This portrait by the Russian miniaturist Alois Gustav Rockstuhl (1798-1877) depicts Tsar Alexander II (1796-1855) in full ceremonial uniform. He wears a black coat with a fur-trimmed collar, gold epaulettes and gold buttons. Unusually for miniatures of the Tsars, in which the subjects are often presented adorned with extensive arrays of military medals and orders, this particular example shows Alexander wearing a complex array of golden aiguillettes. The thickest ones hang necklace-like from his neck, overlapping at the breast so as to emphasise their decorative shape; the thinner, more traditional aiguillettes to the right of his chest connect his epaulette to his buttonholes. Combined with the gold piping on the coat itself, these produce an unusually opulent image of the Tsar: an impression greatly enhanced by the circular gilt frame. Detailed beading and an undulating ribbon, tied in a bow, complete this miniature.
The eldest son of Tsar Nicholas 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).
Alois Gustav Rockstuhl was born in 1798 and was the son of the well-known miniaturist Peter Ernst Rockstuhl (1764-1824). He studied from 1832 at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg and in 1840 became a professor there Two years later, Nicolas I appointed him as an official court artist. Rockstuhl is distinguished among painters of his generation for working exclusively in miniatures.