Ivory pyxis, Moorish Andalusia, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Alexandra Romanov’s favorite perfume.
Necklace by Alexander Calder, Metropolitan Museum.
Nature knows nothing of vulgarity. It fashions flowers of such barbaric richness the crassest arriviste would hesitate to wear them. Take the passionflower blossoms in my garden. In order to reproduce it, Faberge would have needed tanzanite, Rose de France amethyst, rubies, imperial topaz, alexandrite, rock crystal, paparadsha sapphire, raw emerald and the palest peridot. The result would be gaudy and ostentatious bubble, in the style some of the Romanovs favored. Poor, poor Romanovs. Their last Czar, Nikolai, was never as happy as when he grubbed in the dirt of his little garden in Yekaterinburg. Fixed by the cold eye of Soviet kulaks, he dreamed of cabbage, not jewels. His wife, Alexandra was of another mind altogether. Though she she was fond of roses–Frau Karl Drushki was one of her favorites–when she wore corsages, she added yards and yards of pearls to set them off. Somewhere there is a painting that shows hear wearing pink roses, perhaps her beloved Baroness Rothschild. Prior to Yekaterinburg, She had massive flower arrangements brought from her greenhouses to her mauve bedroom, turning it into a garden. If those were not enough, there were always the Faberge baubles to add to the illusion that nature itself could be brought to heel.
We each made our garden to suit our style. Long before the Romanovs counted for much, the Moors created splendid gardens in Al-Andalus. They grew lazy and fat, married Iberian women and raised children who spoke romance languages better than they spoke Arabic. When the hard core Islamic fundamentalism decided to whip the Al-Andalus crowd into proper shape, the Moorish empire fell apart. Needless to say, so did the Moorish gardens. Today, we catch glimpses of how they must have been in the few surviving objects, such as the cylindrical ivory pyxis–a container for aromatics such as ambergris– seen above.
Alexander Calder, who has nothing to do with either Russians or Moors, is one of the artists who capture the essence of passionflower vines in simple metal jewelry that seems more alive than anything Faberge ever made. I find it enchanting.