The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution at the Science Museum

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1915 Red Cross Triptych Faberge Egg

Maternity dress worn by the Tsarina Alexandra for her pregnancy with the Tsarevich, 1903-4

1916 Steel Military Faberge Egg

 

The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution, Science Museum, 21 Sept. 2018 – 24 March 2019

I couldn’t wait to see this exhibition and stayed up in London one evening in early October with the express intention of seeing it the next day. I am pleased to say that my expectations were met – and exceeded – and I emerged from the relative dark of the exhibition feeling moved, informed and that I wanted to see it all again immediately.

There are many pieces in the exhibition which I could not simple observe, acknowledge and walk past, and although – as a Romanov devotee – one could surmise that I am more likely to find the exhibits moving than most, it was reassuring to see other exhibition visitors lingering over the objects on display and soaking up their significance. I was rooted to the floor on seeing the Empress Alexandra’s maternity dress, a beautiful raspberry pink robe which which would have covered her pregnancy. I felt somewhat overwhelmed thinking that the little boy whose health would determine so much for the Russian monarchy was sheathed in his nascent form by the material of the dress.

On display were some medical instruments and medicines used to aid and assist the Imperial family (particularly the pregnancies of the Empress) and I thought that this element of the exhibition was important and well-considered. The health of the Empress and the Tsarevich and that of the family was inextricably linked with the way in which they related to their Court, the people and the rest of the world and hence it was a very important part of the life of the family.

A wealth of photographs of the family are on display and from a surprising range of sources. I noted that there were photographs from GARF, the David King collection in the Tate Archive, and the Science Museum Group (the Herbert Galloway Stewart album being a real treasure and they are displayed digitally so that you can view and zoom in to each of the images which have captions).

I thought the selection of the two Imperial Faberge eggs on display was very fitting. The designs of the Red Cross Triptych Egg and the Steel Military Egg are so clearly informed by the devotions and predicaments of the family (the Empress and the two elder Grand Duchesses worked tirelessly as staff nurses in the Tsarskoye Tselo Infirmary, while the Tsar and the Tsarevich were stationed at Stavka where the Tsar assumed the mantle of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces) that to view them is rather painful in light of what was visited on the family by the Bolsheviks only a few years later.

The latter part of the exhibition revolves around the haemophilia of the Romanovs and I was so very fascinated and stunned to learn that Anastasia would have been the only carrier of the haemophilia B gene (a rarer form of the condition from which the Romanovs suffered). It is a little difficult to articulate why I was so upset on learning this, but I think my distress stems from the fact that if the Grand Duchesses had lived, then Olga, Tatiana and Maria could have continued their line without having to suffer the anguish that ailed their mother in rearing her darling boy.

Very sadly, I was informed that I could not take photographs in the exhibition – a stipulation which grates less if there is an exhibition catalogue to purchase, but – no! Nothing! Not a single record of the exhibition on which to lavish my money, which feels like an oversight on the part of the Museum. Nonetheless, it is an excellent display and one which all Romanov enthusiasts should visit.

 

 

 

 

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