Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tsar's Photos Have the Human Touch




'We understand that they [the Romanovs] were simple people -- just like us.'


Retired kindergarten teacher


Debate still rages about whether Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar, was a good monarch or whether he should be made a saint or whether his remains should be buried.


But one thing is clear from a new exhibition that opened Wednesday in Moscow's Manezh Exhibition Hall: The last Romanov was a talented and dedicated photographer.


The Romanov family photo albums released for the first time by the Russian State Archive are composed of snaps taken by Nicholas and his family. The photographs provide an intimate and touching look at his family life and psychological insight into his life story, which started as a fairy tale and ended as a tragedy.


The exhibit is a joint project by the Moscow city government, the State Archive, the Museum of Moscow History and Kodak, whose film and cameras the Romanovs used to great effect until just before they were murdered in Yekaterinburg in 1918.


Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov lost out to St. Petersburg in the political battle earlier this year over where the remains of the Romanovs would be buried.


After long deliberations, the Kremlin finally ruled that the remains, which have lain around since they were exhumed in 1991, would be reburied in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress on July 17.


After losing the contest for the burial, Luzhkov sided with the Moscow Patriarchate in calling for the postponement of the ceremony on the grounds that the authenticity of the Romanovs' remains was in doubt.


The photo exhibit looks like another attempt by Luzhkov to detract from the event in St. Petersburg.


"We do not want to focus attention on the arguments [about the burial]," Luzhkov's spokesman Sergei Tsoi said at the opening of the exhibit. "The exhibit is our attitude tothe burial in St. Petersburg. What is important for us is the memory of the royal family."


Sergei Mironenko, director of the State Archive, said that seeing them as a history student 25 years ago, he was deeply impressed by the quality and quantity of the photographs in the Romanovs' personal files.


There are tens of thousands of pictures. Some were brought to Moscow from Yekaterinburg after the family's murder, others were moved from royal palaces near St. Petersburg. For decades, the vast majority of them were classified and researchers only started to receive access to the pictures in the late 1980s."It was a real shock for me," Mironenko said about his first look at the Romanov photos. "They speak about how friendly and loving the family was."


Only 250 pictures were selected for the exhibit. Authentic albums and Nicholas's diaries are on display behind glass cases; Enlarged prints are framed on the walls above them.


Like all family pictures, the photos mostly show the Romanovs at play: Romanov children on their favorite yacht, the Standart; Nicholas, swimming naked in the Gulf of Finland, or in an elaborate costume while hunting in Poland; the family sitting on a porch with Rasputin; the unsmiling Empress Alexandra with her doomed expression, photographed in bed with her hemophiliac son Alexy. There are also pictures of the Romanovs, already under arrest in 1917, when they worked the garden in Tsarskoye Selo together with their guards.


For guests at the opening Wednesday, the human aspect of the Romanovs' life was dominant. "We understand that they were simple people -- just like us," said Lyudmila Rodionova, a retired kindergarten teacher.


Vladimir Solovyov, the prosecutor who carried out the investigation that established the authenticity of the Romanov remains unearthed in Yekaterinburg, said that the exhibit helps to "put Russian history in its proper place."