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by Anna SAVVINA, Cand. Sc. (History), Moscow Kremlin Museums

The exhibition "Emperors and the Armory Chamber" was certainly a cynosure and major attraction of the jubilee festivities on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Moscow Kremlin memorial compound.

The Armory Chamber is a treasure-house of many precious relics of Russian history and art, the woof and fabric of our national identity.

The exhibition was in two parts-one featuring the eighteenth century (the prehistory of the Armory Chamber museum), and the other, the nineteenth century, when the Armory Chamber took body and form as a national museum. The first exposition was housed in the Unipillar Chamber of the 17th-century Patriarchal Palace whose low vaults supported by a central pillar (column) put us in mind of the semi-basements of cathedrals, the Exchequer Court, the Faceted Chamber and other landmarks of the Moscow Kremlin, which for centuries had been a depositary of the treasures of Russian czars and princes. The other part of the memorial exhibition high-

One of the items employed in the funeral ceremony for Emperor Peter I in St. Petersburg.

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lighted the coming to be of the Armory Chamber as a museum institution (1806 - 1917), and it was laid out in the exhibition hall of the Dormition Belfry similar in architecture to the buildings put up for the Armory Chamber repositories.

The first thing that our guests could see there were the exhibits on Czar Peter I (Peter the Great, who ruled in 1689 to 1725 and became the first Russian emperor of the Romanov dynasty). Even though born and raised on the grounds of the Moscow Kremlin, for a long time he showed but little regard for the relics in custody there. Only upon his return from his European voyage in 1701 the young monarch displayed interest and ordered to take inventory of the Kremlin treasures, probably acting under the impression of what he had seen in the alien parts, particularly, the careful attitude to historical articles of the past.* Yet during the long Northern War against Sweden (1700 - 1721) he felt like selling a significant part of the Armory Chamber collections for the needs of the army. But Pyotr Prozorovsky, the custodian, bound by the pledge he had given to Czar Alexei Mikhailovich, Peter I's father, managed to preserve the rarities and donated his own money to the coffers, and the grateful czar, abiding by a good venerable tradition, presented him with a royal goblet now displayed at the memorial exposition. In 1718 the precious relics were first put on display in the workshops of the Chamber of the Exchequer-they were placed within glass showcases, the forerunners of present-day exhibition cases. This way Peter the Great acted on his desire to make the royal treasure-house into a European-style museum.

The Armory Chamber was in for a significant addition to its collection during Peter I's reign. Our guests can see his caftan, or a long loose overcoat that he donated in 1705 together with other articles of clothing kept in the Preobrazhensky (Transfiguration) Palace, his badge of the commander of the Preobrazhensky Regiment as well as flagstaff-heads which came from the war booty seized during the epic Battle of Poltava fought against the Swedish host in 1709.

In 1724 the Armory Chamber lent a scepter and orb to Peter's wife, Yekaterina, for this country's first imperial coronation ceremony (in 1725 she succeeded Peter the Great as a reigning empress under the name of Catherine I). A special medal was coined to commemorate the event. The art of medal-coining was taking its first steps in Russia then. The Armory Chamber has the custody of like medals.

Our guests could also take a look at items of the precious equestrian trappings (from the Equestrian Treasury that provided such accessories to Moscovite rulers) employed in the burial procession for the deceased Emperor Peter I early in 1725. Such richly ornamented paraphernalia-manufactured by Kremlin masters or brought in by foreign merchants and diplomats - accompanied Russian czars on their war campaigns and on troop reviews, and during receptions of foreign ambassadors. Side by side with these items is a Turkish dagger, a posh blade that saw off the late Catherine I to her last home in 1727.

Caftan a la russe. Moscow Kremlin workshops. Last quarter of the 17th century.


*See: V. Belov, "In Search of a Russian Europe", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1994. - Ed.

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Helmet (Russia, turn of the 12th-13th cent).

Turkish konchar (dirk)and its sheath (Turkey, 17th cent).

A pernat (pernach) staff, a warlord's symbol of power (Turkey, 17th-18th cent).

Empress Anna Ivanovna, who came to the throne in 1730, visited the Armory Chamber before her coronation to pick precious items for the forthcoming ritual. Throughout her reign (1730 - 1740) she continued to show interest to the point of listing the available collections and augmenting the stock. Only superb, most precious articles should be selected, she deemed, "curiosities" or those of "exquisite workmanship". The imperatrix ordered renovation works in the treasury and added much to its stock, and had exhibits enclosed within cases and on shelves with "mica little windows", out of reach and touch for viewers. - See-but-not-touch-exhibits! Documents of her reign mention visits to the Armory Chamber by big-name guests.

