Russian prince designs watch using own blood – to show his ‘dual identities’ as artist and royal
- Prince Rostislav Romanov designed a watch using a drop of his own blood to commemorate the assassination of his ancestors during the Russian Revolution.
- Rostislav - a British-Russian painter who resides in the UK - said the experience highlighted the "conundrum at the core of the dual identities of artist and prince."
- The watch was a controversial move, especially for a royal. He said it allowed him to "push boundaries" that most princes would avoid.
- Rostislav spoke to Insider about how he navigates life as both a prince and an artist.
- For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
If you were to bump into Prince Rostislav on the street, you'd be forgiven for not knowing who he is.
Most likely to be seen wearing a beanie and a pair of paint-splattered overalls, the British-Russian prince's natural habitat isn't a royal palace. It's his art studio.
He describes himself on Instagram as an "artist who strives to capture the beauty and strangeness of the world and beyond."
His feed rings true to that depiction, with paintings, information about upcoming exhibitions, cute dog photos, and the occasional snap of his son, Leon. There's no use of his royal title, or mention of his connection to the royal family who were brutally assassinated during the Russian Revolution in 1918.
He may not regularly broadcast it to the world, but Rostislav - great-grandson of Grand Duchess Xenia - is proud of his royal roots.
The prince even designed a watch using his own blood in 2017, to commemorate a century since the execution of his ancestors.
Rostislav spoke to Insider about the controversial design - and about how he navigates life as both an artist and a prince.
The surviving members of the Russian royal family are 'the world's best-kept secret'
The year 2018 marked a century since Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, and their children were executed, after more than a year of being held captive by the Bolshevik secret police.
Rostislav decided to mark the anniversary with the design of a special watch in collaboration with Russian watch brand Raketa. The watch, which features the family crest, also includes a drop of the prince's blood in the dial to symbolise the blood spilled during the Revolution.
"I think we can all agree that an artist must experiment and take risks," Rostislav told Insider. "The role of Prince is a perfect juxtaposition to this.
"A prince is judged on how well he personifies a code of conduct that is deeply traditional and conservative ... a prince cannot push boundaries."
Rostislav added that while some people loved the watch, "others were offended." No matter the public opinion though, he said it won't stop him from taking similar creative risks in the future.
"I will not always get it right, but I am committed to trying,' he said. "It highlights the conundrum at the core of the dual identities of artist and prince."
It's been two years since the design was unveiled, and yet there are likely some royal watchers who aren't aware of its existence. Rostislav doesn't draw attention to the watch on his website or on social media, the same way he doesn't make reference to his royal title.
- "Sometimes I think that the surviving Romanoffs are the world's best-kept secret - I have been told so many times that the Romanoff family have all perished during the Revolution," he said.
"People are very attached to their version of history, and certainly there is an enduring fascination with my family.
"I do not shy away from my title, but it is rather obvious with my surname, either there is a history there, or a pretension. I like the idea that it's up to each individual to follow the breadcrumbs and piece together the story," he added.
Rostislav was 'mercilessly teased' about being a prince during his school days
It wasn't always an easy path to art. Nor was it easy to accept these "dual identities" the prince speaks of.
Rostislav spent his childhood in the East Sussex countryside in England. Being far from his family's home country allowed him to detach, and form an identity of his own.
This was especially the case when he enrolled at Milton Abbey boarding school and started to surround himself with peers who weren't impressed by his royal title and status.
- "I don't think anyone gave a second thought to my title once they got to know me," Rostislav said. "In fact, I seem to remember being mercilessly teased about it.
"My wife and friends still call me 'the artist formally known as prince.'"
Of course, at this point in time, Rostislav wasn't an artist - and he didn't become one until after the death of his father in 1999.
Rostislav, who was just 13 at the time, says he was "affected deeply" by the loss.
He was encouraged to channel his grief into painting. Mentored by his school teacher, the hobby went from being a lifeline, a passion - to something that would change his life.
Art ultimately led Rostislav to Russia. Despite his family history, the prince had never lived there before and had only visited once. He ended up staying there from 2009 until 2012, when he returned to the UK.
"I was the first member of my family to return and live back home," Rostislav said. "Russian history and culture have had a tremendous influence on my work.
"I am fascinated by Russian folk art, the colours, music, and literature. It really speaks straight to my soul.
"Whenever I have the opportunity I return home - not just Moscow and St Petersburg, I like to travel extensively to the far off corners of the country. It has been more challenging recently as I have struggled with poor health, but I am recovering and hope to travel again soon. I can't wait to show my son," he said.
- These days, Rostislav resides in the UK with his wife and son, where he continues to work on his art. There isn't another blood watch in the pipeline (that we know of), but the prince is currently working on some other exciting projects, including providing the illustrations for two books of Russian tales.
And, of course, he gives updates on Instagram along the way.
"I want, and hope, that my work is louder than my title," he said.
"I did not choose to be a prince but I have chosen to be an artist - I realise now that for me these identities are not separate.
"At the end of the day, why is it important on Instagram? It is a visual platform for people to consume visual stimuli; a title is not visually interesting," he added.
"People may follow me because of my name and title, but I hope they stay for the art."
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