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The Fortune Parlour

The corner room with five windows, known as the "Fortune Parlour", was intended for pastimes. The Russian Emperors and Empresses used to spend time in the company of their closest associates and guests there.

On display in the Fortune Parlour are games which were popular at the Russian court in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the showcase can be seen a carved wooden set of chess made in West Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century and on a table near the wall is a carved ivory set of chess produced in Germany in the 1810s or 1820s.

It is known from the palatial journals that Anna Ioannovna and Catherine the Great played chess, but it was only Peter the Great who really liked this game. During his visits to the Strelna Palace, the Tsar spent much time playing chess with courtiers, with skippers of foreign ships or with his jesters.

On the south wall of the Fortune Parlour is a Portrait of the Jester Balakirev by an anonymous eighteenth-century painter. After he had served to Peter the Great for two years, he went out of favour as a friend of William Mons, Catherine I's lover executed by the Tsar. A witty and resourceful man, Ivan Balakirev later was jester at the courts, successively, of Catherine I, Peter II and Anna Ioannovna. He is portrayed as an elderly man, seated at a table in a posture suggesting tiredness, with his head drooping and with his wig shifted to a side. He holds a rosary in his right hand and rests on a stick with the left one. The portrait is executed in a warm colour scheme; the accessories, such as Balakirev's red caftan embroidered in silver, a still life on the table with a cup and ball toy and a cocked hat, are thoroughly delineated.

Another game very popular in the eighteenth century besides chess was draughts. Preserved in the Fortune Parlour are two sets of draughts carved of ivory by Russian craftsmen in the second half of the eighteenth century - one is arranged on the table having a folding top of three boards decorated with an inlaid maple and walnut design. Its two side boards are adorned with a pattern of triangles intended for playing backgammon, while the central board is chequered for playing draughts.

Showing a preference for draughts, Peter the Great sometimes also enjoyed playing spillikins. Displayed in the showcase is a box which contains ivory "spills" shaped as bottles, wineglasses, barrels, samovars, chessmen and other miniature objects employed in this interesting game. One of the pieces is provided with a metal hook to remove the figurines from the heap one at a time without disturbing the rest. The winner was the player who took out the largest quantity of the pieces.

Next to spillikins are table bowls or skittles produced by French craftsmen. The ball and the skittles were turned of ivory in the shape of banisters. In the same showcase is another game - dominoes, a set made in Russia at the end of the eighteenth century. It consists of twenty-eight oblong "stones" with ivory tops and wooden bottoms. They are dotted with black spots to indicate every possible numerical combination from double-blank to double-six. Dominoes were invented in China. The game was brought to Europe by Marco Polo. Later it became popular in Russia too - in the eighteenth century it was often played at the Russian court.

Also on display in the showcase is a gambling pastime, roulette (called then fortunka in Russia). The displayed set was produced by nineteenth-century Russian craftsmen. The roulette was shaped as a revolving wheel with a metal cross inside which made the small ball slide along the figure scale.

There are also various accessories for playing cards: chalk and a bead-embroidered endpiece for it, brushes for erasing notes and boxes with mother-of-pearl counters. They are decorated with gilded patterns, representations of card suit devices, hunting attributes and stylized floral ornaments.

Displayed on the card table are a pack of cards made in England in the nineteenth century and device for the card game of bezique - it is made in the shape of a wooden bar designed to inset ivory plaques indicating the number of points. All card tables have folding tabletops, the central board of which is lined with cloth to mark notes and calculations by chalk. After the end of the game these marks were erased by special brushes. Chalks, brushes and chips were put into oval recessions around the playing field.

Peter the Great did not like and rarely played card games, although he did not forbid others to enjoy them - only games for money stakes were prohibited. Playing cards became an official court pastime during the reign of Anna Ioannovna. Having lost a game, the Empress would immediately pay off and after her success she would never take money from a loser. Elizabeth Petrovna also was an enthusiastic card player - her formal portrait by an unknown painter can be seen on the east wall of the interior. In her reign playing cards was a usual pastime during balls and masquerades.

In the eighteenth century the games popular at the Russian court included Piquet, Lomber (game invented in Spain), Quadrille, Pamphil, Bank, American Boston, etc. Catherine the Great preferred to play Macao, Fortune and other not complex card games which allowed her to keep up a conversation with courtiers or foreign ministers. Next to players were standing boxes with brilliants which she used to pay off instead of money. For a loss of 9 points a diamond of 1 carat, which had the cost of 100 roubles at that time, was paid.




The Fortune Parlour.


The Fortune Parlour.
Unknown artist
of the 18th century.
Portrait of the
Jester Balakirev.



Table games
of the 18th and 19th centuries:
chips, table roulette,
spillikins and dominoes.
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