Saturday, June 30, 2012

Trip to St Petersburg: Tsarskoye Selo

There are a few Tsars' summer residences around St. Petersburg. Most people prefer Peterhof - the brainchild of Peter the Great. It has some pretty spectacular fountains and a scenic view of the the Gulf of Finland.

But I prefer Tsarskoye Selo.It's now part of a small town called Pushkin and has some pretty impressive art and architecture, not to mention a beautiful park.      

That's the Catherine Palace and a bit of the park. It has a very fairy-tale feel to it, with light blue, white and gold combination and especially because of the golden-domed chapel that seems to grow right out of the palace.  

The park around the palace is very beautiful. It's great fun to just wonder around it and come across one building or another.  

The park is full of busts and sculptures made in the neoclassical style, which was all the rage during the reign of Catherine the Great. This one is probably Bacchus.  

Here's another one. This one is an allegory of something. I can't remember anymore, but it was either Dawn or Youth.     

Cast iron and gilded door of the Grotto pavilion is both beautiful and a little sinister. 

Even birds in Russia appreciate great architecture. See these pigeons perched on Rastrelli's Grotto. 

Catherine Palace and the surrounding park often serve as venues for temporary exhibitions. Here's a particularly interesting one. There was a number of sculptures around the Admiralty building recreating famous paintings in 3D. This one is Bruegel’s The Blind Leading the Blind       

The Grotto pavilion as seen from the other bank of the Great Pond with a little ferry in front of it. To the left is the Cameron Gallery which was built for Catherine the Great in neoclassical style. It's a place where the Empress could go to stroll and have philosophical discussions surrounded by the busts of her intellectual idols. 

On the other bank of the pond is the Turkish Bath pavilion. It's a strange kind of memorial to the Russo-Turkish War and was the last structure to be built on the park grounds.     

This is the Marble Bridge, which is probably one of my favorite structures in the whole park. It's surrounded by pine trees and willows and has a little pond of its own. Really picturesque.     

This is a fun one - the Kitchen Ruin. There was a bit of an antique craze going around Europe at the end of the 18th century. This Greek ruin in the middle of a Russian Tsar's residence was a testament to this craze. The architect used real elements of ancient edifices and sculptures to create the effect. 

The ceiling of the Concert Hall in Tsarskoye Selo. I have an unaccountable passion for taking pictures of ceilings.  

I am also partial to floors. This one is from the Concert Hall, too.    

More ceilings from the Concert Hall. I told you, I love ceilings. 

I just found this woman's hairstyle fascinating. I really need to try and recreate it.   

The flowers and the statue of a nymph or a goddess went together beautifully.  

Unfortunately, we were visiting on a Saturday and the crowds were insane. We tried to get into the palace to see the restored Amber Room, but after two and a half hours in line we gave up. But this just leaves more things for my next visit. I would also like to see the Pushkin's Museum and the Aleksander Palace next time I'm there.  

If you're curious, Tsarskoye Selo has a really great website.           

Friday, June 29, 2012

Dress of the Week: Princess Charlotte’s Russian Dress

I may have mentioned that I was in Russia recently. This fact has made me slightly obsessed with all things Russian. So it is little wonder that this Dress of the Week is none other than Princess Charlotte’s blue Russian Gown:
Princess Charlotte's "Russian" dress. Museum of London, The Royal Collection.
This gorgeous blue and gold 1917 dress belonged to Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, and is now in the Royal Collection. What's interesting is that Princess Charlotte wears this dress in a number of portraits, including the one below by George Dawe from 1817.  

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, George Dawe, 1817
Strangely enough, I couldn't find any information about the gown itself. It has a very high Empire waste, right under the bust, and is richly embellished with gold ornaments and a tassel around the hem. The color must have faded over the years as the dress appears to be bright blue in paintings as opposed to the pale shade it is now.

I would think that the reason it's called the 'Russian gown' is because it resembles the Russian traditional dress - sarafan. A sarafan is a jumper dress or pinafore which was worn by women and girls of all classes up until Peter the Great's dress reform. After that, only the peasant and the merchant classes wore sarafans. 

Traditional Russian sarafan
A sarafan is a perfect dress for the summer. It's usually made out of cotton and allows you to move freely, unlike all those cumbersome court dresses. And it's also beautifully decorated with embroidery and other embellishments, which makes it the perfect day dress for any lady.

Roman K from over at FolkCostume&Embroidery has a great post about Russian traditional dress.
And if you want to know more about Princess Charlotte's gown, here's an article from Jane Austen's World.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Trip to St Petersburg

Last weekend I went to visit a friend in St Petersburg. I have been to this beautiful city before, but every time it seems and feels different. I see a new side of the city every time I'm there. It's always fascinating and always enchanting, but never quite the same.

I love St Petersburg in the summer; the sunshine streaming through the green leaves. It's very different from Moscow - it feels like in St Petersburg there are tress and water everywhere.     

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
There are probably a lot of discussion about which building represents St Petersburg. Some say it's the Winter Palace, others prefer one of the bridges, and still others who put the picture of Peter the Great's bronze statue on commemorative plates and mugs. I think that the building that represents St Petersburg is the one above - the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It represent the blood and gore of the Tsarist regime and the Revolution that followed, the revival and romantization of the ancient Rus' past, of the meeting of the East and the West.   

