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Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna and the Martha-Mary Convent

An online lecture by Dr. Louise Hardiman 

Behind a high wall and a large iron gate on an avenue in Moscow’s central Zamoskvorechye district stands a large white church with slate grey cupolas and carvings of ancient symbols and angels on its walls. It is the Intercession Cathedral of the Martha-Mary Convent (Marfo-Mariinskaya obitel’), which was completed in 1912 to the designs of the modernist architect Alexei Shchusev. A far cry from his more well-known creation, Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square, Shchusev’s church building is a treasure of early twentieth-century artistic revival. Its exterior and interior decorations by artists Sergei Konenkov, Pavel Korin, and Mikhail Nesterov blend the historic traditions of icon-painting, frescoes, and ancient church architecture with fin-de-siècle style.

This striking example of art nouveau architecture is the centerpiece in a complex of convent buildings commissioned by Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna (1864-1918). Born Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, Elizaveta was the sister of the last Romanov tsarina, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She made the decision to devote her life to good works and founded the sisterhood and convent in 1908, following the assassination of her husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, a few years earlier.

The Russian History Museum holds an old black and white postcard of the convent, with a handwritten message from Elizaveta, and an album, also inscribed by her. In this lecture, the art and architecture of the convent and Elizaveta Feodorovna’s charitable work will be discussed in the context of the Arts and Crafts movement. Drawing on her research on the national artistic revival in late imperial Russian art and the history of British-Russian relations, Dr. Hardiman will explore the rich artistic history of the convent church and its cultural contexts.

About the Speaker

Dr. Louise Hardiman is an independent scholar specializing in Russian and Soviet art. Her main research interests lie in the art and design of the late imperial period, women’s art, and the history of British-Russian cultural exchange. She has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is an Advisory Board member of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre. 

Hardiman’s recent academic publications include: Modernism and the Spiritual in Russian Art: New Perspectives (Open Book Publishers, 2017); “Abramtsevo and Its Legacies: Neo-National Art, Craft, and Design,” Experiment/Eksperiment: A Journal of Russian Culture (Brill, 2019); and Courtly Gifts and Cultural Diplomacy: Art, Material Culture and British-Russian Relations (forthcoming with Brill in summer 2022).

She has also published two books of Russian folk tales by the Arts and Crafts artist Elena Polenova: The Story of Synko-Filipko and other Russian Folk Tales (as translator) and Why the Bear Has No Tail and other Russian Folk Tales (as editor). Her latest book projects include a history of British interest in Russian art during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods and a study of the Russian Arts and Crafts movement focused on its links with the west.

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Connecting With Zoom

This virtual lecture is presented live via Zoom. Registered users will be emailed a link to join this Zoom program. To get started, please download Zoom on your chosen device and explore the Frequently Asked Questions.

This program will be recorded.

The Second Saturday lecture series is supported in part with federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated to the New York State Library by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).


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