21 July 2014

Review: The Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court (2013)

(image via Amazon.com)

A few weeks ago, I tweeted a photo of the cover of the book I'd just received in the mail -- today's royal jewelry book, Stefano Papi's The Jewels of the Romanovs: Family and Court -- and asked if anyone would like to read a review of it. The response was swift: those of you who follow me on Twitter were as excited about the book as I was. (Not following me on Twitter? Head over here!) I've been slowly working my way through the book ever since, and I'm pleased to say that this one's a winner for me.

Alexandra Feodorovna, the last tsarina of Russia

As the title suggests, Papi's book covers jewels worn by members of the Russian imperial family and by the aristocrats who inhabited the rarified world of their court. The version of the book that I'm reviewing is the second edition, published last October; a previous edition was released in 2010. The second edition advertises that it is "revised and expanded"; I do not have the first edition in my library, so I can't comment on what specific changes were made between the two. But I can say this: the second edition of the book is glossy, voluminous, and packed with rare photographs of the Romanovs and their treasures.

Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma and his wife, Princess Maria Pia of Savoy

Papi, who has worked for both Sotheby's and Christie's, has connections that have allowed him access to jewelers' archives, royal collections, and numerous other resources. (The book even opens with a brief message from Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma, the great-nephew of Tsarina Marie Feodorovna.) The book reflects this breadth, clocking in at 352 heavy, glossy pages. It's a behemoth of a thing, weighing more than five pounds, suitable for coffee-table perusing. Thames and Hudson, the American publishers, have produced a lovely book, with clear, crisp photographs and an expensive feel. My new, shrink-wrapped copy had only one small flaw when I opened it; an indentation on the pages of one chapter, suggesting that something went slightly awry with the press during printing. But that small flaw did not detract from the splendor within the pages.

Illustration of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra

The book is divided into six chapters. The first focuses on the family of the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, including significant content on the final Russian imperial coronation ceremony (including a large version of the illustration pictured above). From there, the book moves on in its second chapter to discuss the jewels of some of Nicholas II's close relatives, including the Edinburgh/Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family, Grand Duke Sergei and Grand Duchess Ella, the Yusapov princes, and the family of Grand Duke Vladimir.

Marie of Romania

Chapter three focuses on the jewelry collections of four women -- Marie of Romania, Marthe Bibesco, the Marchioness of Ripon, and Nancy Leeds. Here the connections to the Romanovs get a bit more tenuous, but that's a minor quibble, especially when fantastic photographs of their jewels are on offer. The fourth chapter explores the influence of Parisian style, especially French jewelers, on the court of St. Petersburg. The final two chapters of the book explore the last years of the Romanov dynasty, with the fifth chapter centering on the deaths of the imperial family and the sixth on what happened to the Romanov jewels after the Russian Revolution.

Laurits Tuxen's painting of the wedding of Nicholas II of Russia and Alix of Hesse

Papi's book offers a great deal of text -- lots of names, dates, and explanations of how various families are linked and where various jewels were worn. But while the text is good, the photographs are the absolute star of the show. The book reproduces large photos of individual jewels that have survived, as well as black-and-white archival photos of those pieces that have vanished. There are also numerous photographs of women wearing their jewels, plus photos of events like weddings, coronations, and family gatherings. The last chapter is full of chilling photos of jewels being inventoried, displayed, and handled by the post-imperial government.

If you're looking for a concise history on Russian jewels, I'm not sure this is exactly the book for you. If you're a complete newcomer to the history of the Romanovs and their centuries-long dynasty, you might want to pick up a biography or two to supplement this piece. But if you're not unfamiliar with the splendor of imperial Russia, this book will be an absolute treat. It's one of those books that is best savored over a long period of time, leafing slowly through the pages to marvel at each piece of glittering historical jewelry.

Tsarina Marie Feodorovna, born Princess Dagmar of Denmark

You might guess that a book like this one costs a decent amount of money. And you'd be right -- the publisher's suggested retail price for the book is $75. But you can easily find it for significantly less money. I purchased my copy through Amazon, where a new copy cost just under $50, and where used copies were advertised for slightly less. The second edition of the book is not yet a year old, so finding decent used copies may be difficult; however, the first edition of the book was published in 2010, so you may be able to find versions of that edition for even less money. All that said -- this is a book that I believe is worth the money I spent on it. The quality of the printing is high, and it is a very substantial tome.

If you'd like to buy a copy through Amazon, and you'd like a small percentage of the sale to go toward supporting this blog, please consider clicking through one of the links on this post. I'm excited to add that I was able to off-set some of the cost of this particular book through revenue that I earned through those affiliate links. I always route those funds right back into books and materials for this site, so every purchase there helps yield more glittering royal jewel book reviews in the future!