I love cast iron - it makes me think of metallic lace. And I do love lace. This piece of railing surrounds the Mikhailovsky Palace. It was originally from the Winter Palace, but after the Revolution it was dismantled and different pieces were used all over town for railing and other Revolutionary purposes.  

Russian Museum
Mikhailovsky Palace, also known as the Russian Museum, houses the largest collection of Russian art in the world. That is, of course, not surprising, since it is in Russia. Pretty much every great Russian painting is housed in this building (unless it's at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow).

I'll share some more really beautiful pictures from the trip in the next couple of days.   

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dress of the Week: Tea Gown

It is rather unfortunate, but I got sick this week, which confined me to my house for the time being. But when a lady feels like she has to lounge around the house for a while, she can still do it in style if she has the right gown to wear.

Tea Gown, 1885, Britain, Met Museum 
Tea Gown, 1885, Britain, side view, Met Museum
Tea Gown, 1885, Britain, back view Met Museum
Date: 1885
Culture: British
Medium: silk
Dimensions: Length at CB: 57 1/2 in. (146.1 cm)
This elegant peach-colored silk tea gown is perfect for a lazy afternoon at home. It reminds me very much of the light Chemise a la Reine gowns popular in the late 18th century. But most of all I love the little daisy details embroidered on the skirt and along the lace. It's such a whimsical barely-there element.

Tea gowns were usually made out of light fabrics and were much less restrictive than the formal fashions of the day. A 'tea gown' is somewhat of a misnomer. It seems to imply that you would wear this dress to tea. But, as a matter of fact, these dresses were meant for at-home wear only. While appropriate for morning sitting rooms and breakfasts with the family and maybe a few bosom friends, no lady would be seen in one of these by the wider public.      

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman Costume Featurettes

Most films don't spoil us with costume related featurettes. But Snow White and the Huntsman has at least FOUR!

This video is really great. Colleen Atwood describes all the characters she had to work with and tells about her creative process for each of them.

And here are three more featurettes where she shows the costumes and tells a bit more about each of them.

I can't wait to see this movie!  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dress of the Week: Blue Robe à l'Anglaise

This week I was looking for something warm, but airy and just a little coquettish. And nothing suits my mood better than this blue silk robe à l'anglaise.

Robe à l'Anglaise, 1770s, British, Met Museum
Robe à l'Anglaise, back, 1770s, British, Met Museum
Robe à l'Anglaise, back detail, 1770s, British, Met Museum
Dress (Robe à l'Anglaise)
Date: 1770–75
Culture: British
Medium: silk, metal
Dimensions: Length at CB: 53 in. (134.6 cm)

The robe à l'anglaise became very popular between 1720 and 1780. It was inspired by English fashions, especially tailoring that was catching on as the epitome of good taste. The funnel-shaped bust ends with a large rectangular skirt, with the fabric beautifully embroidered with metal thread. The skirt is open in the front and is just begging for a lovely whitework underskirt. I really love the color. As I am planning to take a little boat trip this weekend, this blue would match the sky and the sea perfectly. All I can wish for now is fair weather.

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman Costumes

What is it about Snow White? Why do we keep making films, TV shows, and music videos about a heroine whose only claim to fame is her incredibly pale skin and proclivity for harmful fruit? I will certainly think about answers to this question as I watch Snow White and the Huntsman when I go see it.

The costumes for this, what feels like the umpteenth version of Snow White this year, were created by the brilliant Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland, Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha). And they are dark, moody and atmospheric, just like the film (or at least the film's trailer).

I'm not a huge fan of faux-medieval chic, but a lot of it looks pretty cool.

Snow White's costume is very practical, if a little dull. I like how it illustrates the character's journey from an imprisoned princess to a strong and self-sufficient warrior. It starts out as your ordinary long dress, but as the story progresses, it gets torn and tattered and turns into a tunic that she improves with some leather boots, leggins and arm-guards. Really love those puffy sleeves.

The huntsman's costume is very basic. Everything looks like it was made by a guy who lives in a forest. Most of the elements were sewn by hand to give it that DIY look. It's leather on leather with more leather.

But it's the Evil Queen's costumes that are really worth a look. They are absolutely gorgeous and very creative.

Ravenna's feather cloak was the first costume that Colleen designed. There are over a thousand feathers hand-trimmed and sewn together.And it looks stunning. It reminds me of Prospera's magic cloak from the recent Tempest film. The dress underneath has this weird embroidery that almost looks like scars tissue.

Ravenna's wedding gown is incredible. It's beautiful and menacing at the same time. Some elements are delicate, like the soft fabric and the intricate embroidery along the bodice, but then there are the strips of leather attached to the skirt to create the contrasting pleats and the exoskeleton sleeves (which I absolutely adore!)

This is the Queen's "battle dress". It's essentially a chainmail with every metal plate attached by hand. It must have taken ages to construct. It does give the dress a very reptilian look, especially when she is walking with every single element moving. The collar is made of burnt and twisted leather. It does not look comfortable at all.

This dress is my absolute favorite. It reminds me of the legendary Lady Macbeth costume worn by Ellen Terry. If you're wondering, yes, those green 'spikes' are actually jewel beetle wings. The skirt and the sleeves look like they're made of cobwebs. there is a general sense of decaying greatness in this costume.

While the plot may be flimsy and the script cheesy, I will definitely go see this film, if only for the costumes.        
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