L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna

Portrait by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1857.

Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna of Russia (8 July 1830, Altenburg – 6 July 1911, Saint Petersburg), born Princess Alexandra Friederike Henriette of Saxe-Altenburg, wife of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich of Russia.

Copy after a portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, circa late-1840s.

She was the fifth of six children - all daughters - of Joseph, Duke of Saxe-Altenburg and his wife Amalia, Duchess of Württemberg. She met the Grand Duke in 1846 and they became engaged but, because of their youth, were made to wait two years before marrying. The couple had very different temperaments - he was intellectual and liberal, she was conservative - but they both shared a great love of music; a year after their marriage, they came into possession of the palace of Pavlovsk, and they sponsored public performances at the nearby concert hall that attracted great musicians and conductors from all over Europe. They had six children, most notably Olga, who became Queen of the Hellenes, and Konstantin, who was a noted poet and playwright who wrote under the name "K. R." Alexandra was considered a great beauty in her youth, with luxuriant hair, a tall, graceful figure, always very fashionably dressed.

Portrait by Franz Winterhalter, 1859.
Circa mid-1860s.

After twenty years of marriage, perhaps a result of the couple's basic incompatibility and/or a "midlife crisis", Grand Duke Konstantin embarked on a relationship with Anna Vasilyevna Kuznetsova, a young dancer from the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. She eventually bore him five children, and he set her up in a large, well-appointed dacha on the Pavlovsk estate, thereby placing his second family in close proximity to his first. Society and the court was scandalized, and they sided with the wronged wife. She suffered further indignity when their eldest child, the unstable and dissipated twenty-four year old Nikolai, stole valuable diamonds from his mother. He was convicted, declared mentally unfit, and banished for life to Central Asia. Then, in 1879, her youngest child, seventeen year old Vyacheslav, died from a brain hemorrhage.

With her daughter, Olga Queen of the Hellenes, and Olga's daughters, Alexandra and Marie, circa 1887.

Ten years later, during the wedding festivities of the couple's granddaughter, Princess Alexandra of Greece, Grand Duke Konstantin suffered a stroke. Two months later, he survived a second stroke which left him unable to walk or speak. For the remaining three years of his life, he lived with his wife at Pavlovsk, where he was confined to a bath chair and - to his great frustration - was under her control. She would not allow him contact with his mistress or illegitimate offspring, but at his death in 1892, she allowed Anna to come and pray at his bedside.

Seated, center left, at Nicholas II's coronation, 1896.

For the remaining nineteen years of Alexandra's life, she was the stately, white-haired grande dame of the family; she was particularly impressive at the coronation of Nicholas II, resplendent in a cloth-of-silver and ermine gown, covered in massive jewels.  She, herself, suffered a stroke in 1903, and from then on remained at home in the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg, where she died in 1911, two days before her eighty-first birthday.

"Aunt Sanny", as she was known in the family, in her later years.

1 comment:

  1. What a story. And what amazing lace or tulle or other ethereal material in that first painting.