empress Elizabeth with Florentine mosaics by Giuseppe Zocchi showing the allegories of human senses Taste, Eyesight, Hearing, Touching and Scenting – which Rastrelli placed in the center of the four largest boards.

In 1763, the next Russian ruler, Catherine II ordered to replace the paintings with amber mosaics. The masters invited from Konigsberg and their Russian apprentices produced the supplementary details by 1770, using 450 kg of amber for the purpose. These elements united all the fragments of the decor into a single composition.

The decorative parquet in the room was made of fine woods. To make the premise still more impressive, the architects added plated commodes, also made of primary woods.

Amber proved to be a rather fragile material that responded erratically to the fluctuations of temperatures, stove heating and drafts. Its sensitiveness to these and other factors demanded small restoration works that took place in 1833, 1865, from 1893 through 1897, and in the post-revolutionary times from 1933 through 1935.


The original Amber Room in a photo taken in 1931

The directorate of the museum, which the Catherine Palace reported to after the Revolution of 1917, scheduled a major restoration for 1941. They had to scrap the plans, however, because of Nazi Germany’s invasion and the beginning of armed operations on the Soviet front that the Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War.

The fragility of the material made it impossible to evacuate the Amber Room from the Catherine Palace in the first months of the war. The directorate decided to conserve the amber panels on the spot – by covering them up with paper and then with cheesecloth.

German troops seized the town of Pushkin on September 17, 1941. A commission for arts [Kunstkomission] which commanded the removal of the works of art to Germany was particularly active in the occupied territories. It worked in compliance with the lists drawn up back at home in advance.

Nazi experts apparently were not overburdened by the problem of the amber’s fragility. On October 14, 1941, they took the panels down and transported them to the Castle of Konigsberg [nowadays Kaliningrad, Russia] where these amber masterpieces remained until 1944.

When the Nazi troops were pulling out of East Prussia, the Amber Room was disassembled once again. Bombing raids turned the Castle of Konigsberg into ruins. The subsequent place of keeping of the panels remains unclear to this day.

The Central Commission for the Storage of Exhibits at Leningrad’s Suburban Palaces said in 1951 that the Nazi occupation had led to a loss of 30,151 museum items from the Catherine Palace.

The search for the Amber Room that was in progress from 1967 through 1984 did not produce any results. One of the versions suggested that the Germans had packed the panels into wooden boxes and had taken them out of the Castle of Konigsberg to an unknown destination. The other version held it that the panels had vanished in a fire.

Dozens of various suppositions regarding the whereabouts of the amber treasure were made over years but none of them received confirmation.

The Council of Ministers of the then Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic passed a decision in July 1979 to start works for replicating the Amber Room – a project which took 24 years to complete.


Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop

Architect Alexander Kedrinsky designed the reconstruction project. Experts from the specially organized Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop recreated the room’s composition on the basis of photos taken at the end of 1939.

Efforts taken by various organizations made it possible for the return of two original elements of the decorations – the Touching and Scenting mosaic and a plated commode – to the palace in 2000. They had been found in Germany.

The workshop received 6 tonnes of amber from the largest deposit on the Baltic Sea, which is located in the Kaliningrad region of Russia.

The works cost $ 11.35 mln. The German corporation Ruhrgas provided $ 3.5 million of that amount.

On May 31, 2003, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Federal Chancellor Gerhardt Schroder led the ceremony of the first public presentation of the reconstructed Amber Room. 


The Amber Room as it looks today

Click HERE to read more articles, photos and videos on the history, reconstruction, and search for the original Amber Room

© TASS News Agency / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 31 May 2018

Exhibition: The Romanovs. Family Archive


© The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve

On 24th May, the exhibition The Romanovs. Family Archive, opened in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The exhibit presents the largest collection of documents and photographs associated with the Imperial family, acquired in the hundred-year history of the museum. The collection of personal documents and photos of the families of Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II, was acquired at an auction in London in 2017 thanks to the financial support of Sberbank of Russia. 

The exhibit is dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Nicholas II, whose life was closely connected with Tsarskoye Selo: on 18 May (O.S. 6 May) 1868, Nicholas Alexandrovich was born in the Alexander Palace. From his birth, Russia’s last tsar held Tsarskoye Selo close to his heart, and from 1905, made the Alexander Palace his permanent residence, in which he spent the last 12 years of his reign. It was in the Alexander Palace, in which the Emperor was held under house arrest during the first months of his abdication on 15 March (O.S. 2 March) 1917. It was from here on 14 August (O.S. 1 August) 1917, that he and his family were sent into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia. 

The archive which spans from 1866 to the 1920s, includes 200 items from the museum collection. Among them – telegrams with warm messages to their children from Emperor Alexander III and his wife Maria Feodorovna. These laconic, but warm parental messages testify to how the August couple cherished family values. In separation, the loving father always found the time to write letters to his children, sharing with them his successes in hunting, fishing, his health, and about how he misses them when they are apart.

The exhibition also presents the letters of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna to her younger brother Mikhail, with whom she was in correspondence from a young age. Hardly having learned to write, the little brother and sister shared impressions of new discoveries, and humourous anecdotes from their still carefree life. Later, after marrying the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, Xenia never forgot her “dear Mishkin.” The young couple often wrote to the Grand Duke from their estates “Ai-Todor” in Crimea, and “Abas-Tuman” in the Caucasus. In letters from the French city of Biarritz, Alexander Mikhailovich also shared his interest and passion of motor-driving, his hobbies, hunting, fishing, archaeological excavations, playing tennis, golf and maps. 

Of particular importance for the museum was the acquisition of several autographs of Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. A letter written by the empress at Easter to her sister-in-law Xenia, included one of her handmade watercolour drawings with a congratulatory signature.


© The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve

The tragic events of 1917-1918 are described in the letters of Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich to Prince Georgi Shervashidze – the Ober-Hofmeister, who served the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The grand duke’s letters, which reflect his diary entries record his vision and understanding of the fate which awaits Russia in the future. 

From revolutionary Petrograd, Nikolai Mikhailovich writes to his friend in the Crimea: “It’s hard to tell what’s going on here, not only here, but all over Russia. If the Bolshevik regime comes to an end, then little good can be expected from their successors – socialist-revolutionaries or anarchists. . . ”

With the growing nationalization of property, which took place in Russia, the Grand Duke noted in February 1918: “Yesterday I was forced to leave my palace, to leave my rooms and personal things to the mercy of fate and move to another house, an apartment of one of the employees … I now live in one room on the 4th floor … My palace is now the headquarters of the new Red Army … “. As if in anticipation of his tragic fate, the Grand Duke finishes the letter with a hopeless line: “I do not know if we are destined to meet again on this earth, but in the next world my feelings for you will remain invariably friendly. All your NM. ” 

The meeting was not destined to take place. Georgi Dmitrievich Shervashidze died in the Crimea on 26 March 1918, and Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich was shot the following year on 9 January 1919 in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.

The collection also includes several letters from the widowed British Queen Alexandra, the sister of Empress Maria Feodorovna, to Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna during her life in exile.

Click HERE to read an article about the acquisition of the archive + more photos

The exhibition The Romanovs. Family Archive runs until 30 December 2018 in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia / Tsarskoye Selo State-Museum Preserve. 30 May 2018

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