The Romanovs’ Last Ball Brought to Life in Color Photographs (1903)

In 1903, the Romanovs, Russia’s last and longest-reign­ing roy­al fam­i­ly, held a lav­ish cos­tume ball. It was to be their final blowout, and per­haps also the “last great roy­al ball” in Europe, writes the Vin­tage News. The par­ty took place at the Win­ter Palace in St. Peters­burg, 14 years before Czar Nicholas II’s abdi­ca­tion, on the 290th anniver­sary of Romanov rule. The Czar invit­ed 390 guests and the ball ranged over two days of fes­tiv­i­ties, with elab­o­rate 17th-cen­tu­ry boyar cos­tumes, includ­ing “38 orig­i­nal roy­al items of the 17th cen­tu­ry from the armory in Moscow.”

“The first day fea­tured feast­ing and danc­ing,” notes Rus­sia Beyond, “and a masked ball was held on the sec­ond. Every­thing was cap­tured in a pho­to album that con­tin­ues to inspire artists to this day.” The entire Romanov fam­i­ly gath­ered for a pho­to­graph on the stair­case of the Her­mitage the­ater, the last time they would all be pho­tographed togeth­er.

It is like see­ing two dif­fer­ent dead worlds super­im­posed on each other—the Romanovs’ play­act­ing their begin­ning while stand­ing on the thresh­old of their last days.

With the irony of hind­sight, we will always look upon these poised aris­to­crats as doomed to vio­lent death and exile. In a mor­bid turn of mind, I can’t help think­ing of the baroque goth­ic of “The Masque of the Red Death,” Edgar Allan Poe’s sto­ry about a doomed aris­toc­ra­cy who seal them­selves inside a cos­tume ball while a con­ta­gion rav­ages the world out­side: “The exter­nal world could take care of itself,” Poe’s nar­ra­tor says. “In the mean­time it was fol­ly to grieve or to think. The prince had pro­vid­ed all the appli­ances of plea­sure…. It was a volup­tuous scene, that mas­quer­ade.”

Maybe in our imag­i­na­tion, the Romanovs and their friends seem haunt­ed by the weight of suf­fer­ing out­side their palace walls, in both their coun­try and around Europe as the old order fell apart. Or per­haps they just look haunt­ed the way every­one does in pho­tographs from over 100 years ago. Does the col­oriz­ing of these pho­tos by Russ­ian artist Klimbim—who has done sim­i­lar work with images of WW2 sol­diers and por­traits of Russ­ian poets and writ­ers—make them less ghost­ly?

It puts flesh on the pale mono­chro­mat­ic faces, and gives the lav­ish cos­tum­ing and fur­ni­ture tex­ture and dimen­sion. Some of the images almost look like art nou­veau illus­tra­tions (and resem­ble those of some of the finest illus­tra­tors of Poe’s work) and the work of con­tem­po­rary painters like Gus­tav Klimt. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that unease lingers in the eyes of some subjects—Empress Alexan­dra Fedorov­na among them—a cer­tain vague and trou­bled appre­hen­sion.

In their book A Life­long Pas­sion, authors Andrei May­lu­nas and Sergei Miro­nenko quote the Grand Duke Alexan­der Mikhailovitch who remem­bered the event as “the last spec­tac­u­lar ball in the his­to­ry of the empire.” The Grand Duke also recalled that “a new and hos­tile Rus­sia glared through the large win­dows of the palace… while we danced, the work­ers were strik­ing and the clouds in the Far East were hang­ing dan­ger­ous­ly low.” As Rus­sia Beyond notes, soon after this cel­e­bra­tion, “The glob­al eco­nom­ic cri­sis marked the begin­ning of the end for the Russ­ian Empire, and the court ceased to hold balls.”

In 1904, the Rus­so-Japan­ese War began, a war Rus­sia was to lose the fol­low­ing year. Then the aristocracy’s pow­er was fur­ther weak­ened by the Rev­o­lu­tion of 1905, which Lenin would lat­er call the “Great Dress Rehearsal” for the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary takeover of 1917. While the aris­toc­ra­cy cos­tumed itself in the trap­pings of past glo­ry, armies amassed to force their reck­on­ing with the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Who knows what thoughts went through the mind of the tzar, tza­ri­na, and their heirs dur­ing those two days, and the minds of the almost 400 noble­men and women dressed in cos­tumes spe­cial­ly designed by artist Sergey Solomko, who drew from the work of sev­er­al his­to­ri­ans to make accu­rate 17th-cen­tu­ry recre­ations, while Peter Carl Fabergé chose the jew­el­ry, includ­ing, writes the Vin­tage News, the tzarina’s “pearls topped by a dia­mond and emer­ald-stud­ded crown” and an “enor­mous emer­ald” on her bro­cad­ed dress?

