Magazine article History Today

Magnificence of the Tsars: Kathryn Hadley Previews a New Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Magazine article History Today

Magnificence of the Tsars: Kathryn Hadley Previews a New Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Article excerpt

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In 1780, Catherine II wrote to Grimm, her Paris correspondent: 'At present you in Paris wear Russian hats and ribbons: the French have gone head-over-heels for me, as if I were a feather for their hats'. Reciprocally, however, French fashion also exerted considerable influence over dress styles among the Russian nobility of the time.

On December 10th, over forty elaborate costumes and uniforms worn by the tsars and court officials of imperial Russia will go on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The exhibition reveals this French influence on the dress of the highest echelons of Russian society, from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century at least. The ensembles range from outfits decorated with gold and silver of the boy emperor Peter II, who reigned for just three years from 1727 to 1730, to the coronation costumes of the succeeding six emperors. The display ends with the five metre long ermine-trimmed mantle worn by Empress Alexandra at the coronation of the last tsar Nicholas II in 1896. The majority of the costumes have never been exhibited before. The exhibition is part of an exchange between the V&A and the Moscow Kremlin Museums and on September 5th, a display of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British costumes from the V&A's collections opened at the Kremlin Museum's Armoury Museum.

'Magnificence of the Tsars' reveals nearly two centuries of Russian history, from 1721 to 1917. It bears witness to the talent of some of the most eminent craftsmen of the imperial court, as well as to political debates of the period. On one level, the elaborate nature of the costumes highlights the power of dress as a weapon of political control.

Moreover, the evolution of fashion at court hints at changing political and cultural influences in a period which notably witnessed war and revolution. …

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