Having occupied Moscow at the head of the Grande Armée and moved into Tsar Alexander’s apartments in the Kremlin, the Emperor awoke early on 16 September, 1812, to find a raging conflagration set by arsonists determined to deny the French the spoils of victory. It was said that the fires were so intense, the light was nearly as bright as if it were midday.
The inspirations for this small box diorama were two-fold. First, I wanted to see if I could create a compact, single-figure box like my amigo and this site's co-editor Barry Biediger. Second, I'd recently read all three volumes of Alexander Mikaberidze's excellent account of Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign in 1812, and was particularly struck by the potential for drama and interesting lighting effects in portraying his surprise in rising on the first morning of his occupation of Moscow to find the city in flames.
As always, the scene started with some careful planning and determining of sight lines. Once I settled on the size of the corner of the room I wanted to portray, I built and primed the walls and window and began using a naked Historex "Adam" figure from the spares box to check the positioning. I began working with the lights from the start, earlier than usual even, because I needed to see if I could pull off the effect I wanted with the lighting from the fire casting a shadow of the Emperor on the portrait of Alexander. (Otherwise, the whole point of the diorama would be moot.) As usual, I worked with LEDs from my favorite supplier, Evan Designs, which recently added a line of cool "flickering" LEDs that create a wonderful scale "fire" effect.
In the photos, above, you can see that I've started working with the wire dummy of what will become my permanent figure of the emperor in his nightshirt. I can't remember where the white metal head came from, but the hands and feet are Historex resin. For the backdrop of a fiery Moscow visible through the window, I happened to find a great photo of one of the few surviving parts of the Kremlin from Napoleon's time in the city that actually caught fire a few years back! Photoshop helped crop and blur out the modern firefighting equipment visible at the edges of the image.
The room and the figure come together. Sometimes, I swear I'm colorblind, and Barry helped me pick the colors for the Czar's apartment. (I did a lot of research on rooms in the Kremlin that date to the early 1800s, but very few remain. Existing images did give some idea of the filigree, at least.) You can see I originally thought I'd have the emperor in the familiar "hand in vest" pose, but I tried countless variations of his stance before settling on something else down the line. Nothing quite looked right!
The room is nearly finished, and the lights are working well (in the end, I used a combination of yellow and orange flickering LEDs and a number of red and yellow solid LEDs, plus a few "cheater" spots on the reveal). Finally, you can see the end result inside its frame. The box was still considerably larger than any Barry built, but it was small enough to fit under the seat in the plane when I took it to the MFCA show in May 2015, and I'm happy to say it claimed a gold medal!