If the Romanovs had any inkling their almost 300-year dynasty was com­ing to its end and would take all of the Russ­ian aris­toc­ra­cy with it, they were, at least, deter­mined to go out with the high­est style; the fam­i­ly with “almost cer­tain­ly… the most abso­lutist pow­ers” would spare no expense to live in their past, no mat­ter what the future held for them. See the orig­i­nal, black and white pho­tos, includ­ing that last fam­i­ly por­trait, at His­to­ry Dai­ly, and see sev­er­al more col­orized images at the Vin­tage News.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2019.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch Scenes from Czarist Moscow Vivid­ly Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (May 1896)

Dos­toyevsky Got a Reprieve from the Czar’s Fir­ing Squad and Then Saved Charles Bukowski’s Life

Tsarist Rus­sia Comes to Life in Vivid Col­or Pho­tographs Tak­en Cir­ca 1905–1915



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Comments (43)
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  • Jonathan says:

    Still bet­ter off under the Tsar than under the com­mu­nists.

  • Sue says:

    True if the czar would have changed the way the coun­try was gov­erned

  • AnneMarie says:

    If you live in Amer­i­ca you bet­ter move,now, to either Rus­sia, Chi­na or North Korea. You are ben­e­fit­ting way too much from your bour­geois lifestyle liv­ing off the hon­est hard work­ing peo­ple of the U.S. If you did­n’t make your own clothes, i‑phone, grow your own food or heat your house with wood you chopped your­self then shut your face.

  • Melissa K says:

    Enjoy each day we have. Mar­vel at our gor­geous nation­al parks (our escape from our mid­dle class lives) hug our fam­i­lies and beloved ani­mals for I fear Chi­na, North Korea and Rus­sia are plan­ning to just wipe Amer­i­ca off the face of the earth. Nev­er fear a major­i­ty of our politi­cians who will like­ly dis­ap­pear into shel­ters. How­ev­er, where will their back­bone be? What will they do if they can’t run for re-elec­tion? That is, after all, their only pur­pose it seems. Amer­i­ca will no longer exist. Please any­one, prove me wrong. But right or wrong, take heed from his­to­ry and count your pre­cious days.

  • Sheila says:

    Bet you live in the
    USA,amidst all the
    If you were real­ly so
    smit­ten with com­mu­nists
    you would be in
    Rus­sia, bet­ter yet

  • Louis BERTHIAUME says:

    With all due respect as long as the pop­u­la­tion of this coun­try ( the U.S.A.) is armed and aware , Rus­sia ‚Chi­na and North Korea can go u know what them­selves, and who ever that was that was tout­ing the great Sovi­et Union , can go do the same, right now Amer­i­ca is divid­ed , but give us a com­mon ene­my and u will see us come togeth­er as we did in WW2 , Go ahead and do your best , U BOLSHEVIK Dogs!

  • lLouis BERTHIAUME says:

    They want no part of Amer­i­cans fight­ing a for­eign Coun­try on our own soil , Believe me , U Want No Part of That!

  • Vincent says:

    I love Amer­i­ca this is the land of the free­dom…
    Any ideas,any dreams Can be a real­i­ty in this coun­try…
    This is a coun­try where a sin­gle man Mater Luther King gath­er more than a mil­lion peo­ple unarmed dur­ing his Famous speech “I have a dream.
    A native son of Amer­i­ca Ex pres­i­den­tJohn F. Kennedy…” Don’t ask what the coun­try can do for you, Instead ask what you can do for the coun­try…
    This coun­try is pro­tect­ed under the God umbrel­la, Let’s be in our nee and kiss this Blessed land.

    Let’s get rid of all the cor­rup­tion in the gov­ern­ment Espe­cial­ly all the Cor­rupt­ed politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton DC.

    Don­ald Trump for the Pres­i­dent 2024.
    Amer­i­ca believed in you.

  • Suck ittz says:

    What exact­ly is your point you Russ­ian plant­ed spam bot?

