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Restoration of the Insignia of the Highest Orders of the Russian Empire

These unique examples of Russian applied art are rightly considered extremely interesting Hermitage exhibits.

The Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called was established in 1698–99. It had a limited number of Russian members and they could only be persons of high rank. Like all the highest European orders of chivalry, it was not divided into classes and it was the only order in Russia to have a chain that was worn on ceremonial occasions. The badge of the order was a diagonal cross carrying a depiction of the crucified saint superimposed on a double-headed eagle. An eight-pointed star was worn on the left breast. In the centre of the star was a depiction of the St Andrew’s cross (placed on the breast of a double-headed eagle from the late 18th century onwards) encircled by the motto of the order: For Faith and Loyalty. The same motto appeared on the back of the badge. The stars were originally sewn with spangles or metallic threads, but officially became metal in 1854.

The female Order of Saint Catherine was established by Peter I in the name of his wife and consort on her name day, 24 November, in 1714. Empress Catherine was proclaimed head of the order, which was to consist of 12 Russian Dames Grand Cross (not counting princesses) and 94 Dames Lesser Cross (including foreign members). However, up until the death of Peter I no-one except Catherine had been awarded this honour. The badge of the order takes the form of an oval medallion in a gold cross-shape setting, the arms of which are made up of rays set with diamonds. On the front the medallion carries a depiction of St Catherine seated next to a wheel, the intended instrument of her martyrdom, holding a large white cross in one hand and a palm branch in the other. Set into the arms of the cross are the Latin letters D.S.F.R., standing for Domine Salvum Fac Regem – “God save the King” – the first words of the last verse of Psalm 19 (20 in some Bibles). The motto of the order, For Love and Fatherland, is placed on the pink ribbon edged with silver to which the badge is attached and also appears on the eight-pointed star, where it surrounds the central medallion that contains a depiction of half a wheel with a cross above it. The Grand Cross was worn on the left hip, on a sash that went over the right shoulder; the Lesser Cross on a ribbon on the left breast. The star of the Grand Cross was worn on the left breast.

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The insignia of the highest dynastic orders of the Russian Empire that have been restored date from various times and come from various sources. Some insignia of the Orders of Saint Andrew the First-Called (a badge) and Saint Catherine (a badge and a star) came from the Chapter (administration) of the Orders. The were made in the workshop of Johann Wilhelm Keibel, who was supplier to the chapter from 1836 to 1862. The order chain, which is also Keibel’s work, entered the Hermitage from the State Museum Fund that was formed after the 1917 revolution.

The palace collection was the source of an Order of Saint Andrew the First-Called combined with the English Order of the Garter. This item belonged to Alexander I. In order to avoid wearing two insignia, the Emperor displayed his membership of the English order, bestowed on him in 1813, by joining one of the symbols of the Order of the Garter with the star of the highest Russian order.

The diamond-spangled badge of the Order of Saint Catherine – a Grand Cross and ribbon – probably belonged to Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna, the wife of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich.

Two stars of the Order of Saint Andrew the First-Called came into the Hermitage in 1919 from the St Petersburg residence of the princely Yusupov family. These are an openwork silver star with cut diamonds that was made in the St Petersburg workshop of Johann Andreas Becker in the first quarter of the 19th century, and a large silver cross with the rays combined into eight mobile segments.

Condition prior to restoration. The exhibits came down to us in a damaged state. There were soiling and accumulations of grease, copper oxides on the gold and silver mounts, cracks and chips in the enamel, loose settings of the precious stones, cracks and breaks in the metal and deformation of some parts.

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Restoration measures taken: examination and study of all parts under an electron microscope; removal of traces of previous restorations (wax, tin, glue) and soiling; laser welding of breaks and cracks in the metal decoration; partial correction of the deformation; reconstruction of lost polychrome enamel; correction of the settings and fixation of the diamonds.

The restoration of the insignia of the highest orders of chivalry dating back to Peter the Great’s time was carried out by artist-restorers in the State Hermitage’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Precious Metals: Igor Malkiel, the head of the laboratory, Stanislav Makeyev, Oleg Muravyev and Svetlana Malkiel.

This project was accomplished with the support of the Smolensk Diamonds Jewellery Group.