At a time when news about Russia is synonymous with assassination and murder, the Science Museum looks back 100 years to another dark and notorious assassination.
This year marks the centenary of the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks, and this is an exhibition that is a mix of looking at the life of the Royal Family, and their downfall.
As such, it does have a sight air of being an exhibition that’s managed to pull together just enough objects to form a display but in doing so lacks a certain focus.
It is however, a rather poignant look at the lives of people who were both ordinary humans with all our frailties, and yet also Emperors with the power of life and death over a vast land.
The exhibition is into a world that is distant from us in both time, but distant from us in the lifestyle of an absolute monarch that none of us could imagine.
From recently discovered grainy photos to bullet grazed icons and modern DNA machines, it’s an odd mix of objects, many of which have never been seen before, or have never left Russia before.
The photos, which were discovered in an archive box by the curator of the Cosmonauts exhibition a few years ago are small, as was normal for the time, and could have done with being enlarged. They are easier to see on the Science Museum website.
One of the highlights has to be the medicine chest that traveled with the family, and contains over 700 different treatments. Not just a physically imposing object, but a reminder of how fragile the health of the family was.
From the Empress’s depression to the famous Hemophilia of the son, which had to be concealed for disability was seen as a curse from God, and not appropriate for a future ruler of Russia. Nearby is the only letter to have ever publicly acknowledged that the health of the heir was less than perfect.
The time of the last of the Romanovs was a rapidly industrialising one, so it’s not surprising to see modern medicine entering the family, with an early x-ray machine and treatments, but this was also a time when modern medicine was scary and often painful. The family turned to spiritual cures, famously Rasputin, but the display also highlights the less well known efforts to use Chinese medicine.
The exhibition has some artifacts from the family’s last days, showing the last page of Empress Alexandra’s diary, and a calendar that stops abruptly.
Look very carefully at the icons, and you may see the graze marks of bullets, a reminder of how the Royal Family came to an end.
It’s the last section that Britain jumps back into the story, as it was British experts, lead by Peter Gill of the Home Office who were later to prove that an unmarked grave contained the remains of the royal family, and triggered a state funeral a few years later.
That research into Russian DNA was cutting edge at the time, and the work later went on to seed the creation of the UK’s own DNA database used by the police.
The police who now use such tools to unmask the identify of modern Russian assassins.