  • John Karkalis says:

    The ref­er­ence to Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” is apt.
    If you have a copy? Read it.
    Poe was indeed pre­scient and could have been speak­ing of our time.

  • Katarina says:

    I liked this arti­cle very much, and the project of reviv­ing pho­tos. The ref­er­ence to Poe is also superb.

    But for the many USA cit­i­zen’s com­ments post­ed here, I must say they are very nar­row mind­ed, and I am afraid they are miss­ing the point very much. Would they be post­ing the same com­ments if arti­cle was about the last ball of Marie Antoinette?

    The case for and against rev­o­lu­tions is a big philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion, but one thing is not: they come when peo­ple feel des­per­ate and feel like they have noth­ing to loose (plus there are some arms on dis­pos­al for “the crowds”).

  • Shaja says:

    Empress Alexan­dra Fedorov­na was think­ing to her­self, “I am an empress, look at my large, irreg­u­lar cut emer­ald cost­ing more than a kazil­lion rubles. How did I get stuck wear­ing the Christ­mas pud­ding for a crown?”

    Or maybe she was sad, real­iz­ing she could no longer hold balls.

  • Raven E. says:

    Moth­er Rus­sia is still moth­er Rus­sia. Give me the long tales and deep descrip­tors of truth by Russ­ian long fel­lows than the short antic­dotes of a cor­rupt and cru­el prod­uct place­ment. At least they made the attempt at a gov­ern­men­tal social­is­tic soci­ety.

  • Kathryn says:


  • Whoistiffy says:

    Don­ald Trump is the sin­gle biggest threat to our democ­ra­cy that I am lit­er­al­ly ter­ri­fied about the future of this coun­try ..
    He does not believe in any­thing or any­one except him­self.. the man has such small duck syn­drome that he will lie , cheat , rape and steal what­ev­er it takes to feel like he’s the biggest man… he doesn’t care any­thing about the val­ues of the Repub­li­can Par­ty.. his words are mean­ing­less… the way he talks about democ­rats and most every­one else .. we’l it’s not very dig­ni­fied .. espe­cial­ly since he has refused to tell white suprema­cist to stand down.. this isn’t even a left and right issue as far as I’m con­cerned.. trump is a dan­ger to us both.. cause he don’t give a rats a$$ about either..

  • Mayden says:

    But where, oh where, are those gor­geous pearls and gems? Were they ripped apart and shared, or stolen and hid­den? The wearer’s died, but the gems, much like his­to­ry, remain.

  • Ann Marshall says:

    The pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, sor­row, and anx­i­ety in the empress’s eyes may have as the source her son’s hemo­phil­ia. And, grief and the need to con­ceal their only son’s hemo­phil­ia was a sig­nif­i­cant con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the emper­or’s inat­ten­tion to the real con­di­tions in Rus­sia at that time.

  • Frank Grrmann says:

    You are suf­fer­ing from a bad case of TDS! You need to reach out for truth, not the pro­pa­gan­da from the left wing news media!! God Bless

  • Mike Scheele says:

    The Pro­gres­sives, with help of the main stream media, has suc­cess­ful­ly divid­ed us. We’re all in our own lit­tle tribes just as they planned. We’ve lost any and all moral com­pass and val­ues. Nor­mal­cy is passe and now any­thing goes. The coun­try is broke and there is NO turn­ing back.The dol­lar is no longer king and our ene­mies are sit­ting back wait­ing for our even­tu­al col­lapse that will make the Great Depres­sion look like a cake walk. We not only nev­er learn from his­to­ry, we rush to repeat it because after we’re smarter than God Right?

  • OC says:

    It looks like this page is get­ting a lot of vis­i­tors today. But we’re not sure who is send­ing folks here. Can any­one give us a sense?

    Open Cul­ture

  • Kat says:

    Open your eyes after you remove your head from your ars. Sheeple like you who sit in front of your TV instead of study into what is hap­pen­ing are the biggest threat to the end of our Con­sti­tu­tion­al Repub­lic. Look look and sound so idi­ot­ic at this point in time. I’m sin­cere­ly embar­rassed for you all who still have not real­ized YOU are the frogs in the pot on the stove. I feel bad for you.

