The little girls of Alexander Palace

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The Independent Culture
THIS photograph, a portrait of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in 1906, is taken from Nicholas and Alexandra (Booth Clibborn pounds 45), a handsome and lavish catalogue of the Russian Tsar and Tsarina's possessions. It contains over 400 colour illustrations: regalia, paintings, costumes, icons, jewellery and Faberge eggs; it also includes many previously unpublished documents. At the turn of the century, Nicholas and Alexandra presided over an empire that covered one sixth of the Earth's surface. On 17 July of this year, 80 years after their assasination, the remains of the last imperial family of Russia were finally laid to rest in St Petersburg. Now, a major exhibition from the Hermitage Museum and the Moscow State Archives, the largest collection of imperial family treasures ever to leave Russia, affords a remarkable glimpse of the opulence that characterised and ultimately doomed their reign.

Far more affecting however are the 240 reproductions of the diaries, letters, drawings and photographs that document their private lives. In his introduction Dr Sergei Mironenko notes that, rather than the divided and uneven marriage that the country assumed it to be, only a couple in love would have taken and kept the tens of thousands of photographs, only a fraction of which are presented here. Nicholas and Alexandra is a fascinating historical document but above all, a moving glimpse through a crack in the palace doors.