The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg has been waiting to share its intimate details in English.
It is a story of a palace of immense size and of an Imperial family of immense wealth. It is a story of the daily public and intimate life in the palace that was loved and disdained and withstood decades of changes.
The baroque Sheremetev Palace on the Fontanka River
was built c1750 by the architects Chevakinsky and Argunov for Count Peter
Sheremetev in place of the former country estate of his father whose wife was a
cousin of Peter the Great.
Aerial views (below) of the Anichkov Palace in the
lower center and the Sheremetev Palace at the upper right side of the Fontanka River
The interiors of the palace were reconstructed and
redecorated during the next century by famous architects: G. Quarenghi, A.
Voronikhin, I. Starov, D. Quadri, I. Corsini, N. Benois.
V. Sadovnikov Watercolor c1840s (below) of the
L. Premazzi Watercolor c1867 (below) of the Sheremetev
In 1871 the historian Count Sergei Sheremetev
inherited the estate. He was a childhood playmate in the Winter Palace of the
sons of Emperor Alexander II, aide-de-camp and State Councillor during the
reign of Alexander III and his children were close friends with the future Nicholas II.
Photographs c1870s-90s (below) of the Drawing Rooms
Between the apartments of Emperor Nicholas I and Empress
Alexandra in the northwest section of the Winter Palace and the grand dukes in
the west section was the private Small Church  for the imperial family.
Its windows faced into the Large Courtyard.
Photograph c1850s (below) of the Large Courtyard in
the Winter Palace
On the right was the Ambassadors Entrance with Empress
Alexandra’s Winter Garden  above on the 2nd floor. To the left
are the three rectangular windows of the Small Church on the 2nd
floor and two that also faced the Entrance. The Small Church spire is visible
on the roof. The row of windows on the far left was the apartment for the
younger grand dukes [157 to 160]. The windows above the Small Church on the 3rd
floor was the former Diamond Room that Nicholas II had ordered moved to the 1st
floor in 1895.
In the early 1800s the empire style became the fashion for women. Queen Luise of Prussia was famous for her beauty and style. Her daughter Charlotte married the future
Emperor Nicholas I in 1817 and was known as the Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna.
The simplicity and elegance of her mother’s era had changed. The elaborate hairstyles
and gowns at imperial balls were similar to the French style of the 1770-80s.
P. Sokolov’s Portraits c1820s (below) of Grand Duchess
A. Briullov’s Portrait c1830 (below) of Empress
The Victorian age of fashion in the 1840s was
adopted by Empress Alexandra (photograph below c1859).
The Winter Palace Commandant was responsible for the protection
of the imperial family. Archival documents reveal that after the death of
Nicholas I in 1855 access to the palace was lax until 1866 when stringent
security measures were adopted. The methods were followed when Nicholas II and
Alexandra moved permanently to the Alexander Palace in 1905.
Aerial view (below) of the Alexander Palace [note the
entrances] and the Kitchen Building on Dvortsovaya Ul. on the left
Photograph (below) of Their Majesties Own
Entrance to the Alexander Palace
At each of the entrances guards maintained detailed
records of all visitors to the palace. The pages were divided into columns:
arrived/departed, rank/surname, whom/where, name of assistant accompanying
guest, if guest stayed overnight and if guest searched. Ninety-five percent of
visitors were searched except for example the architect Meltzer or Fabergé.
Most were servants, suppliers, painters, etc. who entered through the Kitchen
tunnel. The first visitor was at 5:30 am with the delivery of bread from the
bakery for Their Majesties Own Buffet.
