Just back from holiday, so I thought I’d write about a trip made by the Russian Imperial family in 1845–6, to Sicily. This beautiful printed tribute to mark the occasion, produced in Palermo in 1846 and combining words, images, and music (including an unpublished song by Bellini), was commissioned by Domenico Lo Faso Pietrasanta, Duke of Serradifalco (1783–1863), and copies were ‘per la maggior parte distribute a dignitari della Corte Russa e Borbonica’ (Moncada Lo Giudice, Una biblioteca siciliana, 183–184).
Alexandra Feodorovna (1798–1860), wife of Nicholas I, had always suffered from ill health, and the death of the couple’s third daughter, Alexandra, in 1844, aged only 19, hit her hard. ‘After a whole year of tears and mourning, the health of the Empress was utterly exhausted, and the physicians urged the Emperor to send her to some foreign waters—but to which, was a question difficult to answer …’. Palermo was eventually decided upon, much to the Tsar’s initial dismay, due to the distance and the difficulties in getting there, but ‘the journey was happily accomplished, and Nicholas obliged to confess that the sky here was brighter, and the air milder, than even in summer at Peterhof … The Empress was well instructed about this country by her zealous studies on the subject, and yet even her expectations were surpassed’ as they reached Olivuzza, just outside Palermo, and the Villa Butera. ‘Months before the arrival of the Empress the house had been arranged, so that it could be heated during the winter—an unprecedented requirement for the Sicilians … and indeed the Russian colony during the winter months used more wood in Olivuzza than the whole of Palermo … The Empress passed days of enchantment, so far as they could be to her without the presence of her husband; for the King of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand the Second, contributed by every means in his power to make the stay of his illustrious guest pleasing to her. He banished the legion of importunate and repulsive beggars out of the town and the environs; he placed part of his splendid stables at her disposal, and appointed several experienced policemen to watch over the safety of his august guest. He himself appeared from time to time, to ascertain with his own eyes that his care was such as really to deserve the gratitude she expressed’ (Grimm, Alexandra Feodorowna, Empress of Russia (1870), II, 251–257).