Portrait of Tsar Alexander I

Louis AbelYear: 1815
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Signed on bottom left corner: Gerard. In. Abel. F.

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This Russian miniature takes François Gérard’s portrait of  Tsar Alexander I (1777 – 1825) as a model. The full-length format displayed in this miniature, in contrast to the more typical bust, has enabled the artist to capture Alexander’s ceremonial uniform in its entirety. The Tsar’s black coat has a gold-figured red collar and gold epaulettes. He holds a plumed cap in his right hand; in his left, he holds a pair of white gloves and a rapier with a silver handle and tassel. The blue moiré sash and silver, blue and red chest-star symbolise his allegiance to the Russian Order of St Andrew, Patron Saint of Russia. Gérard’s original is held by the Musee National du Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France.

Tsar Alexander I was born in St Petersburg in 1777, and was the eldest son of Grand Duke Paul Petroich. His grandmother, Catherine the Great, took great interest in Alexander’s education, ensuring that he received a firm military training while encouraging in him a liberal, cosmopolitan outlook. He became Tsar in 1801, aged 23, following the death of his father. Though Alexander once described himself as ‘crushed beneath the terrible burden of a crown’, he nevertheless proved an effective reformer and moderniser who decentralised governmental power and relaxed censorship. His most significant achievement, however, was military. In 1812 he repelled Napoleon from Russia; two years later, he rode his army into Paris.

The dramatic setting of this miniature belies its size. Surrounded by a cloudscape shot through with blue patches of the sky, it places the Tsar firmly outdoors, in the natural world: a determined leader of the Russian people.

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