  • Melinda Jarrett says:

    Yes things are very dif­fer­ent than20 years ago if you want to know where we are head­ing.
    Open the Bible read the prophet and study rev­e­la­tions. It’s all there. I wish I had bet­ter under­stand­ing of it I’m work­ing on it

  • Warren thunell says:

    We have a Repub­lic not a democ­ra­cy!
    No oth­er pres­i­dent gave up their salary as Pres­i­dent!
    Don­ald Trump has done more for this coun­try then you care to admit! If you think the peo­ple run­ning things now are good hon­est peo­ple you are wrong!
    Unless Don­ald Trump gets back in office there is going to be very very hard times ahead!

  • Margaret says:

    The great thing about the US is that we don’t have to shut out face.

  • CoriMSU says:

    Your arti­cle was in my Google sug­gest­ed-for-me news feed.

  • Cy says:

    Agreed 👍

  • Cy says:

    Why would he tell white suprema­cist to stand down? They are their own peo­ple. They lis­ten to no one. The same goes for crips or bloods or any street orga­nized club. Should they stand down also? These peo­ple are not tod­dlers. They are grown men and women who feel their voic­es need to be heard, their cause dri­ven into the minds of any­one who will lis­ten. What hap­pens when you try to tell a scream­ing child to hush or stop? They throw a fit! Whether that be scream­ing loud­er or becom­ing destruc­tive there will be a fight until the child feels they have been heard and their needs have been met. That is the same with white suprema­cist or any orga­nized group. He won’t tell them to stand down bc he does­n’t want a big­ger prob­lem tomor­row. He liked to focus on things he could fix. I know it was a hand to my fore­head when I real­ized that Trump real­ly does have our best inter­est at heart. He maybe showy and quite pos­si­bly does­n’t have the best bed side man­ners how­ev­er he is a nat­ur­al born leader who does­n’t have a racist bone in his body. Except for maybe dum­b­ass­es. But please instead of call­ing him what you’ve heard him be called by the main­stream media please do your own research and look a lit­tle far­ther than your reg­u­lar cable tv. You won’t find any­thing cred­i­ble there. As long as we stay divid­ed and refuse to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tive­ly and effi­cient­ly we will remain divid­ed and in con­stant fear of what the future holds for us. The moment we unite and learn to stand togeth­er, no mat­ter what, we will be a force to be reck­oned with. I pray we find it in us all to over­look our dif­fer­ences and stop let­ting these cor­rupt peo­ple chose mon­ey over our free­dom secu­ri­ty and our lives.

  • Joyce says:

    Spot on Cy!

  • Seize d day says:

    This is what cor­rup­tion one goes to Wash­ing­ton with a mind to help people..maybe everone of those sign tot­ing lib­er­al athi­est need to see what social­ism com­mu­nism real­ly is..and his­to­ry was dropped from from schools a long time ago…liberals want to degress stu­dents as much as possible…dumb them down…theres lots of room on side­walks and park­ing lots to live in a tent…Shame on all those lib­er­al jurks…by the way..look to Claus Shwab and his Eco­nom­ic Forum bud­dies for destroy­ing America..if they bil­lion­aires they are respon­si­ble..

  • John says:

    Our coun­try is com­ing to the end of a peri­od in which our fore­fa­thers got on a very good trend of leas­ing agree­ments last­ing 99 years and the gov­ern­ment is kind of lean­ing on time allow­ing them to slip through the cracks of law.. lots of peo­ple don’t know of or une­d­u­cat­ed about the 99-year lease trend par­tic­u­lar­ly around the South and civ­il war era and turn of the cen­tu­ry.. Flori­da does­n’t real­ly belong to Flori­da any­more it has a whole new set of things com­ing into play if peo­ple are aware of the con­tracts that were sur­round­ed around all the pur­chas­es of rail­roads par­tic­u­lar­ly… And when the EPA shut down OMG a lot of land is sup­posed to go back to its right­ful own­ers.. I per­son­al­ly believe that’s why tal­la­has­see’s gov­ern­ment is auc­tion­ing off its s land assets..

