The splendor of the House of Romanov’s final ball

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The Romanovs’ last ball and its Star Wars and playing-card replicas.

Credit: Archive image / CGACPPD.

A grand fancy-dress ball took place at the end of February 1903 in the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg (today’s Hermitage Museum), which was to be the last ball of tsarist Russia.

 

Credit: Archive image / CGACPPD.

The two-day ball was the most opulent ever held during the reign of Nicolas II. It was dedicated to the 290th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. / Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna.

Credit: Archive image / CGACPPD.

The first day featured feasting and dancing, and a masked ball was held on the second day. Everything was captured in a photo album that continues to inspire artists to this today. / Grand Duchess Elisaveta Feodorovna. 

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All 390 guests were requested to come in traditional Russian 17th century dress. This grand event was remarkable for its luxurious Russian-style costumes. Court ladies were attired in sundresses embroidered with precious stones and kokoshniks (head-dresses) adorned with the finest family jewels, while gentlemen boasted richly decorated caftans and boyar-style fur hats. / Grand Duke Andrey Vladimirovich.

Credit: Archive image / CGACPPD.

The last emperor of Russia Nicolas II (pictured) was robed in the golden brocade of 17th century Russian tsar Alexey Mikhailovich.

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The empress Alexandra Fedorovna (pictured) appeared in the raiments of the first wife of Alexey Mikhailovich, Empress Maria Ilinichna - a brocade dress decorated with silver satin and pearls topped by a diamond and emerald-studded crown. Empress Alexandra Fedorovna wore a huge emerald. All the jewelry was chosen by court jeweler Carl Faberge. Today such a dress would cost approximately 10 million euros.

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The ballrooms of the Winter Palace never saw such splendor again. “While we were dancing,” later recalled Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, “workers’ strikes were happening in St. Petersburg, and clouds were gathering over the Russian Far East.” / Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich.

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Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich wrote about the dress pictured: “Ksenia [his spouse — RBTH] was dressed as a boyar’s wife, her costume was richly decorated and sparkling with jewels that suited her well... / Grand Duchess Ksenia Alexandrovna.

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"... I was wearing the clothes of a falconer, which consisted of a white and gold caftan with back golden eagles sewn on the chest and the back with a pink silk blouse, light-blue wide trousers and morocco boots.” / Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich.

Credit: Archive image / CGACPPD.

The Russian-Japanese War broke out a year later, followed by the 1905 Russian Revolution. The global economic crisis marked the beginning of the end for the Russian Empire, and the court ceased to hold balls. / Grand Duke, Heir to the Throne Mikhail Alexandrovich.

But memories of that last ball in 1903 did not die during the Soviet era. A special edition “Russian Style” pack of cards was produced in 1913, honoring the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov. “Russian Style” playing cards were reprinted even after the Russian Empire collapsed, and became the most popular pack of cards in the USSR. Millions of Soviet people were unaware that they were holding the memory of the last Romanov fancy-dress ball in their hands.

 

Credit: Archive image / CGACPPD.

 

 

The jack of clubs was copied from Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich’s apparel, and the jack of diamonds came from Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich. The queen of clubs was largely borrowed from the dress of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fedorovna, and the queen of hearts resembles the tsar’s sister, Ksenia Alexandrovna, dressed as a boyar’s wife.

Curiously, Star Wars costume artist Trisha Biggar was inspired by the Russian-style dresses of female boyars with kokoshniks when designing the gold travel costume of Queen Amidala.

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