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Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs Exhibition at The Queen's Gallery of Holyroodhouse

It was a very busy summer for us here at Wee Walking Tours. And it seems that the autumn season is starting to fly by as well. Therefore, I was thrilled that we were finally able to attend the Russia: Royalty and the Romanovs exhibition. And, not a moment too soon- the exhibition is closing at the end of this week on the 3rd of November. Therefore, if you happen to be in Edinburgh this week, make sure to check the Gallery’s website for important planning information.

I have had a lifelong fascination with Romanov culture and history. Back in 2015, we were fortunate to attend a phenomenal exhibit on the Fabergé eggs at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts). It's an exhibition that I will never forget. Therefore, I was quite excited to be able to see some Fabergé again. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s establish some context with a little historical overview.

The exhibition outlines how there have been links between Russia and Great Britain since the 16th century due to trade, and then military alliances. However, what I find the most fascinating, and what I’ll highlight in this blog article, are the “dynastic marriage and family ties”. Essentially, the family connections can be traced back to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Of course, the Russian and British monarchies have dynastic connections through the German, Danish, and Greek royal families as well. It can all be a bit confusing to suss out, but the exhibition has some wonderful paintings that illustrate these connections in a very interesting way. The paintings were done during various family gatherings including weddings.

The first dynastic marriage linking Britain with Russia was through Queen Victoria’s son’s, Prince Alfred’s, marriage to Maria Alexandrovna. Maria was the daughter of Emperor Alexander II of Russia. The exhibition points out how Russia was very much a foreign land with little known about it from the perspective of Queen Victoria and Great Britain overall. Therefore, the Queen sent her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, as her representative to the wedding.

There is a magnificent painting on display by Nicholas Chevalier (who was commissioned by Prince Alfred to record the ceremonies for his mother) of the wedding which took place at the Cathedral of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Chevalier's details really draw the viewer into the painting, and transport you to the romance of Russia at the time. As I admired the painting, I closed my eyes and imagined that I was one of the attendees. The beautiful Rococo architectural details- gilded surfaces, sculpted moulding, and heavenly frescoes- throughout the Cathedral are illuminated by the elegant candlelit chandelier. All of the guests stand solemnly- made up of various members of European royal households and important dignitaries. The information plaque provides a useful diagram outlining who the various guests are.

Another famous painting on display depicts the wedding of Nicholas II and Princess Alix of Hesse- Queen Victoria's granddaughter. Their 1894 wedding was also held at the Winter Palace. Of course their marriage ended in tragedy for the family as Nicholas, Alexandra, and their five children were brutally murdered in the 1917 Russian Revolution.

In addition to the stunning paintings, there are some fascinating artefacts. There are numerous Fabergé items on display. The Easter eggs are the most famous, and this exhibition doesn't disappoint. My favourite is the Mosaic Imperial Easter Egg which Nicholas II gave to Alexandra as a gift for Easter 1914. The exhibition outlines how it's one of the most technically "sophisticated and extraordinary" of all the Fabergé eggs.

However, if I had to pick my favourite of all the Fabergé items it would be the tiny but exquisite Elephant automaton. It was made for Tsar Alexander III who gave it to the Tsarina Marie Feodorovna for Easter 1892. It must have been a delightful surprise to find out it could move forward on ratcheted wheels with its head going up and down.

One particularly poignant object on display is the Tsesarevich Alexei’s (the son of Nicholas II and Alexandra) Cossack uniform. It would have been worn when he was approximately six years old.

A bit of trivia that you might not know is that Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children took their summer family vacations aboard their yacht, the Standart, in Finland. A further Finnish connection (which we are always pleased to find as Sami is Finnish) is found at the exhibition through some photographs taken in Finland by Edinburgh-born photographer, William Carrick (see below).

Well, I hope you've enjoyed our brief exploration of the latest exhibition at The Queen's Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. If you're interested in reading more about the Palace, be sure to check out our article on it and the connections with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the next exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery which will sure to be a fascinating one as it will have 80 drawings of Leonard da Vinci. I previously mentioned this in my Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum post where we were fortunate to see some of da Vinci’s drawings at that exhibit. However, I am quite thrilled about The Queen’s Gallery exhibition as it marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the master Renaissance artist. According to the Gallery, the exhibition will form the “largest group of Leonardo’s works ever shown in Scotland”.

And also keep an eye out for a special Halloween post that I will be publishing this Thursday. It will be filled with spooky and macabre tales from Edinburgh Castle.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!

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