The Russian Court Comes to Amsterdam

Dressed for the Ball, court dress at the Hermitage Museum

The recently re-opened Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam has a wonderful exhibition showing the protocol and dress of the Russian court.

The museum premises are in a former old people’s home, Amstelhof, that was rebuilt at a cost of more than 50 million euro. The refurbishment has involved a fairly complete gutting of two of the wings to create two high ceiled (6m or more) exhibition spaces. The whole thing was opened by Queen Beatrix back in June, and this week I finally got to see the exhibition.

For this exhibition the first of these spaces is entitled “An Audience with the Tsar” and shows the dresses and uniforms lined up as if in procession to bow to the Tsar, who is represented by a throne at one end of the room.

The second contains a small stage with musical instruments, and several large cylindrical glass cabinets each with a selection of ball gowns. As the music plays, the cabinets rotate gently. The effect is magical.

Along each side of the double height space are smaller rooms each showing some aspect of royal life; children’s toys, fans, shoes, jewels. The one that particularly got my attention was a series of photographs taken of members of the court attending the famous 1903 ball in the Winter Palace. The theme that year was the 17th century, and many participants dressed as Boyar and Boyarynya, harking back to a noble class and styling their costumes in a traditional shape, but then adorning them with more jewels then most Boyars would have afforded. Originally the photos were taken, collated into albums and sold to raise more money for charity.

For me it was fascinating to see the members of the royal family dressed as part of an older era when their own era was about to end. Lenin had already written his pamphlet “What is to be done?”, and revolution was on the way. The rank of Boyar was abolished by Peter the Great in the 18th century, and within a generation the ballgoers own ranks would be abolished and many of them would be living in exile.

The exhibition is on until the end of January, and the museum can be reached by trams 9 and 14 (get off at Waterlooplein), or metro (get off at at Waterlooplein, take the Nieuwe Herengracht exit). It is within walking distance of the city centre. Entrance = 15 euro.

image is from VincentTeeuwen via flickr since I forgot my camera.

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