Friday, September 16, 2011

Jewels of the Romanovs Family and Court

First the good news.  Stefano Papi's Jewels of the Romanovs Family & Court is a stunner.  This is the kind of book you would like to have on the cocktail table.  Luscious, superb photography, where the jewels jump right off the pages,  a true visual treat. 

Interest in the Romanovs continues to fascinate historians and others who have been captivated by the great wealth, the internecine family squabbles, the palaces, and revolutions that led to the collapse of the 300 years of Romanov reign and the assassination of Nicholas II and the murders of his wife, children and other members of the Imperial family.  

Don't forget the jewels!   Magnificent jewels, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, pearls.  Some lost forever.

Stefano Papi is an internationally respected European jewelry specialist, who has worked for Christie's and Sotheby's.  He knows a lot about jewels.  He doesn't know a lot about the Romanovs,  which means there are a number of glaring errors in the text.   He states that Grand Duchess Olga accompanied Nicholas and Alexandra to Tobolsk, but in fact it was Grand Duchess. 

The book is broken down into six chapters that focus on Nicholas and his family,  the Romanov relations, the Jewelled stars (Marie of Romania, Princess Marthe Bibesco, Nancy Leeds, the downfall of the Tsar, and what happened after the revolution: dispersal and survival.  

The chapter on the Romanov relations is the most fascinating.   Empress Alexandra's smalls box was certainly filled with amazing jewels from massive strands of pearls to stomachers to tiaras.  Many of Alexandra's jewels were lost at Ekaterinburg or broken up after the Soviets began making inventories of the jewels they found.

But the glitz and glamour was not confined to Alexandra or her mother-in-law.  Other  members of the family also owned amazing jewels, especially several distaff members, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of the Duke of Edinburgh,  Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of Grand Duke Vladimir,  Grand Duke Serge, and Grand Duke Paul,  both of whom showered jewels on their wives.

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna was particularly blessed with jewels.  She owned a dazzling array of tiaras, including a waterfall tiara made by Chaumet and  the spectacular kokoshnik tiara.  Maria received it as a wedding gift in 1874.   This tiara was inherited by her daughter, Helen, who married Prince Nicholas of Greece. and Helen sold it to Queen Mary.   Queen Elizabeth II often wears this tiara.

Many of Maria Pavlovna's jewels survived the revolution, and were divided among her three sons and her daughter.   Some of the jewels have gone to auction.  Others are in the possession of the descendants of Helen's three daughters, Olga, Marina and Elisabeth.    Maria Pavlovna's eldest son, Kirill, married Princess Victoria Melita of Edinburgh,  who was the daughter of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna.  

Ducky and her older sister, Queen Marie of Roumania, were often seen in wearing amazing pieces of jewels.many

Princess Paley, the morganatic wife of Grand Duke Paul, received many jewels from her husband.   Other Romanov relations/friends with absolutely fab jewels include Princess Zenaide Yusupov, whose son, Felix, married Princess of Russia, daughter of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, and the Duchess of Leuchtenberg, the wife of Prince Eugene Romanovsky, 5th Duke of Leuchtenberg, son of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna, eldest daughter of Nicholas I.

So what happened to the jewels.  Some disappeared, others were plundered, but the Soviets did provide an inventory of the jewels that they found, including many of Empress Marie's jewels.  The Soviets sold some pieces at auctions in the late 1920s, and they destroyed the jewels from the time of the last Tsar because they "considered them to be modern and not of historic importance."

Grand Duchess Ella gave her jewels to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, the younger, who, in turn, sold them to King Alexander of Yugoslavia. His wife, Marie, a granddaughter of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, often wore the pieces that were once given by her maternal great-uncle to her mother's first cousin.

Jewels of the Romanovs Family & Court was published by Thames & Hudson ($75.00/£42.00).  Visually stunning, but the text could have been a lot better.

You will also enjoy William Clarke's book, Hidden Treasures of the Romanovs.

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