Architect Danini’s Drawing c1897 (below) of the Tunnel
between the Kitchen Building and basement in the Alexander Palace
Excerpts from the Record
Book November 13th 1907 to March 18th 1908:
November 13 - 50
people – Elizaveta Sidorova went to
rooms of Grand Duchess Elizabeth from 4:30 pm to 10:15 – was searched
November 14 - 24
people – Meltzer at Their Majesties from 10:45 am to 11:55
November 15 - 60
people – dressmaker Petrova to lady-in-waiting Orbeliani from 9:50 am to
December 31 – 85
people – Nun Vorobyov who went to children’s floor to nurse Vishnyakova
from 2:40 pm to 10:55 pm – the last visitor brought a telegram ‘To Their
Majesties and Their Highnesses” at ten minutes after midnight
January 1 –
gardener Moknev from the Tauride greenhouses brought fresh flowers to
Their Majesties from 8:00 am to 11:10 – the Emperor was congratulated by
his nurse Legonkov from 8:55 am to 10:15 who received traditional New Year’s
gift of money from Nicholas II
January 26 –
dressmaker Mme Brezak and assistant to children’s floor from 3:45 pm to
4:40 and again on March 15th from 9:45 am to 12:02 – Mme Brezak
During August and September 1908 while the imperial
family was in Peterhof, another book records the daily arrival of painters,
plasterers and plumbers who were renovating the rooms of the palace. From
August 16th workers began laying electrical cables. On August 31st
painters were finishing Alexandra’s dressing room. In early September carpenters and varnishers
were in the children’s rooms and on September 10th in the English
On June 18th 1859 Dr. Ernst Becker, private
secretary to Prince Albert, sent a telegram to Carl Ruland at his home on the
Hesengasse in Frankfurt. ‘It is very
desirable that you come at once telegraph the hour of your arrival to
Buckingham Palace. Dr. Becker. Windsorcastle.’
Photograph c1859 (below) of Dr. Ernst Becker and Carl
Copy (below) of Dr. Becker’s Telegram June 18th
Dr. Becker had proposed the twenty-five year old Carl
Ruland as his successor. Ruland was at that time a teacher of German and French
at the Frankfurt Musterschule. He took over the duties as private secretary and
the German library in the royal collections at the end of 1859. Two days after
the death of Prince Albert on December 14th 1861 Ruland wrote to his
parents that ‘for the time being I shall
go into the service of the queen in a very confident way’. He remained in
England for the next six years.
In 1869 Grand Duke Karl Alexander of
Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the son of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, appointed Carl
Ruland director of the Grand Ducal Art Collections in Weimar. He was considered
an excellent art connoisseur and accomplished museum man.
Photograph c1870s (below) of the Grand Ducal Museum in Weimar
Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Germany was looking
for a successor for the seventy-year old director Heinrich Hotho of the
Kupferstichkabinett [Museum of Prints & Drawings] in Berlin. In the fall of
1871 he assigned the Prussian diplomat Karl von Normann with the task of
approaching Carl Ruland to offer the post of director. On January 22nd
1872 Normann wrote to Ruland confirming the discussions ‘a few months ago we agreed that His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince
would make a personal attempt to influence the Grand Duke to free you from the
obligations which bind you in Weimar and to win you over to Berlin’. But Ruland
declined the offer. On February 9th 1872 Grand Duke Karl Alexander
thanked his director for the ‘rejection
of the honorable and advantageous call made to him from Berlin’.
(below) of the Altes Museum in Berlin which held the Kupferstichkabinett
Two years later on January 2nd 1874 Karl
von Normann again approached Ruland on behalf of the Crown Prince after the
death of Hotho with another offer. But in the meantime Ruland had married on
November 20th 1873 the Weimar court actress Marie Schulz and a son
was born later in 1874. He remained in Weimar and in 1886 was the first
director of the Goethe National Museum.
