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Princess Zinaida Aleksandrovna Volkonskaya. A writer, poet, singer, composer, salonist and a patroness of the arts of the 19th century

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Zinaida Aleksandrovna Volkonskaya

Princess Zinaida Aleksandrovna Volkonskaya was an important figure in the Russian culture life in the 19th-century. Zinaida Aleksandrovna was a Russian writer, poet, singer, composer, salonist and lady in waiting. She was also an amateur opera singer who performed in Paris and London.

She was born in Turin in 1789. Her father was a Russian ambassador, Prince Alexander Beloselsky-Belozersky. He spent almost all his life abroad being a Russian ambassador in Italy and Germany. Zinaida's mother was a Tatischev. Some historical references state she died in labor, others - when Zinaida was aged 3. Thus young Zizi and her sister were brought up by their father and later a step-mother, Anna Kozitskaya.

In 1809 Alexander Beloselsky-Belozersky died and a year later Zinaida married Prince Nikita Volkonsky, who was aide-de-camp of Emperor Alexander I of Russia.

Zinaida Volkonskaya was close to the court and is often associated as a lover of Emperor Alexander I. The love affair, though platonic by the opinion of some historians caused lots of rumours. Even the first son of Zinaida Volkonskaya, Nikita, was a son of Alexander I. Numerous letters of Zinaida Volkinskaya and Alexander I prove there was a true love between the two of them, though painful for both. A considerable number of messages and letter of Alexander I preserved and are now stored in the library of Harvard University, in the USA.

The family relationship with the husband did not work out and they actually lived separately. In 1820th she moved to Russia and hosted a literary and musical salon on Tverskaya Street in Moscow.

It appeared to be one of Russia's best literary salons in Moscow in 1826-27. Classic poets Adam Mickiewicz, Alexander Pushkin and Yevgeny Baratynsky frequented it. "The queen of music and beauty", Zinaida Aleksandrovna Volkonskaya, was a patroness of the arts. She was an outstanding woman-writer of her time.

Before her move to Moscow, while living in St-Petersburg Zinaida Volkonskaya started to study Russian and Scandinavian history and philology. Her historical novel "Slavonic picture" was issued in 1824 in Paris, though anonymously. Volkonskaya was also known as a vivid collector of national antiquities and was especially interested in Russian fairy tales, legends, customs and traditions.

Zinaida Volkonkaya became the first Russian woman - member of Moscow Society of History and Russian Antiquities at Moscow University. Her poem in prose "The tale about Olga" was written both in Russian and French.

Alexander Pushkin highly valued her literary works. Being in Moscow at her salon he wrote:
Among the scattered
persuasions whist and Boston,
ball babble rumor
you like games of Apollo.
Queen music and beauty,
gentle hand you hold you
magic scepter inspirations,
And over the thoughtful brow,
crowned with a wreath
And winds and blazing genius ...

Zinaida Aleksandrovna Volkonskaya was known as a great fan of music and possessed a beautiful voice. In her salon, she arranged not only musical concerts but also Italian opera performances. Italian composer Gioachino Rossini composed and devoted several beautiful romances for Madame Volkonskaya.

After Alexander I's death her brother-in-law Sergey Volkonsky led the Decembrist Revolt against his successor Nicholas. The Decembrists were exiled to Siberia, and their wives decided to follow them. Zinaida threw a farewell party for these women, incurring the displeasure of Nicholas I. She also came under suspicion as a secret convert to Catholicism and possible Jesuit agent.

These pressures led to Zinaida's moving to Rome in 1829. She was accompanied by her son and Stepan Shevyrev, the son's tutor. Among her lodgings in Rome were Palazzo Poli, Villa Wolkonsky, and a smaller house in the Via degli Avignonesi. Her salon was frequented by Karl Brullov, Alexander Ivanov, Bertel Thorvaldsen, Vincenzo Camuccini, Stendhal, and Sir Walter Scott. Nikolai Gogol wrote much of Dead Souls at her villa.

Princess Volkonskaya died of pneumonia (apparently after giving her warm cloak to an old street woman) in 1862 and was buried at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi next to her daughter. After her death, her son, Alexander Nikitich collected all his mother's literary works and published them in French and Russian. Unfortunately, the archive of Zinaida Aleksandrovna Volkonskaya which includes the autograph notes of many famous people of her time was sold out. The Princess Volkonskaya is well remembered in Italy, where one of the streets of Rome.

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