Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Gold Toilet Set in Empress Alexandra’s Bedroom
During the reign of Empress Anna Ivanova (1730-1740), the Augsburg craftsman, Johann Ludwig Biller, was commissioned to make a gold toilet set of 47 pieces.
In Simon Sebag Montefiore’s ‘The Romanovs 1613-1918’, he described Empress Anna Ivanova’s reign as terrifying with her caprices and cruelties. From the 1750s, Imperial brides used the toilet set for the ceremonial dressing of hair and jewels.
Photograph (below) of Empress Anna Ivanova's Gold Toilet Set
After the death of Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1828, the toilet set was deposited in the Diamond Room in the Winter Palace.
On March 18th, 1839 the Minister of the Court sent a letter to the Chief Marshal that Nicholas I ‘has deigned to command the gold toilet set … to move to Her Majesty’s bedroom …’ Officials transferred both Anna Ivanova’s set and Catherine the Great’s 61 piece toilet set as the order did not specify which set was to be placed in the bedroom.
Hau’s 1859 watercolor of Empress Alexandra’s bedroom with Anna Ivanova’s gold toilet set visible on the left.
In March 1867, Empress Marie Alexandrovna agreed to the temporary use of the gold toilet set by her daughter-in-law Marie Feodorovna in the Anichkov Palace. On January 6th, 1868, the Empress ordered the immediate ‘delivery of the set to the Winter Palace’ for the marriage of Duchess of Leuchtenberg. After the wedding, the set was placed in the Diamond Room again.
Prince A. Vasilichikov, the director of the Imperial Hermitage, requested persistently for the removal of gold toilet set from the Winter Palace to the Hermitage’s Jewelry Gallery. In January 1882, he spoke personally with Alexander III during an Imperial Ball about the issue and on February 24th, 1882, he received official permission.
Photographs (below) of Empress Anna Ivanova’s Gold Toilet Set in the Hermitage Museum
It is difficult to comprehend why it became the custom for Imperial brides to use the toilet set; a symbol of the terror Empress Anna Ivanova and Ernest Biron unleashed on the country. Was the animosity Nicholas I had for his grandmother Catherine the Great the reason when he had the opportunity to change the old tradition in 1839 rather than allowing the use of Catherine’s 61 piece set?
In Rachel Corbett’s ‘You Must Change Your Life – The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin’, I was intrigued to discover that Alexander I stayed at the Duc de Biron’s mansion at 17 rue de Varenne in Paris. Was the Duc a descendant of Anna Ivanova’s Biron? Did the friendship between Alexander and the Duc influence Nicholas I?