This miniature by Ivan Winberg, a Russian painter of Swedish origin who was one of the era’s most accomplished miniaturists of his day, depicts Tsar Alexander II. The Tsar wears a black coat with a gold-figured red collar and gold epaulettes. The blue moiré sash and chest insignia belongs to the Russian Order of St Andrew, the patron saint of Russia. The blue of Alexander’s eyes mirrors the colour of the sash. The Tsar is also shown wearing the badge of the Order of St George, awarded for his service as a member of the Caucasian army. The right panel of his coat is decorated with a gold aiguillette which hangs between his epaulette and button-holes.
The eldest son of Tsar Nicolas I, Alexander became Tsar in 1855, aged 36. He assumed power in the midst of the Crimean War, which his father had started, and which pitted the Russian army against a coalition of Turkish, French and British forces. Recognising the disastrous effects of the war on the Russian economy, Alexander embarked on a series of peace talks immediately after becoming Tsar. This resulted in the Treaty of Paris, 1856, which ended the conflict. As this strategy demonstrates, Alexander’s liberal attitude was sharply at odds with his father’s reactionary one, and he became known as Alexander the Liberator for his sweeping reforms. Most notable of these was his emancipation of the serfs in 1861, which proved to be a turning point in Russian history. His reforms were not universally popular, however: in 1881, the Tsar was assassinated in St Petersburg by members of the Narodnaya Volya (the People’s Will).
Ivan Winberg studied at the Imperial Academy in St Petersburg and in 1846 became a professor of miniature painting there. He regularly exhibited his miniatures at annual academic exhibitions; today his works can be viewed in major museums nationally and internationally, including the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, the Hermitage, St Petersburg, and the Victoria and Albert, London.