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by Tatyana MAKAROVA, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), leading expert, Institute of Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences
It is an enigma indeed - the "Crown of Monomach", now in the custody of the Armory Chamber at the Moscow Kremlin. Is it the same golden crown mentioned in the will of Ivan Kalita (1287-1340), Grand Prince of Vladimir and Prince of Moscow? Did it really belong - as the name indicates - to Vladimir Monomach (1053-1125), Grand Kievan Prince? Or is it attributed to him by legend? Did it come from the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, as Academician Nikodim Kondakov, a dean of Russian archeology, contended in the mid-19th century? Or was this crown manufactured in Cairo, according to Georgi Filimonov, a custodian of Kremlin antiquities in the late 19th century? Or maybe it was brought by the Genoese from Syria or by merchants from Central Asia, as suggested by the archeologist Alexander Spitsyn, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences? In short, there are puzzles galore...
They have persisted well into our age. "Byzantine or East?", asks Mark Kramarovsky in his work (1982); he holds that the crown came from the East. But Heinrich Bocharov claims it was "made in Moscow" (1992). Dr. Valeyeva-Suleimanova, however, says "the crowns of the Russian czars are relics of Tatar culture" (1997).
Solving the riddle of the crown of grand Russian princes and czars implied a new approach, something that was attempted by Natalia Zhilina in her new book The Cap of Monomach (Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 2001). She is the author of two other in-depth studies - Precious Stone Granulation and Filigrana in Old Rus of the 11th to 13th Centuries (1995); and The Old Russian Granulation-Filigrana Gear of the 11th to 13th Centuries (2000). These two works prodded her to undertake studies into the origin of the "Crown of Monomach", the sacred headgear of the Russian sovereigns. For this purpose Dr. Zhilina set up a laboratory to make a thorough investigation into the art of granulation (insets of gems) and filigrana (filigree, delicate ornamental work of intertwined gold or silver wire or thread).
Ms. Zhilina has studied well over 400 articles that have survived to our days from the 10th to the 13th centuries. She has reconstructed more than 100 items. Her techniques include visual and microscopic studies with the aid of x 16 magnifying glasses.
Photomicrography has made it possible to see details magnified thirtyfold and more, and identify the pattern of grain and wire as well as the style of workmanship.*
To begin with, Dr. Zhilina ascertained the style. Looking into the technique of plate manufacture, she drew up what experts call a technical certificate of filigree, i.e. a description of the techniques of grain-setting, its form and diameter, and of the insets of spherical particles obtained from die-stamped wire. She investigated the morphology of filigrana, its curls and curlicues - effaced for the most part and barely visible. Natalia Zhilina measured the density of these curls, the thickness of the ribbon and the diameters of apertures on the surface. She examined every kind of casts, or molds, for precious stones. Proceeding with her work, Ms. Zhilina took account of Dr. Spitsyn's observations - he has made a thorough study of the plate-manufacturing technique in the "Crown of Monomach".
This precious relic was part and parcel of the art of filigrana of the late Middle Ages. Dr. Zhilina has studied the style of ancient masters of the Eastern Roman Empire, of the Middle East and Western Europe. She has inspected filigree exhibits in museums and read a large body of literature in so many languages. Her diligent and meticulous work has produced concrete results - namely, data on the time and origins of filigree art in specific regions, and on the evolution of this art.
For instance, in the early Middle Ages (5th to 7th centuries) masters of Byzantine filigree made use of quite simple elements fitted into a rim or rosette. Somewhat later, in the 10th and 11th centuries, filigree filled the entire surface of decor; already at that stage commonplace coils evolved into small helical patterns at one turn and a half, which is an essential part of filigrana. The filigree art of the 12th and 13th centuries combines filigrana proper (thread or wire) with precious stones, a trend that contributed to more ornate design and what is called the cabochon style (en cabochon) in jewelry. Finally, curls turned into helices of many coils filled with minor curlicues. That was the acme of the art of filigrana. Thereupon the rigorous geometry of the cabochon style was abandoned in favor of plant-life motifs, the "vegetarian style" so-called. In the 14th and 15th centuries a happy medium was found between the "cabochon" and "vegetarian" styles. Studying the evolution of filigrana, Dr. Zhilina came to the conclusion: the filigree art of Old Rus adopted Byzantine ornamental designs.
Examining many filigree works of Western Europe, the Middle East,
* See: N. Zhilina, "Filigree under the Microscope", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2000 - Ed.