Photograph c1899 (below) of the Goethe House in Weimar celebrating the 150 anniversary of the birth of Johann Wolfgang Goethe
The January 1805 issue of The Journal of Luxury and Fashions published by Friedrich Bertuch
and distributed throughout Europe featured a detailed list of Grand Duchess
Maria Pavlovna’s dowry. The grand duchess had married the hereditary Prince
Karl Friedrich of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in the Winter Palace on August 3rd
Illustration in the Journal’s January 1805 issue
(below) of the Throne Bed for Grand Duchess Maria’s new home in the Weimar
The bed was designed by Andrei Voronikhin, the
architect of the Rose Pavilion in Pavlovsk. Empress Maria Feodorovna ordered
the drapery and cover of sky-blue velvet from the manufacturer Van der Borcht
& Kint in Brussels. Archival documents note that Voronikhin also had made
richly carved and gilded furniture for the bedchamber that was missing in the
journal’s article: two tables, two sofas, eight chairs, two tabourets [stool
see above] and fireplace screen.
Photograph (below) of the Throne Bed exhibited in the
Weimar Palace today
Aerials (below) of the Palace in Weimar
Emperor Alexander I had ordered in 1803 a wedding
carriage to be constructed for his sister (below) along with four others for
her Weimar stables. The dowry had been sent ahead overland and by ship in
August. Maria Pavlovna and Karl Friedrich left Saint Petersburg on October 7th
1804, arriving in Weimar on Friday November 9th.
Photograph (below) of the Wedding Carriage
Friedrich Preller Painting c1849 (below) of Maria Pavlovna's Arrival at the Palace in Weimar on November 9th 1804
Princess Marie of Wurttemberg at the age of
thirty-three married her uncle Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on December 23rd
1832. She was his second wife and the stepmother of princes Ernest and Albert.
Aerial (below) of Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha
Her father Prince Alexander of Wurttemberg, the brother of
Empress Maria Feodorovna, had married in 1798 Antoinette of
Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the sister of Ernest. During the reign of Emperor
Alexander I, the family lived in the Winter Palace. Evenings the three friends
Empress Elizabeth, her sister Amelie of Baden and Antoinette would meet
together in the empress’ rooms on the 2nd floor of the palace. In
December 1809 Elizabeth and Amelie prepared Christmas gifts for Antoinette’s
children. ‘For Marie at ten years her
mama asked for objects to engage her interest’. The empress also gave her a
pair of ‘small loop earrings with a big
diamond and a little pearl’.
Photograph c1858 (below) of Schloss Friedenstein [Duke
Ernest II’s Album, Coburg Archives]
During a visit to his daughter in 1833, Prince Alexander
died unexpectedly on July 4th in Schloss Friedenstein and was buried
in the Gotha ducal vault with his wife who had passed away in 1824 in Saint
On June 14th 1840 Empress Alexandra and her
daughter Grand Duchess Olga arrived in Gotha at the Zum Mohren Inn. Duchess
Marie wrote in her diary that her old friend Alexandra ‘toured Gotha, the new theatre and admired from a distance the
Inselberg. She thinks Gotha prettier than Weimar’. The next morning Marie
went with the empress to Eisenach for breakfast.
Photograph c1858 (below) of Gotha from Schloss Friedenstein
with Prince Ernst of Wurttemberg’s Palais in the lower right [Duke Ernest II’s
Album, Coburg Archives]
Photograph c1858 (below) of the Theatre in Gotha [Duke
Ernest II’s Album, Coburg Archives]
Dowager Duchess Marie, widowed in 1844, finalized her
Last Will on November 20th 1851. She appointed her cousin Emperor
Nicholas I as the executor and declared Empress Alexandra as her sole heir.
On September 24th 1860 the Dowager Duchess Marie
died in Schloss Friedenstein. She left a fortune of 119,828 rubles and jewels
worth 100,000 guilders. Emperor Nicholas I had died in 1855 and with the death
of Empress Alexandra six weeks after Marie, Emperor Alexander II rejected the
acceptance of the inheritance in favor of Marie’s brothers, Alexander and
Ernest of Wurttemberg.
Photograph c1858 (below) of Prince Ernest of
Wurttemberg’s Palais in Gotha [Duke Ernest II’s Album, Coburg Archives]