Monday, 19 December 2016

Risqué Esmeralda in the Classroom of the Grand Dukes!

In the 1840s, the youngest sons of Nicholas I, Nikolai and Mikhail, shared four rooms on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace facing the Large Inner Courtyard.

In the 1850s, two of the sons of Alexander II would share the rooms until the age of twelve when they moved to the 2nd Spare on the southeast corner facing Palace Square.

The watercolor of the bedroom c1864 (below) shows the boys’ camp beds were placed on opposite sides;the bed on the right is hidden by the cabinet. The wall has a display of arms. A brown cylindrical ‘piece’ is prominent under the stool that I am unable to identify. Do you have any ideas what it may be?

The door on the left leads to their classroom (watercolor below).

Rossetti's 'Esmeralda' (below) would have been an intriguing distraction for the Grand Dukes during their studies!

In the 1870s, the four room suite was transformed into the 3rd Spare; dining room – bedroom, bedroom – study, classroom – drawing room.

Hau’s 1873 watercolor (below) of the Study

I continue to search on who may have occupied the 3rd Spare suite, whether family members or guests, during the reign of Nicholas II. Why did Nicholas and Alexandra never use the 3rd Spare? The rooms adjoined their apartment yet their daughters lived on the 1st floor, facing the Neva, where the noise and public exposure was intrusive. 


  1. Just a guess but, consistent with the arms displayed on the wall, and with the proliferation of "military décor" to be seen in so many images of the various young Grand Dukes' rooms in the various palaces, I think that object on the floor might be a mortar/artillery shell. (Sitting on a low, decorative pedestal.) There was so much military innovation in the middle of the nineteenth century, and most images I could find show examples of mortars post-civil war or from WWI. I did find some pictures of Civil War shells that look very similar to this; they would be exactly contemporary with this image, of course. Not conclusive, but I'd say that the size, shape, color, and possible "thematic" context of this object might point to that as a possible identification.

  2. Also, the oval portrait on the left wall in the first image is of Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna, née Cäcilie of Baden who, by the time the room was recorded, was the wife of one of its former occupants, GD Mikhail Nikolaevich. The painting is by Richard Lauchert - there is a contemporary lithograph in the Royal Collection that firmly identifies both sitter and artist - and may have been painted around the time of the couple's engagement (when she was only 17), circa 1856-7. A good image of the painting is floating about the internet but doesn't identify the artist. (I was - pedantically - happy to do a little research, since I happened to recognize the painting.)

  3. Joanna,
    Another great post and another beautiful watercolour, who painted this one?
    As a guess the brown cylindrical 'piece' could be a bronze door stop? I remember seeing something or hearing something that they are collectable.
    Looking at the camp bed, I have to say that it doesn't look like it would be very comfortable to sleep on!
    I did wonder why there would be statue in a class room, now I know what it's of, I'd say it would be quite a distraction for two young dukes during their lessons ;)
    Anyway, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, wither it's spending time with family or catching up with friends, I hope it's a happy one :)
    Ghostie x.

  4. Thank you very much. I wonder if it is a shell from the Crimean War. It may be identifiable by an expert at the Alexander Artillery Museum in St. Petersburg.

    I did not know it was GD Olga F. Thank you for the artist also. Do you know what GD Alexis A. called GD Mikhail and his wife Olga? It's amusing!

    I have a photo of Nicholas'camp bed - it's doesn't seem sturdy at all and must have been difficult to shift sides and noisy!

    I'll check my notes for the artist of the bedroom. There is another from earlier period.

    Merry Christmas from Canada!

  5. I - don't - know what GD Alexis called the couple. Do tell! I do know that Alexis' brother, Alexander III, who disliked the GD Olga F., sometimes called her "Auntie Haber" behind her back, a reference to allegations of illegitimacy and Jewish heritage. (Rumors that always hounded her, but which have never been found to have any basis in fact.) She doesn't appear to have been at all popular with the Romanovs and, with their very unpleasant streak of anti-Semitism, she was often referred to as "Frau Haber".

  6. On Sunday, May 13th, 1884 Grand Duke Alexis A. called Grand Duke Mikhail and his wife Olga the ‘1st chapitre de l'ordre de saint potin’ [1st chapter of the order of saint gossip].

    1. Haha, from what I've read that was very apt. : )

  7. Ghostie, yesterday I was tired and when writing, my mind wandered. I thought of your comment and I realized you gave me a fantastic idea for a post. I forgot my book and scribbled furiously! Many many thanks!

  8. Joanna,
    (Giggles) That is quite amusing! :-D
    I don't know what idea I gave you, but your welcome. I know what it's like to have your mind wander, I do it myself quite a bit, not to mention I get onto one thing, loose track of that, than find I'm doing something else completely!
    You're of Russian descent?
    I must look up my Russian Orthodox information and read about how it works in regards to Christmas (now where did I put that?).
    In regards to the weather here in Australia (not strictly all of, just my city) it's 29C today, going to be 31C tomorrow and 35C on Christmas Day, cooling off then up to 34C by next Wednesday which I would gladly swap for snow (I've never had a white Christmas) but you might regret me sending you my hot weather when it reaches 45C or 50C!.
    Ghostie x.