The Armory Chamber saw big changes during the reign of Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna (Elizabeth), who ruled in 1741 to 1761. Chosen for her coronation ceremony among the official regalia was a sword, one of the best in the thesaurus of Moscovite czars which had been in custody there from the 1680s; judging by its decor, the sword was intended for solemn and ceremonial occasions. As many as 136,258 high-born guests and "people of other ranks, except the low-born", could inspect it within two weeks.

The remarkable mementoes of that age include the czarine's grenadier cap, her officer's badge and full-dress supervest (a uniform worn by horse-guardsmen). Donning the same attire were 68 Leib-Companians who brought Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, to the throne in a palace coup. The uniform was adorned with large stars of the Order of St. Andrew-the-First-Called, embroidered with metal and silken threads.* The fixings include a felt hat supplied with red rooster plumes, a sword-belt, two cross-belts embellished with crimson velvet and golden galloon bearing an ornamental pattern, the emblem of the Preobrazhensky (Transfiguration) Regiment. In December 1741 its grenadier company was upgraded into an elite military corps, the Leib-Company (Leib-Compania); in memory of the momentous event palace coup Empress Elizabeth instituted a holiday of November 25, and every year the czarina put on her captain's uniform (of the Preobrazhensky Regiment) and hosted the guardsmen to festive dinner.

Soon after her coronation Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great, ruled in 1762 to 1796) had a gorgeous display of state regalia and precious articles that could be seen by 122,138 guests.** Toward the close of 1770 permanent showcases were set up in the Kremlin's Chamber of the Exchequer. Items kept in the dynastic treasure-house were taken out time and again for high-society amusements. For


* See: V. Durov, "For Faith and Loyalty", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1995. - Ed.

** See: O. Omelchenko, "For Russia's Good", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2004. - Ed.

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instance, spiked helmets, coats of mails, pieces of armour, Jericho hats, pole-axes and other kinds of weaponry livened up the court "masquerade" staged in 1763. On another gala occasion in 1766, the carousel (court tournament and joust of knights), the royal treasury had to supply a large number of costly equestrian trappings, saddles and other items for the fun. Meanwhile, more treasures flowed in, such as the saddle and stirrups from a set of formal equestrian accouter-ments which the Turkish sultan, Abdul-Gamid I, presented as a gift to the Russian Empress on the occasion of the peace treaty of 1774 between Russia and Turken. Next to these regalia is a portrait of Prince Grigori Potyomkin of Tauris, an eminent statesman of the day and hero of Russo-Turkish campaigns, who in 1775 took charge of the Armory Chamber as warden and held this post for 16 years.*

The new nineteenth century was rife with change in many ways with the ascension to the throne of Alexander I (ruled in 1801 to 1825). Big changes were in store for the Armory Chamber, too, all the more so as it needed new premises and renovation of the old ones. Its collections had to be put in order and itemized. The exhibits shown in the Dormition Belfry hall called up the atmosphere of those days.

Emperor Alexander I showed much concern for the condition of the Armory Chamber. In March 1805 it got a new superintendent in the person of Pyotr Valuyev, a highly motivated and efficient individual who was also superintending the Kremlin grounds as well as the palatial buildings and property there. He was in charge of restoration and construction works, too. The man found wherewithal for the building of a new edifice for the Armory, and in 1806 he came up with "Regulations" for the management of stock collecting, inventory taking and repairs. All the articles had to be listed and entered into catalogs. The emperor ordered that only pieces "worthy of respect, remarkable for their antiquity or workmanship" should be picked for the collections.

The following year (1806) the first illustrated catalog of state regalia kept in the stock of the Armory Chamber was off the press. It was compiled by Alexei Malinovsky, head of the Moscow-based archives of the Foreign Office and honorary board member of the Armory. In keeping with Alexander I's desire, who sought to enlist public support for H.M. armony museum, the catalog promulgated the name of the first donor, Princess Yekaterina Dashkova, who made a gift of "two tables of emerald matrices"**. Her example was emulated by such famous collectors as Alexei Musin-Pushkin (historian and archeographer). Andrei Osterman (statesman and diplomat).

