Jewelry tells many stories—love stories between spouses, stories of reaching significant milestones and even stories of pieces shared through generations.
For Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, jewelry also tells the stories of important historical figures.
Tillander-Godenhielm’s great-grandfather, Alexander Tillander, worked as a goldsmith in St. Petersburg, Russia, and started his own jewelry business in 1860 that is still in her family. Today, Tillander-Godenhielm is an advisory council member of the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg and CEO emerita and board member of A. Tillander Jewelers in Helsinki and London.
Of note, the Tillander family created many items for the Russian Imperial Court, and Tillander-Godenhielm discussed those pieces in “The Russian Imperial Awards and Their Recipients,” held Nov. 1 at the Georgia Museum of Art as part of the fall 2016 Signature Lecture series.
Tillander-Godenhielm spoke about the ranks, orders, titles and gifts bestowed to members of the military, members of civil service, members of the church and members of the Imperial Court under a new ranking scale and awards system devised by Peter the Great.
“The aim was to create a new and efficient service nobility in place of the ancient society that had ruled the country before,” she said.
Each order, title and gift indicated one of 14 classes, with more ornate objects going to higher classes. In 1698, Peter the Great created the Order of St. Andrew with diamonds, which remained the highest order one could receive. The highest gift one could receive was a diamond portrait badge. In total, 1,055 received the Order of St. Andrew and around 200 people received a diamond portrait badge.
Examples of the orders and gifts are on display at the Georgia Museum of Art as part of the Gifts and Prayers: The Romanovs and Their Subjects exhibition through Dec. 31.
“The exhibition has a glorious way of describing them,” Tillander-Godenhielm said.