Nino Chavchavadze (1812-1857)
Nino Chavchavadze was stately, dark-haired, and dark-eyed, and attracted considerable attention for her beauty and charm. One of the literary essays about Nino Chavchavadze reads: "Nino was an incomparable musician, singer, and dancer; director and participant of family performances; artist; [a] magnificent embroider [and] rider; and a true lover of literature. At first sight, she charmed women and men of all ages and ethnicities—Georgian, Asian, Russian and European."
Nino was born in Tbilisi on November 4, 1812. Her birth was celebrated with a feast in the Chavchavadze family. In commemoration of her birth, her father Alexandre stored wine in a special amphora to be opened at Nino’s wedding party.
Nino received her initial education at home. Later, she attended a famous private boarding school in the St. Petersburg home of Praskovya Nikolaevna Arsenyeva Akhverdova. Praskovya Akhverdova’s school attracted children of many noble families, and played an important role in Nino’s life as well as the lives of her siblings. Here, they received a general education, studied foreign languages, learned to draw, and received a variety of special lessons. In addition to her activities as an educator, Praskovya Akhverdova—a strong minded, commanding presence—hosted meetings in the 1810s and 1820s where ideas were exchanged among public figures, writers, and other Georgian, Russian, and European intellectuals. (Alexandre Chavchavadze’s homes in Tbilisi and at Tsinandali served a similar function as centers for cultural and intellectual exchange.)
Marriage to Alexandre Griboedov
Nino met her husband, the Russian poet Alexandre Griboedov (1795-1829), at Praskovya Akhverdova’s school. Griboedov was a man of formidable intellect and extraordinary educational achievement. He was accepted to prestigious Moscow University, and began studies in the Department of Letters at the University, receiving the academic degree of Candidate of Sciences in 1812. He continued his studies at the Faculty of Law, from which he graduated with the academic degree of Candidate of Legal Sciences. He then embarked on a career in the Russian diplomatic service, which sent him to Persia in 1813. Along the way, he learned several foreign languages (including French, German, English, Italian, Arabic, and Persian) and wrote poetry, plays, and music.
Griboedov was a close friend of the Akhverdovas, and through them had established ties with the Chavchavadzes. Praskovya Akhverdova’s daughter, Darya Akhverdova, later related, "Alexandre Griboedov singled out Nino Chavchavadze. He taught her music, spoke to her in French and studied Georgian. Sometimes they rode horses together." Little by little, their friendship developed into an affectionate relationship and finally into love and marriage.
Nino Chavchavadze and Alexandre Griboedov married in Sioni Cathedral on August 22, 1828. The ceremonial feast continued at the Tsinandali estate, where the Chavchavadze family spent its summers. There Alexandre Chavchavadze opened the wine he had placed in storage sixteen years earlier for Nino’s wedding.
The newly-married couple spent a lot of time at Tsinandali, where they organized and hosted elegant soirees, and pursued a shared interest in music. Nino was an excellent pianist and singer, and learned to perform a number of Alexandre’s musical works, which she sometimes played for guests. The couple liked to walk in Tsinandali’s gardens, particularly along the shaded lane referred to as "Love." They could often be seen sitting and conversing on a loveseat along this path.
When his responsibilities required Alexandre to travel to the East or to his home town of St. Petersburg, he found it hard to leave his spouse and Georgia. In one letter, he promised his wife that as soon he completed his diplomatic mission in Persia, the couple would settle down at Tsinandali.
Unfortunately, the happy times Nino and Alexandre spent together as a married couple lasted just a few months. In 1828—four months after their marriage, and with Nino expecting a child—Griboedov traveled to Persia once again. In February, 1829, he was assassinated in Tehran, a victim of violent anti-Russian sentiment in Persian at the time. Ominously, Alexandre had previously instructed his wife, "If I die in Persia, do not leave my body there. Bury me at St. David’s Monastery in Tbilisi." The death of her husband affected Nino deeply; the day after she received the tragic news, she prematurely gave birth to a son who lived only a few hours.
