• Russian_Imperial_Portrait_Plate_1

Russian Imperial porcelain cabinet plate. 1875. Imperial or Private Factory.

The central medallion portrays Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov, later Nicholas II, at the age of seven, dressed in a sailor suit with straw hat, surrounded by a scrollwork frame and bands of gilding.

To the rear is a faded paper label that transforms this plate into an extraordinarily personal object. It bears the gothic monogram of Nicholas II that was used exclusively for his Private Library at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, completed in the mid 1890s. Nicholas II was more than simply the subject of this plate. The presence of the label indicates that it was a personal possession that meant something to him, an object that functioned as a vessel of memory and nostalgia for the last Russian emperor.

To the left of the label are room coordinates and to the right is the date 1875 and Moscow written in Cyrillic, though the letters after the M have been drawn over. That area and the area under the label have been crudely sanded. As disturbing as such actions are, I believe the reasons had to do with the relocation to the private library twenty years after this plate was commissioned. The palace inventory information specific to its previous location was excised before the library label was added.

Definitive sources will tell you NII’s eyes were a soul piercing shade of blue grey, not the brown seen here. Perhaps the enamel painter who recreated the likeness was working from a black and white photograph. Perhaps they had their own recollection of NII’s eyes. Apparently their true colour was a controversy for a time after his death. ‘Eye witnesses’ who had interacted with NII recalled them as various shades ranging from blue to grey to brown.

Diameter 20.5 cm.