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Green wool suit with embroidert coa

LONDON.- A display of rare and lavishly decorated costumes and uniforms worn by the Tsars and court officials of Imperial Russia, most of which have never been exhibited before either in Russia or abroad, will be shown for the first time at the V&A this winter as part of an exchange between the V&A and the Moscow Kremlin Museums.

Magnificence of the Tsars will feature more than 40 superb ensembles from the collections of the Moscow Kremlin Museums, Russia’s oldest national Treasury. Highlights include outfits from the extensive gold and silver embellished wardrobe of the boy emperor Peter II, who reigned for just three years, and the coronation uniforms of the succeeding seven emperors ending with the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II. The display concludes with a five metre long, ermine-trimmed Imperial coronation mantle identical to the one worn by Nicholas II in 1896.

The display will feature garments which have survived wars and revolutions and which have only recently begun to be studied in Russia. They show the work of the most eminent master craftsmen of the period, giving visitors a taste of the legendary magnificence and luxury of the Imperial Russian court.

In addition, there will be spectacular examples of fashionable 18th-century men’s dress and uniforms of court officials, coachmen and postilions.

The display will start in the 1720s with the wardrobe of the boy emperor Peter II. Peter died at the age of 14, having reigned between 1727 and 1730. The elaborate style and cut of his clothes reflect the French influence on the Russian Court.

The collection of Peter II’s clothes forms a ‘capsule’ wardrobe showing the range of his dress including his coronation waistcoat, breeches, stockings and underwear, and a selection of his exquisite coats and gowns. The exhibits reveal the high quality textiles and changing fashions adopted by the upper echelons of society. They contrast with the elegant restraint of uniforms donned by later Tsars under their glorious ceremonial robes.

These costumes demonstrate the originality and skill of the finest tailors, embroiderers and jewellers working for the Imperial Court and their use of embellished silks, intricate embroidery and lace. Some reflect the influence of Western Europe on the Russian Court. Others show how 19th-century Tsars began to adopt elements of traditional Russian costume reflecting a time of rising nationalism in Europe.

The display will include the historic fancy dress costume worn by Nicholas II to the Russian Ball of 1903; weapons worn at court; jewellery (including a jewelled telescope and embellished snuff boxes); portraits of the Tsars; and illustrated books.

The Magnificence of the Tsars is part of an exchange of displays between the V&A and the Moscow Kremlin Museums. The exhibition Two Centuries of British Fashion, showing 18th- and 19th-century British dress from the V&A’s collections, will open at the Kremlin Museums’ Armoury Museum on 5 September 2008.

Elena Gagarina, General Director of the Moscow Kremlin Museums, said of the Russian exhibits: “This collection of dress has only recently begun to be studied. The majority is kept in the museum’s stores and has been specially conserved for this exhibition. By including costumes and accessories of the greatest historical and artistic significance, we have aimed to introduce the British public to the art of the finest dressmakers, tailors, embroiderers and jewellers working for the Russian Imperial Court.”

Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, said: “This is a rare opportunity for the British public to see the spectacular dress worn by the Tsars in the Imperial Russian Court, most of which has not been on display even in Russia. These are objects of exceptional historic importance from one of the world’s greatest museums. The exchange with Moscow is also a wonderful opportunity for the Russian public to see highlights from the V&A’s unsurpassed collections of 18th- and 19th-century British dress.”

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Red wool coat from the wardrobe of Peter II, 1727-1730. © The Moscow Kremlin Museums

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Detail of fancy dress costume