On July 13, 1829, Alexandre Griboedov’s body was buried in the Mtatsminda churchyard of St. David’s Monastery in Tbilisi. Nino had the following words engraved on the gravestone: "Your thoughts and deeds remain eternally in the memory of Russians, but why did my love for thee outlive thee?" Nino later told her sister’s husband, David Dadiani:
I could never imagine a happiness greater than my love for Alexandre Griboedov. But alas, this love was kidnapped from me, and my happiness followed. My love is buried on Mtatsminda Hill, and my heart, still burning in love, lies in my husband’s grave. When this love disappears, I will also die physically and morally. There are many who cannot imagine this. They surprise me. They have probably never loved and cannot love anybody.
After Alexandre Griboedov’s Death
Although only 16 at the time of Alexandre’s death and still surrounded by a great many admirers, Nino never remarried. Instead, she turned her attention to family, friends, and people in need.
After her parents’ deaths in 1846 and 1847, Nino managed the entire household. When her sister Ekaterine married, she reared her younger sister, Sophio, who was ten years old at the time. As her brother David’s children matured, she became their governess. She also continued to conduct official and artistic soirees at the Chavchavadze salon in Tbilisi, as well as at the palace of the Governor of Georgia.
Materials recently published discuss her involvement in affairs of state, including the administration of the province of Samegrelo (often referred to as Mingrelia) when her sister Ekaterine was Queen of Samegrelo. For example, Muravyov Karski, the Governor of Georgia, who visited Samegrelo in 1854, wrote: "Nino Chavchavadze has accomplished a great deal for the welfare of Samegrelo. When Turkey invaded the area and Omar Pasha’s army was opposed by the Megrelian popular militia, Nino Chavchavadze stayed at the front line with her sister." When the Russian Imperial Court decided to abolish the Megrelian Princedom, the Russian government requested Nino’s assistance in persuading Ekaterine to surrender.
While in Mingrelia, Nino took an interest in improving public health, selecting 41 women to become nurses, and designing and organizing an educational program for them. Her tireless efforts in this cause extended well beyond instruction and administration, to details such sewing white uniforms for the nurses and embroidering red crosses on their hats.
Nino also contributed greatly to the publication of Alexandre Griboedov’s works, which have come to be seen as precious contributions to Russia’s literary heritage. Her efforts were stimulated not only by her devotion to the memory of her husband, but also by her love of literature and her sincere conviction that his works deserved greater attention.
Writings left by many of her contemporaries attest to the love and esteem in which Nino was held. Words such as "perfect," "angelic," and "kind" appear frequently, and one account even refers to her as a "guardian angel, respected by all from the Vice Regent to ordinary citizens." David Eristavi; a Georgian noble, agreed, noting, "People of very diverse [classes], thoughts, and ideas were unanimous in recognizing that Nino Chavchavadze was an ideal woman." Russian Admiral Siniavin simply stated, "Nobody can compare to her."
In 1857, Nino Chavchavadze died of malaria in Tbilisi. According to her wish, she was buried beside her husband on Mtatsminda Hill. Flowers are often placed near her grave, as a testament to the love and respect that she continues to command among Georgians.
- Balakhashvili, Jacob. Griboedovi da Nino Chavchavadze [Griboedov and Nino Chavchavadze].Tbilisi: Sabchota Sakhartvelo, 1966.
- Chikovani, Iuri. Tavadi Chavchavadzeebi [Nobles Chavchavadzes] Tbilisi: Artanuji, 2002.
- Meunargia, Iona. Debi Chavchavadzeebi [Sisters Chavchavadzes]. Journal: Amarta No: 7. Tbilisi: 2002.
- Natsarashvili, Otar, Kakhetis gamochenili adamianebi [Famous persons of Kakheti]. Tbilisi: Merani, 2001.
- S.V.Dumin., and Y.K.Chikovani., ed. Dvorianskie Rodi Rossiiskoi Imperii [Ancestral Princedoms of the Russian Empire], vol.VI, Moscow: Licominvest, 1998
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