Monday, December 10, 2007

Baubles, Bangles, and Byzantine Birds

The heraldic double-headed eagle is older than Christ. Its use in Russian vexillology dates back to the reign of Ivan the Great, who adopted it from the Byzantine Empire following his marriage to a niece of Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI.

Ivan III Vasilevich was an ambitious, if somewhat reticent, ruler whose borrowing of the Byzantine eagle underscored his intentions to put Moscow on a political and cultural parallel with Constantinopole.

The eagle represented on the brooch above (with eight coats of arms) dates from 1857, during the reign of Alexander II. The brooch itself dates from around 1900, placing its creation in the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. Originally
a ring, the piece was later converted to its current brooch form. Ten carats of Old Mine-cut diamonds girdle the eagle emblem.

According to the Web site Romanov Russia, which specializes in the sale of Romanov memorabilia, "
Each wing with (sic) four armorial shields representing formerly independent kingdoms, which became provinces of the Russian Empire: Astrakhan, Siberia, Georgia, and the Grand Principality of Finland (right wing); Kazan, Poland, Kherson & Tavria (Crimea), and conjoined arms of Grand Principalities of Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod (left wing)." Territorial expansion was a program that dated back to before the time of Ivan the Great. The double heads of the eagle represent the conjoining of Church and State.

In the center is a horseman slaying a dragon; this figure was not identified as St. George until the reign of Peter the Great, although it was Ivan III who added the dragon to the horseman motif. Due to clerical concerns and the large number of different faiths in Russia, the figure has lost its identity, becoming once again an anonymous horseman. The chain of the Order of Saint Andrew encircles the image.

The autocracy supported by Ivan the Great and his mighty Byzantine symbol ended with Nicholas II, an ineffectual leader who used the bird's powerful allegory to shield himself from the idea of reform and to protect his notion of absolute tsarism. Such a defensive stance changed the course of Russian and world history, with the double-headed eagle not reappearing until 2000, the year that the Russian Federation resurrected it as a coat of arms.

Above: A plate from the reign of Alexander II that displays a similar eagle.

Russian Imperial Eagle diamond brooch, A la Vieille Russie, P. O. R.
French-made porcelain plates, $3,600. the pair, at Romanov Russia
Romanov Russia is a treasure chest of Imperial Russia memorabilia.


WendyB said...

Nice! One of these days I'll get around to Russian royalty, designing-wise. Soon, I hope.

Suzanna Mars said...

As I was writing this, I thought, Oh, that WB, she's so inspired, she'll design a marvelous kokoshnik and wear it with chunky boots.

And then kokoshniks will be at Target, and all the young girls will go tra-la-la down the street, history-less.