19th Century

Gosh Dagmar, you really liked your pearls, didn’t you?

I’ve posted about Dagmar of Denmark, known after her marriage as Maria Feodorovna of Russia, before.  While I was researching her I noticed something.  Maybe it was because of her rather impoverished childhood, maybe it was a family weakness for completely OTT necklaces, maybe it was because she had already cried her share of brides tears well before the wedding, or maybe she just liked the things.  Whatever it was, man, that girl had some pearl bling going in all her portraits!

From Dagmar’s diary*:

6 June 1867: A man came today to take my portrait with the new camera technology.  How fabulous!  I knew exactly what I wanted to wear: my favourite bow headband and every single pearl necklace I own.  Also the bracelets.  I looked fabulous.  One of my ladies in waiting suggested that it might be a bit much as I’m not even 20, but I told her to stuff it.  The nerve!

Empress Marie Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark), coloured from black and white, 1867

25 September 1874: The happiest possible news!  The doctor has just confirmed today that I will be confined for the next six months.  After dearest Georgie perished I felt my heart was utterly broken and that Sasha and I should never be whole again, but life has come full circle.  To celebrate, and while I still have my figure, I’m being painted.  I’ve picked a powder blue dress with touches of lace, and am wearing a simple choker with just one pearl, to represent the pearl I have lost.

Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna (1847-1928) by Heinrich von Angeli, 1874

6 September 1880: I’m absolutely furious!  I’ve just seen the portrait that I spent so many hours sitting for, and it is horrid!  Simply awful!  All muddy and brown and messy, and worst of all you can’t even see my jewellery!  My lovely, lovely necklace has just disappeared into the lace.   Let me tell you, I’m never sitting for that man again!

Grand Duchess Maria Feoderovna, 1880

28 November 1880: Today we sat for a Christmas portrait as a family.  I wore the most charming ensemble designed after the mode of the ancients, all in purple silk and white satin.  Of course I also put on a pearl necklace, nothing too ostentatious, just a few bits and bobs to add a bit of sheen to liven the simple robes.  It helps to make up for the dreadful portrait I had done earlier this year.

God’s blessing on you. The family of Alexander III of Russia before Christ by Ivan Makarov, circa 1880

12 September 1882: My first portrait as Empress of all the Russians was finished today.  As I sat for it, all I could think about was what happened to dear father Alex, and how I should feel if the same happened to my poor, darling Sasha.  How would I ever go on?  I had to reach up frequently to pat my necklaces to comfort and reassure myself, and Kramskoi was compelled to scold me quite severely as my fidgeting interrupted his painting.

Portrait of Maria Fyodorovna, born Princess Dagmar of Denmark , wife of Russian tsar Alexander III by I.N. Kramskoi (1837-1887), 1882

4 January 1883: Feeling a bit depressed today, so I decided to be painted again.  My last portrait cheered me up so much that I decided another one simply must happen.  To make this one even better, I’ve decided to add a pearl trimmed tiara.  The only thing better than oodles of pearl necklaces is a pearl tiara.

Portrait of Empress Maria Fiodorovna in a Head-Dress Decorated with Pearls by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, 1880s

11 March 1883: All my happiness in entirely gone.  Our life is consumed with preparations for the coronation, and I know that never again shall Sasha and I have the simple, carefree life that we enjoyed before.  The only bright spot on the horizon is that I sat for my coronation portrait today, and my favourite necklace is looking particularly splendid in it.

Maria Feoderovna, 1883

18 August 1885:  Bored today.  Might buy another egg.  Or, I  could be painted in ermine robes and 11 pounds of pearls

Vladimir Makovsky: Portrait of Empress Maria Fyodorovna, 1885

12 November 1888: I had the most fabulous idea today!  I’ve been photographed in my pearls, painted in my pearls, and worn them to every possible state function, but I haven’t been sculpted in them.  The silly Frenchman who does the marble stuff said it was very hard to carve pearls, but I did a bit of sobbing about how dear Nixa had loved how I looked in pearls, and of course Sasha capitulated and promised me a sculpture portrait with all the pearls I could ever want.

Portrait of the Tsarina of Russia, Gautheron, 1890

26 November 1894: Today was the second worst day of my life.  After the pain of Sacha’s death earlier this month, today I had to stand alone and bear the pain of watching my son marry that horrid Alix girl.  Oh, if only Sacha was here, to support me, and to have ordered Nicky to pick someone, anyone, else!  No amount of pearl necklaces, and pearl tiaras, no matter how fabulous, could relieve my sorrow.

The wedding of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and the Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt (detail) by Laurits Tuxen.  The wedding  which place at the Chapel of the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, on 14/26 November 1894. Behind the bride is the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna.

3 February 1896:  Some days I can’t believe that dear Sacha has gone, but life must go on.  The thing that surprises, and pleases, me most is that people still care.  Just today the newspaper asked to publish and image and story on me.  The print they have chosen is most charming, though they have coloured the dress wrongly, and you can hardly see the simple pearl cross I am wearing on a pearl chain.

Maria Fyodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark), 1896


*Not actually from Dagmar’s diary.


  1. What a lovely post – the pictures with the diary entries really made Maria come to life! Thank you!

  2. I have to say–I love pearls and if I could get away with it, I’d be wearing that jewelry to the grocery store. 😀

  3. Susan Jarrett says

    I absolutely LOVE your historical clothing connections with Art History. Keep it coming!

  4. Haha.The first entry I read really made me laugh.I like pearls,too.I need to design some more jewelry with it.I have a dream of making a dress and stitching pearls on it.Not sure in what design yet.Maybe a collar,or flowers,or something.

  5. I adore pearls! I knew nothing about this lady until now. I do lots of history presentations across the eras with my kids. How I’d love to recreate one of her gowns and go crazy with the pearls!
    Thanks for posting this!

  6. This is so great. “The only thing better than oodles of pearl necklaces is a pearl tiara.” haha!! I can’tbelieve she actually wrote that.

    • LOL, she didn’t! This whole post is just me playing silly! (well, silly with a little historical research!)

  7. Jay says

    Love it she reminds me of a Faberge Egg.
    If you are going to have a family portrait with the Big JC you should always wear a waterfall of pearls.
    as an Empress more is more.
    when are you gonna find a better excuse to wear every pearl that can be found? .

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