Sunday, September 18, 2016

"A charming effect that is impossible to describe"


"Those who were given the good fortune to see up close the Empress Elizabeth had the opportunity to judge the extreme sociability of her nature and her extraordinary judgment. Gifted with great tact and exquisite taste, having a mass of diverse and deep knowledge, she always tried to hide her talents, as opposed to that zeal and skill with which she showed to ordinary people. Her nature had the property of contemplation which allowed her to see the serious side of her surrounding; but at the same time her passion and imagination gave her a charm and grace of simplicity; combining all these qualities engendered a charming effect that is impossible to describe."

- From an essay about the spouse of Alexander I "Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna" by Sergei Semenovich Uvarov. Published in the journal "Russian Antiquity" in 1884.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tatiana Vasilievna Engelhardt, Princess Yusupova

Princess Tatiana Yusupova
by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Lebrun
Today my post is dedicated to the great-grandmother of the famous Russian belle and heiress, Princess Zinaida Yusupova
Zinaida's great-grandmother was Princess Tatiana. She was actually born as Tatiana Engelhardt into a family of an impoverished gentry in Smolenk, Russia named Vasily Engelhardt. Her mother was Martha Elena Alexandrovna Potemkin, sister of Grigory Potemkin, who would go down in history as a brilliant military leader, statesman and a lover of Catherine the Great. Tatiana's childhood coincided with that period when her uncle rose to power. As a result, she and her sisters made a brilliant match because of their uncle's influence at the Russian court. Possessing both beauty and a gentle nature, and not to mention her uncle's protection, she was destined to have a bright future.
Tatiana and her five sisters were orphaned at a very young age. They were left to the care of their grandmother and as a result, they received little education and their manners were unpolished. As their uncle Potemkin rose to power, he took the sisters under his protection and brought them to the Russian court, where the Empress Catherine treated them generously. They were treated almost as grand duchesses and soon they learned how to be sophisticated and act accordingly.

Tatiana, at the age of 12, was appointed as a maid-of-honor to the Empress Catherine. And although she came from a poor province, she attracted admiration and attention at the court not only for being the niece of Potemkin but also for being a witty and lively girl. When the Duchess of Kingston visited St. Petersburg and was invited at court, she became strongly attached to the then 15 year-old Tatiana, treating her like her own daughter. The Duchess even told Tatiana that she would make her the heiress of her vast fortune if she would agree to live with her in England. Tatiana, however, refused.
Instead, her uncle arranged her to be married to her uncle and mother's cousin who was 25 years her senior, Mikhail Potemkin. Her uncle gave her a large dowry which further made her an attractive bride. The couple had two daughters, with the Empress serving as their godmother. However, the marriage did not last long - Tatiana's husband died six years later. It was a blow for her and she retired from court life, occasionally appearing only at the request of the Empress herself. 
But soon enough, she met a dashing nobleman named Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov, who had just returned to Russia from Italy where he was working at the embassy. He and Tatiana married in 1793 with Catherine's blessing and a year later, they had a son, Boris. Despite the promising start of their married life, Nikolai and Tatiana's marriage would be a failure and soon enough the couple started living separately. Nikolai stayed in Arkhangelskoye Grand Palace while Tatiana moved to Caprice Palace where she managed the Kupavinskaya textile plant, one of Prince Nikolai’s properties. Along with the management of her husband's estate, she also devoted her time in raising her son Boris.

Despite her wish for a more quiet and secluded life, this would prove to be almost impossible. Her intellectual pursuits and artistic inclinations attracted a group of likewise intellectual and artistic people who frequented her home including the Russian poet Gavrila Derzhavin who dedicated a poem for her entitled "To a mother who brings up her children herself", Vasily Zhukovsky and Alexander Pushkin.

Tatiana also proved to be skillful and highly competent in the management of their estates. Under her supervision, she was able to increase the already vast fortune of the Yusupovs (which is also due to her inheritance from Potemkin that amounted to 18 million rubles) and her practical ability and financial acumen made her acquired substantial properties. But people were surprised by her modest lifestyle and her disdain for flamboyance and ostentatious display of wealth and they sometimes mistook it for stinginess. However, she was spending large sums of money for charity which she donated anonymously.

Tatiana, with an eye for beauty, was fascinated with jewelry and she possessed some of the most dazzling jewelry collections. Among them was the world-famous Polar Star Diamond, the diamond earrings of Marie Antoinette, a sapphire statue of Venus, the pearl and diamond tiara of Caroline Murat and the Peregrina pearl.

Tatiana died in May 25, 1841 and the large fortune of the Yusupovs was inherited by her only son, Boris.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna in England

The Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna of Russia and her husband, Charles, Crown Prince of Wurttemberg visited England in August 5, 1853. They were warmly received by Queen Victoria at Osborne House a few days after their arrival. The young Queen wrote to his uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians about Olga:
"Olga is still very handsome as to features, figure, but she is a wraith which is a sad thing for one who was so beautiful and is so young. She is terribly thin and pale... Her manners are very dignified and pleasing."




(Photo courtesy of The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Quote courtesy of The Royal Collection)


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria, Queen of Prussia

Princess Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria,
Queen Consort of Prussia
by Joseph Stieler
My post for today is about another beloved Prussian queen, Elisabeth Ludovika, consort of Frederick William IV of Prussia. The Bavarian-born princess was one of the daughters of Maximilian I, King of Bavaria and his second wife, Caroline of Baden. Elisabeth, called "Elise" by her family, has an identical sister named Amalie who would become Queen of Saxony. By all accounts, Elisabeth's childhood was happy and carefree. She and her sisters were allowed to roam freely around the Nymphenburg Palace. Court atmosphere was tolerant and liberal, owing to their father's preference for a simple and bourgeois way of life. The Bavarian princesses were also taught in literature, history and geography by the philologist and theologian Friedrich Thierch. The Bavarian royal family spent their summers in Tegernsee, where the countryside greatly appealed to Elisabeth. Her visits to Tegernsee intensified her love for her homeland and she would always remain a Bavarian in heart and soul.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Royal Portrait: Augusta Amalie, Duchess of Leuchtenberg with Her Children


A beautiful portrait of Princess Augusta Amalie of Bavaria, Duchess of Leuchtenberg and Vicereine of Italy by Andrea Appiani. It was commissioned by the Princess herself as a wedding gift to her husband, Eugene de Beauharnais while he was in Eisenstadt. She was depicted here with her two eldest children, Josephine and Eugenie. Augusta was pointing with her daughter's finger on the Hungarian city of Raab where Eugene and Napoleon's troops defeated their Austrian opponents.

This portrait is courtesy of Neumeister Alte Kunst-Moderne.
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