Monday, 13 November 2017

Why an Imperial Family Ban on Wearing Glasses

As the wife of Emperor Paul, Maria Feodorovna demanded that all follow the strict rules of court etiquette. Although short-sighted, she believed that wearing eyeglasses in public lowered the dignity of the imperial appearance. During the funeral of her son Alexander I in March 1826, she wrote that with her ‘very weak eyesight and not wanting to use a lorgnette, could not observe the expressions in the faces’.

Alexander I was also short-sighted. His vision was so weak that he kept a lorgnette hidden in the right sleeve, tied to its button.

Photograph and Painting (below) of Alexander I’s lorgnette and in his uniform

Nicholas I did not inherit the bad eyesight of his parents. From November 1852, there were yearly payments to opticians indicating deterioration due to age. Empress Alexandra had problems with her eyes since 1824. Nicholas wrote in his dairy that ‘Dr. Ruhl gave her drops’. In September while in Berlin he bought ‘two lorgnettes for six thalers’. After her death, her glasses with a gold frame in an enamel case were given to her daughter Maria.

Their second son Grand Duke Konstantin was the first of the imperial family to wear a pince-nez [glasses held in place by a clip on the nose] and eyeglasses in public in the 1860s.

Photographs (below) of Grand Duke Konstantin wearing a pince-nez and glasses while playing the cello

In later years, Alexander II wore glasses. With the death of Alexander III at the young age of 49 and Nicholas II at 50, their eyesight had not deteriorated. After the birth of Tatiana in 1897, Empress Alexandra was prescribed glasses. Her ophthalmologist also treated six year old Olga in early 1902, visiting the Winter Palace seventeen times.

Since glasses were banned and sunglasses had yet to be invented, ladies would use umbrellas to protect the eyes from spring to fall. The winter months had been solved by Madame VigĂ©e Lebrun, the French artist. In Naples she had been ‘almost struck blind with the sun reflecting off the lustrous white houses’ while driving along the road facing the sea. To save her eyes, she ‘put on a green veil’ which she ‘had never seen anyone else do since only black and white veils were worn’. Arriving in Saint Petersburg in 1795, she ‘also found great comfort in my green veil where the snow was so dazzling that it might have killed my eyesight’. As in Italy, the ladies imitated her and green veils came into fashion.

Photograph (below) of Empress Alexandra and her sister Princess Irene of Prussia in the Alexander Park with the veils on their hats for ease to pull down to cover the eyes

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