One of the major articles contributed to the museum during Alexander I's reign was the helmet and pieces of the shirt of mail worn by Yaroslavl Vsevolodovich (Prince of

The full-dress supervest uniform worn by horse-guardsmen (Russia, anno 1742).

Powder-flask (Moscow Kremlin workshops, 17th cent.).


See: V. Lopatin, "Potyomkin Villages", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2001.

** Matrix (pi. matrices) - here mother (parent, source) rock enclosing a precious mineral. M. is otherwise known as the vein or lode rock. - Ed.

стр. 77


Saddle and stirrups (Turkey, 18th cent).

стр. 78


Prince Grigori Potyomkin of Tauris (St. Petersburg, 1790).

A snuffbox fitted into a shell (Russia, latter half of the 18th cent).

The gold medallion with locks of hair of CzarAlexei Mikhailovich (18th cent). The inscription on the upper edge: "Zar Alexei Michaiovitsch".

стр. 79


The old building of the Armory Chamber in the Moscow Kremlin (the sketch is attributed to artist P. Gerassimov, early 19th cent)

Vladimir in 1236 - 1238, and Kievan Prince in 1238 - 1246), son to Prince Vsevolod the Big Nest ruling in Vladimir; the relics were recovered by peasants on the site of the Battle of Lipetsk fought by Vsevolod's heirs in 1216. Yet another remarkable exhibit on display-the manuscript penned by the prose writer and historian Nikolai Karamzin, another honorary board member of the Armory Chamber and also honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, who dug into the Armory's collections as the author of the fundamental work History of the Russian State (1818 - 1826).

A new edifice was erected for the Armory Chamber in 1809, the first museum building in Moscow to grace the Cathedral Square in the Kremlin and, according to contemporaries, "not inferior to the Arsenal founded by Peter the Great and to the Senate either in stature or magnificence." Unfortunately this building was pulled down to clear the ground for the Kremlin Palace of Congresses (1959 - 1961). This truly palatial structure is immortalized in the water colors attributed to the 10th-century artist Pyotr Gerassimov. That's all that remains of it.

During the Patriotic War of 1812 (as Napoleon invaded Russia and seized Moscow for a while), the stock of the Armory Chamber was moved east to Nizhni Novgorod. After the victory, when Napoleon was expelled from Moscow and Russia, the Armory came back to the Kremlin, to the new edifice decorated, both within and without, with the images of Russian rulers and other personalities who made our history; there were pictorial sketches of national history as well. Laid out indoors was an exposition permeated with patriotic verve and spirit, and inculcating the merits of autocratic rule. Put on display were state regalia, war trophies, personal memorabilia of czars and emperors, including lockets with locks of their hair.

Nikolai I (Nicholas I, 1825 - 1855), who succeeded his brother Alexander I on the throne in 1825, likewise set great store by the Armory Chamber: in his opinion, this dynastic treasurestore instilled the idea of the ever-lasting stability of autocracy, historically it was the only correct path of Russia's body politic. The emperor's hobby of arms collecting certainly influenced the choice of articles for the museum. In some instances he became personally involved in

стр. 80


A sheathed saber and belt (Russia, 17th cent).

Empress Catherine H's quill (France(?), latter half of the 18th cent).

selecting collections of war relics, e.g. started a collection related to Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, who captained troops to liberate Moscow during the Polish-Swedish invasion of 1612. More items replenished this collection in the succeeding twenty years.

In 1827, following long talks with Countess Dmitrieva-Mamontova (of the Pozharsky kin) the Armory museum obtained Pozharsky's standard that had been kept in a village church at Purekh of the Nizhni Novgorod province (that village was granted to the prince for his feat in chasing the invaders out of Moscow). Emperor Nikolai presented the countess with a diamond fermoir, or necklace clasp, as a token of his appreciation. Prince Pozharsky's saber came to the Kremlin museum only in 1850 from the Solovki (Solovetsky) Monastery up in the Far North.

In 1831 the Armory got a welcome addition in what was described as "the Ryazan treasure", the gold princely pendants and barmas, the small shoulder mantles of precious decor worn by Moscovite princes. These finds were dug up by a peasant, Yermolayev by name, in 1822 on the site of the old town of Ryazan south of Moscow. These valuable relics made by craftsmen of Old Russia were allotted pride of place in the Armory's exposition and were always displayed side by side with the state regalia.

