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Culture news, 18.07.2005 14:44

Alexander I, "The Sphinx who remained an enigma to the grave"

alexander_I 27 May 2005 - 2 October 2005

The exhibition in the Neva enfilade of state rooms in the Winter Palace displays more than 1,000 exhibits which are closely related to the life and activities of Emperor Alexander I. The materials are on loan from the collection of the State Hermitage, as well as from museums and archives of St Petersburg and Moscow. They include archival documents, portraits, and commemorative items. Many of the exhibits are being shown to the public for the first time.

"...the Sphinx who remained an enigma to the grave; About him even today they dispute anew..." Thus wrote P.A. Vyazemsky nearly a half century after the death of Alexander I. These words are timely in our day as well, more than 180 years after the Emperor died.

The exhibition has brought together a multitude of materials and documentary evidence. It tells us about the age of Alexander I and allows the visitor to follow the fate of the Emperor from his birth to his death and burial in the Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Attention is devoted to the special mythology which surrounds the untimely death of Alexander in Taganrog – the famous legend about the old Siberian hermit Fedor Kuzmich, the name, they say, which Emperor Alexander I adopted when he sought seclusion from the world.

The exhibition displays portraits of Alexander I which were made by Russian and European artists, sculptors and miniaturists. Among them are works by G. Dow, K.A. Shevelkin and the recently acquired portrait made by the very important miniaturist of the first quarter of the 19th century, A. Benner.

One should also mention other acquisitions of the Hermitage which are shown in the exhibition: the Portrait of Napoleon done by the well-known French miniaturist J.B. Isabet, who was a pupil of Napoleon’s court painter Jacques-Louis David and E. G. Bosse’s 1812 Portrait of Empress Elizaveta Alekseevna for which the subject posed.

Alongside unique documents and autographs of Alexander I and members of his close entourage, there are personal articles of the Emperor such as the dress uniform of the seven-year-old Grand Prince Alexander Pavlovich, the uniform of cavalier in the Order of the Holy Spirit, the coronation full dress (it is believed that the vest was sewn by the Emperor himself), a cypress cross, a medallion with locks of hair of Alexander I and Elizaveta Alekseevna, unpublished letters of the tutors of the future Emperor Frederic Cesar de Laharpe and N.I. Saltykov, as well as his student notebooks.

Valuable exhibits have been provided by the private collector V.V. Tsarenkov, among them a portfolio embroidered in gold which Alexander I used during the Congress of Vienna and three rare watercolors by Gavriil Sergeev of Alexander’s Dacha.

The exhibition has been prepared jointly by the State Hermitage, the State Archive of the Russian Federation (Moscow), the Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire within the Historical and Documentary Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia (Moscow) the Military-Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (St Petersburg), the Military Medical Museum of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (St Petersburg), the All-Russian Museum of Alexander S. Pushkin (St Petersburg), the State Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve "The Moscow Kremlin" (Moscow), the State Historical Museum (Moscow), State Museum of the History of Saint-Petersburg (St Petersburg), the State Museum-Reserve "Pavlovsk", the State Museum-Reserve "Peterhof", the State Museum "Tzarskoje Selo", the State Russian Museum (St Petersburg), the State Collection of Rare Musical Instruments (Moscow), the Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Pushkin House) (St Petersburg), the Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts (St Petersburg), the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents (Moscow), the Russian State Archive of Military History (Moscow), the Russian State Historical Archive (St Petersburg), the Central Naval Museum (St Petersburg), the State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO, as well as by the private collectors M. S. Glinka (St Petersburg), A.S. Surpin (New York), and V.V. Tsarenkov (London).

State Hermitage staff have prepared an illustrated scholarly catalogue of over 350 pages especially for the exhibition (Slavia Publishing House). State Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky and Director of the State Archive of the Russian Federation S.V. Mironenko contributed introductory articles to the catalogue.

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