AMSTERDAM – Three hundred jewels from the Romanov dynasty (1613-1917), among them a double-sided mirror that belonged to Empress Catherine the Great and Empress Maria Fyodoronva’s diadem, will be glistening at the Hermitage Amsterdam from Saturday as part of an exhibit celebrating the space’s 10th anniversary.
The items represent four centuries of fashion – Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Empire style and Art Nouveau – and they are the hallmark of their wearers’ identity.
The pieces showcase different tastes, origins and riches, and hold stories and secrets of forbidden loves and passions of controversial Russian aristocrats.
Jewel historian Marijn Akkerman, who knows all about the tsars and is fascinated by their wealth and obsession for precious stones, told Efe that collecting pieces was for them a symbol of wealth in the same way people collect artwork by famous painters.
Each one of the pieces, which comprise thousands of precious stones, have a unique story behind them.
The tsars would spend months in Paris or London, commissioning pieces from Faberge’s Russian artisans as well as European jewelers like Boucheron, Cartier, Lalique and Claude Ballin.
A three-kilogram piece that belonged to Catherine the Great (1729-1796) that was made by a goldsmith in Augsburg and is decorated with 400 diamonds, rubies, emeralds, garnets, almandines and amethysts is one of the star items.
Catherine wore it when she lived in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, whose wineries and courtyards were home to around 80 cats deployed by her mother-in-law, Elizabeth of Russia, to chase away the rats and mice and thus protect the valuables.
Catherine was a German princess who grew up in Russia and was known for her love of art and jewelry.
She successfully fought the Ottoman Empire as well as pushed to reduce illiteracy and venereal diseases in Russia.
The exhibit includes one of her wedding gifts, a double-sided mirror with a golden frame and silver flowers whose petals and leaves are decorated with frogs, snails, caterpillars and butterflies, a style that was very much characteristic of the period.
A jewelry box houses a brooch of almost 1,000 diamonds that belonged to Elizabeth of Russia, which has the greatest amount of precious stones concentrated in one piece, from blue and yellow sapphires, rubies, topazes and emeralds.
The tiaras are another special part of the show, according to Akkerman, whose favorite is the collection that belonged to Maria Fjodorovna, the wife of Tsar Alexander III, who in 1885 commissioned Michail Perchin to make a headband of silver with a golden back decorated with diamonds and a garland of pampilles.
Other highlights are a bouquet of flowers made of precious stones (1740-50), jewels with agate and zirconium, as well as costumes and tobacco boxes that belonged to noble families.
There are also portraits, dresses and imperial and majestic outfits all with personal stories behind them, giving a fascinating insight into more than two centuries of fashion.
Some of the pieces belong to the collection of the Dutch Hermitage but most came from St. Petersburg to be exhibited for the first time in a museum in Western Europe.
The show runs until March 15, 2020.