In the mid-19th century the Armory Chamber added to its collections again-a set of antiquities donated by Mikhail Pogodin (historian and writer elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1841) and Pavel Korobanov, an eminent collector of the day; their "home museums" were known all over Moscow.

Published in those years was a gorgeously illustrated album, Antiquities of the State of Russia, a descriptive compendium of more than 500 historical and cultural relics, mostly from the Armory's stock. Among the compilers of this edition were Mikhail Zagoskin (writer, historian and director of the Armory Chamber, honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences) and Moscow University professors, including Mikhail Pogodin).

To lend more weight and significance to the Armory Chamber as a storehouse of dynastic, court relics Nikolai I ordered to put up another edifice for it, which was to match the architectural ensemble of the Grand Kremlin Palace, the Moscow residence of Russian emperors (Russia had its capital in St. Petersburg then). This work was commissioned to architect Konstantin Ton known as the mastermind of the "Russo-Byzantine" style. Erected in 1851, the new palatial building offered nine exhibition halls. Five, located above the ground floor, made up a suite connected to the Grand Kremlin Palace The magnificence of tall sunlit halls was meant to accentuate the articles on display there, while medallion portraits of marble (sculptor, Feodor

стр. 81


Barma shoulder mantles (late 12th-early 13th cent). Gold, precious stones, gems.

Dolls (Russia, turn of the 18th-19th cent).

Shubin) demonstrated continuity in the line of succession to the crown.

The State Banner (Panir) used to be a mandatory appurtenance at coronation ceremonies from 1742 (coronation of Elizabeth) to 1826 (coronation of Nicholas I). A new standard was manufactured for the coronation of the next emperor, Alexander II (ruled in 1855 to 1881), which came to be deposited in the Trophy Hall of the Armory Chamber.

In the meantime the Armory Chamber got another building, this time outside the Kremlin grounds, in the Boyar Romanovs' Chambers at Zaryadye, a block of buildings steps away from the Kremlin to the east. Emperor Alexander II supervised in person the restoration works there at the initial stage. Quite a few memorabilia were picked out then and there, like an oval looking glass that belonged to Czarina Yevdokia Lukianovna and that, together with gifts from the Turkish Sultan Murad IV, was brought by the Russian ambassador in Turkey Foma Kantakuzin; two rag dolls in Russian national dresses from M. Pogodin's collection-the rarest specimens of toys in great popularity in Russia for centuries.

стр. 82


Consecration of the State Standard in the Kremlin during the coronation of Alexander II in 1856 (woodcut, 1881).

There came a landmark event for the Armory museum-it participated in the World Fair in Paris, France, and merited a medal.

The reform implemented by the next emperor of the Romanov dynasty, Alexander III (ruled in 1881 - 1894)* in January 1886 had a negative effect on the activities of the Armory Chamber: its staff was cut down to two only, who had to do all the job. This lackluster situation continued for decades. The number of items added to the stock upon Alexander Ill's coronation includes a dalmatic, part of the garb of a coat-of-arms bearer who attended the ritual.

Masquerades continued as an important event of beau monde soirees, though not costumed any more as of the mid-19th century. The most august persons attended them now and then. In 1903 the high-society public was amazed when Nikolai II (Nicholas II, the last Russian emperor ruling in 1894 to 1917) showed up at one such rout in the Hermitage Theater of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg dressed up in an old-style "czarist attire". His apparel was adorned with the jewels of his ancestors of the 16th and 17th century, while in his hands he held a scepter of the Moscow Czar Alexei Mikhailovich (ruled in 1645 to 1676) brought by a Greek merchant, Ivan Anastasov, from Istanbul in 1658. After that extravaganza these relics were passed to the Armory Chamber.

There came a lull in the museum's activities during the First World War (1914 - 1918). Its halls took in collections evacuated from the Hermitage Museum in Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was named in 1914 - 1924), and from the chambers of His Majesty's Cabinet that had the custody of state regalia, crown jewelry and precious items owned by the most august family.

The entries in the Visitors' Book in 1861 to 1917 are an eloquent proof of the steady interest of the public in the Armory Chamber and its collections. Its opening pages were reserved for autographs of H. M. House and ruling dynasties of other countries; next came prominent artists, writers, statesmen, army officers, priests and merchants as well as common people from the other walks of life with a passion for the arts, and avid to learn more about the history of their dear country.


* See: O. Barkovets, A. Krylov, "Thirteen Years of the 13th Emperor", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1995. - Ed.


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