  • Greg says:

    Trump, biggest mafioso ever…

  • Ngentotlu says:

    Anti semi­tes cos­sack sluts

  • John Crowell says:

    The Con­sti­tu­tion does­n’t need to be changed, it needs to be read. We need need to rid our­selves of the haters of free­dom. I speak of the career politi­cian, they have even cre­at­ed polit­i­cal dynastys. I speak of fam­i­ly’s like the Kennedy’s, the Gores, the Bush­es and many more. The politi­cians nev­er think about fur­ther gen­er­a­tions their only thought is about the next elec­tion. They are a bunch of race baiters. Both par­ty’s play good cop bad cop with the Amer­i­can peo­ple domes­ti­cal­ly, yet inter­na­tion­al­ly they march in lock step. Pres­i­dents that com­mit crimes against the cit­i­zens they vow to pro­tect should be exe­cut­ed. If we treat­ed them like the crim­i­nals they are the rest would get their heads out of the pub­lic troff. Then we might start see­ing some states­men in Wash­ing­ton. Crooks and liers like Biden, Jim­my Carter, George Bush senior and Bill Clin­ton should be impris­oned for life, instead of being guard­ed at the Amer­i­can Peo­ple’s expense. Only free peo­ple have guns.Instead Jim­my Carter releas­es the men­tal­ly ill on the streets and even imports them turns them lose on the pub­lic.

  • Missy says:

    “The Romanoff’s play­act­ing their past while stand­ing on their future…”or some­thing like that. And some com­par­i­son to Edgar A. Poe?

    Huh? No author’s name? Poor sport.

    By not just telling the facts one might con­clude that the author viewed this Russ­ian Aris­to­crat­ic fam­i­ly to have got­ten their just desserts.

    What hap­pened to all that splen­dor? Divid­ed up and thrown­to the wolves I would imag­ine. Were all those jew­els sold to feed the mass­es?

    The fall of Rome, the French Rev­o­lu­tion, the assas­si­na­tion of the Romonoff family—was the act of those with less to take all from those with more.

    A fruit­less act of greed.

  • Elisabeth Ziesmer says:

    Well said! I agree whole­heart­ed­ly!

  • Cathy says:

    Blessed be the woman who chops her own wood, for she twice warmed.

  • Mauro says:

    Why so angry? Biden is turn­ing Amer­i­ca into anoth­er failed com­mu­nist coun­try. Look around.…name one suc­cess­ful com­mu­nist coun­try where cit­i­zens are hap­py? Where peo­ple can live free, speak freely with­out fear of reprisal? Pres­i­dent Trump is a true patri­ot. He may not have the best morals, but he’s patri­ot­ic, and NO ONE will ever say that about trai­tor biden.

  • Rhonda says:

    This came up in the news arti­cles that pop up when I first open Google.

  • Nancy says:

    You are so right about Trump.

  • Lori says:

    Don­ald Trump is Not the only Pres­i­dent to refuse a salary!! Do your research before you talk. JFK did­n’t amoung oth­ers. I’ll let you research the oth­ers for your­self.

  • Mary S says:

    She had a heavy bur­den at that time that had noth­ing to do with that crown–at that time she had not yet pro­duced a male heir to the Russ­ian throne. I did some fact check­ing; the Tsare­vich Alex­ei was born the fol­low­ing August of 1904. Then came the hemo­phil­ia, Rasputin (who had a wife and 3 kids back in Siberia), and mur­der.

  • Cynthia Geisler says:

    The stun­ning pho­tos and the his­to­ry ❤️
    I believe if the peo­ple had a crys­tal ball they cer­tain­ly would real­ize evil Always ris­es to the top.
    And most of us have read I hope they have 1917 a fan­tas­tic his­to­ry book on the day Lenin came back to Rus­sia and met Stal­in at a huge ral­ly.
    He was utter­ly sur­prised he was rec­om­mend­ed by a close friend to be part of his staff. He writes he was ugly with pit­ted acne scars and dis­cust­ing yel­low teeth..
    And of course through the book you learn he had poi­soned his soup..
    Lenin knew Stal­in had stabbed him in the back and If I remem­ber cor­rect­ly sick­ly asked him to not kill his wife or child
    It’s a very detailed account of the days before Stal­in was :King ”
    No mat­ter what any­one says.. evil will always rise to the top and be a hid­den Monarch of their own..
    With­out giv­ing up lux­u­ry items.
    These fam­i­ly mem­bers in the pic­tures were born into this roll. They did­n’t ask for it.
    I have more sym­pa­thy for mon­archs then self seek­ing pond scum ris­ing to the top to ter­ror­ize every­one.
    To answer your ques­tion because these are not in enough his­to­ry books. And they are gor­geous pho­tos absolute­ly amaz­ing well done.

  • Forrest says:

    The orig­i­nal pic­ture host only has bro­ken links.

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