Yesterday I visited the exhibition Dining with the Tsars in the Hermitage in Amsterdam. The exhibitions is only open for a few more days, until March 1, 2015. I’m glad I went because it was stunning! You are welcomed as being a guest in the Winter Palace and to experience the grandeur of the Russian Court as it once was. Extravagantly bedecked tables, wine fountains and sulptures of exotic fruit were distinctive of a dinner at the Russian Court. You also learn more about the different Tsars and Tsarinas and their bespoke etiquette and dinner party styles.
In the grand hall you get to feast your eyes on gorgeously laid tables, decorated with majestic services such as Meissen, Wedgewood, and Sèvres. There are almost one thousand service items to admire. It is the largest exhibition of porcelain dinnerware and creamware ever held in the Netherlands. You also learn more about the diplomatic aspects of porcelain and the secrets behind the beauty: From wedding services, services that were a (political) gift, to the one made for Stalin.
Besides the stunning tabletop you also learn more about the etiquette. Catherine the Great defined 10 rules for her guests that set her apart from other Tsars. During Catherine’s reign, lavish parties became a fixture of imperial court life. Seats were assigned and it was common that the male guests had to entertain the women sitting on their right hand sight. Subjects of conversation were politics, literature and arts, and current affairs. The menu cards were usually real works of art. The Tsars would ask painters and illustrators to design one especially for the occassion. They frequently featured symbols of the Romanov dynasty. The dishes read like poetry.
Elizabeth also threw extravagant balls and dinners. Sometimes the tables were adorned with pyramids of sweets and fruit. Her tablesettings were inspired by the elegant banquets in Versailles.Also on display are many bridal gifts like the one Wilhelm II gifted to Aleksand II, or the service made for Alexander the Great with his intial on each item. After dinner, the ball would start. The exhibition explains some of the etiquette during the ball as well, like fan flirtation.
The exhibition is really beautiful, so do go see it while you still can! http://www.hermitage.nl