04 March 2014

Jewelry 101: Kokoshnik

Kokshnik tiara worn by Marie Feodorovna of Russia [1]
Jewelry 101: Kokoshnik

This is the second installment of a series that provides information on various unusual terms associated with the world of royal jewelry. To catch up, visit our discussion of the term "parure" here.

Of all the questions I'm asked about royal jewels, and tiaras in particular, there are few I get as often as this one: what exactly is a kokoshnik? With so many kokoshniks in royal collections today, it's a specialized term that gets used quite a bit.

Russian kokoshnik, ca. 1900 [2]
The word "kokoshnik" is translated from Russian. It originally referred to a headdress worn by married Russian women in certain parts of the country. These traditional kokoshniks varied a bit in size and shape. Some of them were gigantic -- see the photograph at left -- while some were smaller. In general, however, kokoshniks shared the same basic crescent shape. Many of them were secured at the back of the head by a ribbon.

Kokoshiks became popular in the world of royal jewels when the Romanov court began to wear them in the nineteenth century. Russian tsarinas and grand duchesses adapted the European fashion for tiaras, which had become fashionable at the court of Napoleon in France, to fit with these traditional Russian headdress shapes. In the hands of the Romanovs, the large kokoshnik headdresses that were a part of the traditional dress of many Russian peasants generally became smaller, crescent-shaped headpieces that resembled halos. 

Grand Duchess Anastasia [3]
The Romanovs embellished their kokoshniks with jewels; sometimes they attached stiff fabric backings to tiaras to achieve the desired shape, and sometimes they had tiaras made that echoed the shape of kokoshniks, with no fabric needed to supplement the piece. In the detail of the portrait at the top of this post, you can see the way that a row of pearls was affixed to a diamond fringe tiara worn by Tsarina Marie Feodorovna in order to mimic the crescent shape of kokoshniks. Unmarried Russian grand duchesses, like the four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II, frequently wore simple fabric kokoshniks without major jewels, although they were sometimes adorned with pearls (see the photograph of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna at right). When wearing court dress, many grand duchesses supplemented their kokoshniks with veils.

The kokoshnik-style tiara became popular throughout Europe in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in part because of the various family ties that the Romanovs had with members of other royal houses. Tsarina Marie Feodorovna's sister, Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, requested a tiara shaped like one of her sister's kokoshniks as an anniversary gift in 1888. That kokoshnik tiara, made of diamonds set in white and yellow gold, is still worn today by her great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II [4]. Other royal and noble families, including the Bernadottes in Sweden and the Rosenborgs in Denmark, also have kokoshnik tiaras that were inspired by those worn at the Romanov imperial court.

Olga of the Hellenes [5]
European tiara collections today still include many examples of kokoshnik-shaped tiaras, largely because so many grand duchesses married into various royal families. Queen Olga of the Hellenes, who was born Grand Duchess Olga Constaninovna of Russia, brought an emerald-studded kokoshnik (see the photograph at right) with her to her new country. Although the family has altered the tiara over the years, its current incarnation echoes its original kokoshnik shape. Many Russian grand duchesses received diamond fringe tiaras, which mimicked the shape of kokoshnik headdresses, as a part of their wedding trousseaux; you can see some of those fringe tiaras gracing the heads of their descendants today in countries like Denmark (inherited from Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna) and Germany (inherited via two Romanovs, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna). These halo-esque fringe tiaras were sometimes called tiaras russe because of their links to the Romanovs.

After the Russian revolution of 1917, kokoshnik tiaras were also frequently purchased from the Romanovs by other royals. Queen Marie of Romania bought an impressive Cartier sapphire and diamond kokoshnik tiara from her aunt, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna ("the Elder") of Russia; it stayed with the Romanian royals until Queen Marie's daughter, Princess Ileana, sold it in exile in the 1950s. Alexander I of Yugoslavia bought a diamond and emerald kokoshnik for his new wife, Princess Maria of Romania, in 1922; it had originally been made for Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna, one of the Romanovs who was murdered by the Bolsheviks, and was sold to the Yugoslavian king by her niece, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna ("the Younger").

So, to identify a kokoshnik tiara in the wild today, ask yourself a couple of simple questions. Is it shaped like a halo or a half-moon? Does it have a distinctively curved top? Is it associated with Russia, or was it Russian-inspired? If you can answer "yes" to any of those questions, it's highly likely that you're looking at a kokoshnik. Which royal kokoshnik tiaras are among your favorites?

NOTES, PHOTO CREDITS, AND LINKS
1. Detail of Ivan Kramskoi's Portrait of Maria Fyodorovna (ca. 1880s); source here.
2. Photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
3. Photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
4. More on Queen Alexandra's kokoshnik tiara can be found at the Royal Collection website.
5. Detail of photograph available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.