On April 11 (23), 1857 Emperor Alexander II approved the detailed description of the State emblem and seal.
Double-headed eagle became the Russian state symbol at the end of the 15th century. The emblem’s composition and design had been changed repeatedly during the centuries.
The images of the double-headed eagle in the first half of the 19th century were quite various. It could bear one or three crowns, hold a scepter and orb, a wreath or Peroun, a torch in its claws; with raised or spread wings.
During the reign of Nikolai I two types of the state eagle were officially established. One had spread wings, bore one crown over two heads, a sacred image of St. George on his chest and scepter and orb in his claws. The second type had raised wings with titular emblems on them: emblem of Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia on the right one; of Poland, Taurida and Finland – on the left.
In 1856 in the course of heraldic reform conducted under the guidance of Baron Bernhard Kohne the type of the state eagle was changed under the influence of German models. At the same time the direction of St. George image on the eagle’s chest was turned to the right in accordance with the West-European rules of heraldic. The design of the Lesser Emblem of Russia was made by artist Alexander Fadeyev and approved by the Emperor on December 8 (20), 1856. This variant of the emblem differed from the previous ones not only by the eagle’s design but also by the number of titular emblems on its wings. The right wing bore the shields with emblems of Kazan, Poland, Chersonesos Taurica and the united emblem of Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod; the left wing contained the shields with the emblems of Astrakhan, Siberia, Georgia and Finland.
On April 11 (23), 1857 the Emperor approved the whole set of emblems: the Great one, the Middle one and the Lesser State Emblem; titular coats of arms of the Emperor’s family members and the patrimonial coat of arms of the Emperor. Also approved were the designs of the Great, Middle and Lesser State Seals, seals boxes and the seals of higher and lower offices and persons. The Minor State Emblem – the double-headed eagle with all the attributes –was the one for general use. The Great and Middle Emblems represented complicated compositions with the Lesser Emblem at the center of it and the emblems of all the lands under the Emperor’s title around it including other supplementary elements (holders for shields, pedestal, etc.). These two Emblems were used in particular cases of especial importance.
On May 31 (June 12), 1857 the Senate issued the Decree with the description of the new Emblems and norms for their use. In total the document approved of 110 designs lithographed by the artist A. K. Beggrov. The act was followed by a series of other acts establishing new models of the State Emblem. At that time appeared the first stamp with the double-headed eagle on it.
The State Emblem of Russia adopted in 1857 remained practically unchanged up to 1917.
Coat of arms of Russia, approved in 1857, largely remained unchanged until 1917. After the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Central Executive Committee approved the draft of a new national emblem.
Lit.: Большой герб Российской империи (1857). [Электронный ресурс] // Геральдика.ру. 1999-2015. URL: http://geraldika.ru/symbols/2154; Вилинбахов Г. В. Государственный герб России. 500 лет. СПб., 1997; Вилинбахов Г. В. Родословная российского герба // Родина. 1993. № 1; Полное собрание законов Российской Империи. Собрание 2-е. Т. 32 (1857). № 31720. СПб., 1858.
Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:
Государственная печать; государственный меч // Обстоятельное описание торжественных порядков... священнейшаго коронования ея августейшаго императорскаго величества... государыни императрицы Елисавет Петровны. СПб., 1744 ;