Syria and Egypt (dated to particular centuries and even decades) and noting their obvious merits, Dr. Zhilina states in her latest book: the birthplace of filigree was the Byzantine Empire, from which it spread to other regions. However, the ornate design of plants, which is present in any article of oriental workmanship, is not found in the "Crown of Monomach"; nor do we find plant-life motifs in ornaments often compared to filigree. All that made Dr. Spitsyn, years before, reject the assumption that the Crown was manufactured in the workshops of the Golden Horde.
A comparison of its filigree decor with similar specimens of Western Europe, the Middle East and the East Roman Empire invites the idea that our precious relic is of Byzantine workmanship dating from the late 12th to the late 13th century That is, it was manufactured within one century. This conclusion is confirmed by a technical study of filigree works. In Western Europe delicate high filigree (stamped or cut wire) was dominant. In the East, however, such ornaments were made by twisting two thin and narrow wires. That's the style of the "Crown of Monomach". So we can well attribute it to Byzantine workmanship.
Yet this is true of the golden plates only, not of the upper part of the crown. Nikodim Kondakov and Alexander Spitsyn thought the top was an addition made at a later day But on the other hand, the Crown's top is analogous to that of the headgear found in a treasure at Simferopol, dating from the latter half of the 14th or the early 15th century. That is why Dr. Valeyeva-Suleimanova suggested that originally the "Crown of Monomach" used to be a Turkic headdress for women.
But Dr. Zhilina begs to differ. True, the golden plates of the Crown of Monomach and its top do not conform, because the number of plates is divisible by four, while the number of casts in the application-by three. Now, what concerns the Simferopol find. Ms. Zhilina attributes the similarity with it to the fact that at the end of the 15th century Grand Prince Ivan III sent his men to the Crimea to get rubies, sapphires, pearls and other precious stones which adorn the casts of the surmount. Judging by the "Inventory of the Late-Lamented Czar Ivan Alexeyevich" (1696), these precious stones were employed to decorate the casts of the crown's upper application. The latter must have been acquired at about the same time.
During its long life this crown of the Russian grand princes and czars changed form at least on four occasions, as Dr. Zhilina proves by solid arguments. The first "mitre-like crown" was conceived and made in the
60s and 70s of the 13th century; the time of the relic was determined by the style of filigrana and the form of Byzantine crowns of the Palaeologus dynasty of East Roman emperors (the first three decades of the 13th century). At first golden plates were decorated with pearls in casts and with insets (enamel ones perhaps) in round and larger nests. Possibly the golden cross on arcuate supports of wire was connected with the pearls. The cap-band comprised a set of eight golden plates cum filigree, bent in most ornate fashion.
Next came the crown of the Moscow grand princes which was supplied with a fur cap-band and adorned with precious stones. According to casts and analogies with the decor of Russian caps, this fur-decorated cap is dated to the 15th century or thereabouts.
The third crown was in the shape of a czar's cap with a hemisphere, or "apple". By analogy with the Kazan cap of Ivan the Terrible it is related to the mid-16th century or so. From that time on the crenellated crown symbols on other headdresses of the Russian czars became a holdover of the past.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the "Crown of Monomach" lost its erstwhile designation as headgear.
And yet we cannot tell - proceeding from the date and origin of the relic - whether it was the same headdress which Prince Ivan Kalita mentioned in his will among the princely attire which he bequeathed to Ms son, Moscovian Grand Prince Simeon Ivanovich Gordy ("Proud"). Dr. Zhilina says in her book: the precious relic that has come down to us appeared in Moscow under Ivan Kalita at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. In spite of its foreign origin, the crown was not perceived as something alien in the princely apparel but was one of the headdresses of Russian sovereigns who wanted crowns like those worn by Constantinople emperors.
To prove her point, Ms. Zhilina examined images on Byzantine solids (gold coins), on silver coins of the first Russian princes (9th-10th centuries), on the inlays of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople (put up in 532-537), on the miniature of the Trier Psalter (11th century), on icons, enamel-finished works and many other items dating from the 10th to 14th centuries. Such articles often depict headgear in sufficient detail. Hence Dr. Zhilina's conclusion: The Russian national cap (kolpak) and the Byzantine crown were the prototypes of headdresses of Russian princes.
Dr. Zhilina's latest book is a substantive work done in the best of scientific tradition. It draws on contemporary evidence of history, archeology and art criticism. The author supports her thorough analysis of workmanship styles by well-documented factual evidence and thus enables an insight into ages past.
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