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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury

Museums of the Moscow Kremlin

Museums of the Moscow Kremlin

The Moscow Kremlin is the heart of the Russia capital: major thoroughfares of the city either converge on the Kremlin, or form series of concentric circles around it. The Kremlin Great Palace and Palace of Congresses are the meeting places of sessions of the congresses of people's deputies of the Russia.

Under the guidance of Academician Igor Grabar research and restoration activities began, as a result of which the Assumption, Annunciation and Archangel Michael Cathedrals, the Church of the Laying of the Virgin's Robe and the Patriarchal Palace were turned into public museums and together with the Armoury Chamber, were placed under a single management.

The collections of the Kremlin museums are unsurpassable in their variety: they comprise early Russian painting, icons, 12th - 17th century frescoes; side and firearms made by Russian, Oriental and Western European masters of the 14th - 19th centuries; carriages, sl edges, coaches and ceremonial horsecloths of the 16th - 19th centuries; Oriental carpets and Western European tapestries; articles by Russian and Western European silversmiths; household articles of the 17th and 18th centuries; illuminated manuscripts, books, porcelain, carved stone, and archaeological findings.

The Armoury was, it would appear, set up in 1511 by the Grand Prince Vasily III as a court workshop for the production and repair of Grand Ducal armaments and as a storehouse of ceremonial armour, firearms and other weapons. Due to the efforts of chasers, engravers, bone carvers and experts in niello work the Armoury gradually became the country's centre of artistic production. In the late 16th century banner and icon painting was begun there.

At the beginning of the 17th century, during the Polish-Lithuanian invasion, the Kremlin was occupied by King Sigizmund's troops, and the Armoury was plundered. The Russian irregular levy en masse which drove the invaders out in 1613 managed to recapture and return only a small proportion of the treasures. In the mid-17th century the Kremlin treasures accumulated and were housed as follows: the Treasury held all the Tsar's treasures, clothes and royal caps, vessels in gold and silver, velvets and satins in gold thread; the Cavalry Office Yield precious harnesses, saddles, coaches and horse-cloths. It is not altogether clear what the exact function of tive Masters' Chamber was, but we do know that it was responsible for embroidery work in gold. The Armoury Chamber held a collection of arms, gold and silverware and relics. In the Armoury of the 17th century they painted icons and miniatures, decorated banners and practised other kinds of artistic techniques. In the 17th century, British, German and Czech masters were invited to serve the Tsar in the Kremlin workshops, which enriched the skills of Russian masters and brought forth new artistic forms. It was then that the Silver and Gold Workshops were established (both of them became part of the Armoury later on).

In the early 18th century the importance of the Armoury as a production unit diminished. In 1711 the finest of the Kremlin masters were sent to St Petersburg. In 1726 vast quantities of historic valuables amassed over the centuries and gathered from the vaults of the workshop offices were transferred to the combined Armoury Chamber.

In the 18th century, many valuable exhibits were taken out of it on the orders of different officials. The greatest damage was inflicted by Count Potiomkin, the favourite of Catherine the Great, who had free access to the treasury, and by the end of the century the collection was considerably reduced. In 1806 the Armoury was given the status of a private court museum, which materialized, however, only as late as 1813, when the treasures evacuated on the approach of Napoleon's troops were returned to the Kremlin and displayed in a special building.

In the course of its history the Armoury more than once changed the sittings of the store-rooms for its collections. In the middle of the 19th century the Armoury received a large number of articles from the Hermitage in Leningrad and the Academy of Sciences, and also some private collections of Russian antiquities, which necessitated a new, more spacious building - hence the Grand Kremlin Palace was erected. It was designed by the architect K. Thon. The Armoury building built from his design in 1844 - 51 comprises nine exhibition halls: six rectangular shaped, two semicircular and one round - the main hall. For the interior decoration Thon used 58 basreliefs depicting grand princes and tsars, made in the 18th century by Fedot Shubin.

After the October Revolution the Armoury turned from a court "storehouse" into a national museum of the history of arts. Works of art from the Kremlin monasteries and cathedrals, from the Patriarchal Palace and the Palace store-rooms were sent over to the Armoury. Simultaneously, 18th and 19th century household articles of the royal family of little artistic value were being removed from the collection, but in spite of this it grew three times as large. The growth of the museum made it necessary to give a thorough study to the collections and to start research activities. The Armoury became a research institute, and its publications are world famous.

Most of the monuments of the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries Russian art were lost in the period of civil strife, during the Tatar domination and the Lithuanian and Polish invasions. Rare pieces of the pre-Mongolian period are concentrated mostly in the Armoury. Regalia of the Grand Princes, known as the Old Ryazan Treasure, stands out by its splendour and finesse typical of the Kievan Russian style. These items, buried underground at the approach of Tatar troops which destroyed the town Old Ryazan in 1237, were discovered by chance in the early nineteenth century. The Old Ryazan Treasure consists of barmy (yoke) - necklaces made of pendants. The surface of the gold medallions is covered by a fine design in thin gold thread. The beauty of the pattern is intensified by golden drops - the so-called zern, or granulation work, - as well as blue sapphires, green emeralds and red almandites. In the centre of each medallion there is an image of a saint executed in cloisonne enamel. Still more beautiful are the kolts - big round pendants - worn as part of a headdress on ceremonial occasions. The kolts of the Old Ryazan Treasure are two-sided: their obverses are adorned with miniature images of the saints in cloisonne enamel, the reverses are covered with a thick layer of many-tiered filigree making a beautiful design, and are inset with gems in large clusters. Another treasure of that epoch is a silver chalice.

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