A cabinet photograph of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich taken by the court photographer Charles Bergamasco (1830-1896), showing the grand duke dressed in boyar costume for one of the many costume balls organized by members of the Imperial family in the late 1870s and 1880s, the photo mounted on Bergamasco’s trade card, the reverse showing the numerous courts to which he was a purveyor. Dimensions: 8 1/2 x 4 in. (21.5 x 10.5 cm).
Costumes for the Imperial balls of the late 1870s and 1880s were not mere fantasies. Designs relied on extensive research in archives and museums for the greatest possible accuracy and were finished in the heavy velvets and brocades of the period sewn with precious stones, often selected from Imperial collections. Charles (Karl Ivanovich) Bergamasco (1830, Turin or Sardinia-1896, Saint Petersburg) first arrived in Russia in 1848 as a member of a troupe of actors. He performed at St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theater until he was injured when scenery fell on several performers. Bergamasco had already taken an interest in the new art of photography and in 1850 he opened the city’s first daguerreotype studio. (Some sources suggest that he continued a limited theatrical career while establishing himself as a portrait photographer.) His artistic skills matched his technical prowess: he studied watercolor at the Imperial Academy of the Arts and was awarded prizes for photography at international expositions, including Berlin in 1865, Paris in 1867, Hamburg in 1868, Groningen in 1869, St. Petersburg in 1870, Vienna in 1873, London in 1874, and Philadelphia in 1876. His theatrical connections paved the way to being named an official photographer of the Russian Imperial Theaters, granting him the very lucrative right to make photographs of the leading actors, actresses, and dancers employed there. This led to other court appointments and by the time of his retirement in 1891, he was a Court Photographer to numerous members of the Russian Imperial family as well as members of European royalty and nobility. His only true competitor in Russia was the Court Photographer Sergei Levitsky, undoubtedly because, as Russian journalist Vladimir Mikhnevich wrote in 1884, Bergamasco was able “to capture images of all women as beauties and all men, no matter what their age, in the full bloom of their youth and strength.”
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