While the newest high tech gadgets displayed at CES 2015 last week did have some pretty nice embellishments they can in no way compare to the absolutely over the top ornate bling I viewed during my trip to Russia – particularly in St. Petersburg and Moscow. My faithful readers will remember some of the exploits I have already shared in the former city in my first post of the ongoing series, “When Things Don’t Go as Planned” or WTDGAP. Today I want to bring you indoors to see some of the most spectacular, and in some cases completely useless other than being an example of why the peasants revolted and assassinated the reigning tsar and his family.
If you will recall, getting to St Petersburg from my former stop in Helsinki was a surreal experience, and I imagined myself on Strelnikov’s train in the movie “Dr. Zhivago.” St Petersburg was a revelation, with gorgeous Art Noveau structures, as well as astounding ornate palaces such as Peterhof and Tsarcoe Selo (the latter being Catherine the Great’s Palace). Walls, balustrades, furniture, almost everything was gilded – so much so that even Catherine herself remarked on the extravagance in her memoirs:
“The palace was then being built, but it was the work of Penelope: what was done today, was destroyed tomorrow. That house has been pulled down six times to the foundation, then built up again till it was brought to its present state. The sum of a million six hundred thousand rubles was spent on the construction. Accounts exist to prove it; but besides this sum the Empress spent much money out of her own pocket on it, without ever counting”.
It is said that Catherine tried to cut down spending and tone down the existing opulence, but frankly she was a royal and therefore not immune to an inordinate amount of pretty things. For example, one of the rooms of the palace was devoted solely to her collection of snuff boxes. I would surmise that it was a popular gift to give to royalty, for I can’t imagine that Catherine had such a major jones for snuff. FYI, according to Wikitionary, snuff is:
“Finely ground or pulverized tobacco intended for use by being sniffed or snorted into the nose.
The boxes are exquisite – here is a sampling:
Now these boxes at least have an intended use – but the next collection of jewelled encrusted items had to royally incense the general populace (revolution is coming). Diamond and ruby saddles, even carriages were so laden with gold and jewels that all they could manage was to sit and look pretty:
I have to admit I did love this next room of the Tsarcoe Selo as during a previous trip to Central Europe I fell in love with amber. Amber is a naturally produced item – basically fossilized tree resin – but it has been admired as jewel-like since the Stone Age. Remember the head of John Hammond’s cane in Jurassic Park which encased a mosquito:?
The Amber Room was all about the beauty of this material – and of course it had to be enhanced with gold trim and magnificent crystal mirrors. We were not allowed to take photos in this room, but I guess someone managed to sneak out some pics so here are a few – just imagine an entire room laden with multi-colored amber panels:
However impressive the above may seem, they pale in comparison to a love “token” that Catherine received from Prince Gregory Potemkin. To see this, we must travel to the Hermitage along the Neva River. Comprised of a number of buildings, with the most impressive being the Winter Palace of Catherine. The Hermitage is so immense and so rich with art and history – another post will be written in the future to give it justice. Today our focus is The Pavillion Room.
Gregory Potemkin was originally a middle – class noble but worked up the ranks as a military commander in the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774. He became Catherine’s lover and it is written that he was also her secret husband. Catherine bestowed Potemkin the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and gave him the title of Prince of the Russian Empire. In return, Potemkin secured the Peacock Clock for his lover by commissioning a London jeweler, James Cox who was known as the most celebrated creator of mechanical timepiece. The centerpiece is a magnificent peacock which along with other animals, start to move at the end of each hour. First, an owl’s cage rotates, bells chime as the owl turns its head,blinking his eyes and tapping his foot. Then the peacock gets into gear, spreading its tail, stretching its neck, turning and throwing back its head and opening its beak. Note that this is a clock so all these motions are precise and are set to show the hour and minutes whisk by.
In order to preserve the mechanisms , this clock is wound up and performs just as it did for Catherine only once a year – during the White Nights of Russia in June. Here is a video – please watch all of it for it is a marvel – remember this was built in the 1700’s!!!
In closing, bling can be useful – Potemkin surely knew how to make his lady happy.