TSAR ALEXANDER III
23 May 1883
Midnight supper for an Imperial Ball in the St. George's Hall, the Kremlin, Moscow, for Their Imperial Majesties Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna of Russia, for the Diplomatic Corp, Senators, and Generals of the Imperial Russian Army, attending the Sacred Coronation of Their Imperial Majesties
It was just on 9 p.m. when a hoard of 2500 guests started to nudge their way through the Kremlin’s ornate hallways stuffed full of glittering precious dishes and traditional saltshakers that had been gifted to the Tsar and Tsarina from every region and every noble family of Russia.
The guests first started to pour into the Kremlin’s Alexander Hall and then the Saint Andrew’s Hall where orchestras, raised on high platforms, sat at the ready to strum-up the sounds of a grand imperial ball. This was one of the final preludes to Coronation Day and was attended by the Diplomatic Corp and their families along with Senators and Generals of the Imperial Russian Army.
“At 9:55”, recorded the official imperial journal of the week’s Coronation festivities, “Their Majesties left their chambers, and entered in the Saint Andrew’s Hall, and then that of the Alexander [Hall]”.
As the doors swung open the soon-to-be crowned couple were preceded by the grandly titled Arch Grand Master of Imperial Ceremonies, Count Pahlen; the Arch Grand Marshal, Prince Dolgorukov; and the Grand Marshall of the Court, Count Naryshkin.
The Empress, wearing white satin, was accompanied by the Emperor wearing the uniform of his Semyonovsky Lifeguards Regiment. Then followed the Queen of Greece with the Duke of Edinburgh; the Archduchess of Austria paired with Prince Charles of Sweden; the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna with the Archduke of Austria; and finally Prince Nicholas of Montenegro and other foreign princes.
Immediately after their entry into the Alexander Hall, the orchestra struck up a polonaise with the Empress dancing a French quadrille with Prince Charles of Sweden before she took the hand of Prince Obolensky to dance a mazurka.
Just before midnight 2200 settings were laid for this midnight supper. The supper guests were sprawled through the Saint George and Vladimir Halls and spilled out to the tables set up under golden silk tents erected beneath three of the Kremlin’s imposing towers: the Tainitskaya, Spasskaya and Borovitskaya.
The personal table of Their Majesties had been set for 30 guests and was positioned on a raised platform in the Saint George’s Hall where the Empress sat between Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles of Sweden. Also at the table were various princes but none stood out more than the Emir of Bukhara and the Khan of Khiva in their magnificent and colourful oriental silk robes. The Emperor didn’t take his seat; and instead visited as many tables as he could before the supper ended at 2 a.m.
Tsar Alexander III had commissioned Russian artist, Adolph Charlemagne, to especially design this menu for the night. Charlemagne was a favourite artist of the Tsar’s mother, Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna, who had purchased his portrait of Catherine the Great for her private collection.
The menu fittingly depicts the Kremlin wall and its towers along with the Grand Kremlin Palace and the Assumption Cathedral. Shields are emblazoned with the dual monogram of the Tsar and Tsarina along with the imperial arms of Russia and the cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In all the menu depicts a new dawn - a new reign - with mountains of prosperity.
The base of the menu contains a poem from Mikhail Lermontov:
Over the great, golden-domed city of Moscow,
Over the white stone walls of the Kremlin,
From the distant forests and blue mountains,
The grey clouds break up
And the scarlet sun rises.
Those breaking grey clouds and the golden hue of a new dawn are captured on the menu's illustration.
Суп перловый, пирожки
Pearl barley soup with Pirozhki (small Russian pies)
Заливное из дичи
Wild game meats set in aspic
Бараньи котлеты со спаржей
Lamb cutlets with asparagus bunches
Selection of warm desserts
(Pastries, soufflés, poached fruits etc)
The Kremlin's Saint Andrew's Hall was one of the palace venues for the ball ahead of the midnight supper.
The Kremlin's Saint George's Hall where the Tsar's personal table was set for the midnight supper.
(Above photo: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021)
The corridor leading into the Kremlin's Saint Alexander Hall was where guests arrived for this ball and midnight supper in May, 1896.
(Photo: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021)
All rights reserved. Jake Smith © 2021