This 1837 miniature by H. Rebst depicts Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1855). As was common for miniatures of this period, the monarch is shown in ceremonial uniform. Nicholas wears a black coat with a gold-figured red collar and gold epaulettes. The blue moiré sash across his chest indicates the Tsar’s support of the Russian Order of St Andrew – the patron saint of Russia – as does the red, blue and silver breast star to the top right of his coat, half-hidden by the epaulette’s fringe. The remaining breast stars belong to the Russian Order of St Vladimir; the Russian badge of the Persian campaign of 1826-28; the Order of the Dutch Lion; and the Russian badge for 15 years of Military Service.
The third and youngest son of Tsar Paul I, Nicholas I’s motto was ‘autocracy, Orthodoxy and nationality’: the cornerstones of the Tsar’s leadership style. Believing himself divinely ordained to expand the Russian homeland, Nicholas embarked on a series of wars including the Crimean War of 1853-56, which ultimately proved disastrous for Russia. Though his features seem youthful in this particular miniature, his startling blue eyes, emphasised by the prominent sash and badge details, convey a sense of the Tsar’s ambition.