Ivan III became Grand Prince of Moscow in the mid-15th century. When he died in 1505, the territory he ruled had tripled in size and he was called the “gatherer of all Russians.”
A new exhibit at the Kremlin Museum looks at “the person who practically created the Russian state,” according to curator Tatyana Samoilova.
Ivan III ruled not long after the fall of Constantinople, when Moscow was first called the “Third Rome.” He took the first steps to unite the country, battling and subduing the principalities that prospered outside Moscow. He also invited Italian architects to work in the Kremlin, where they built the Annunciation and the Dormition cathedrals.
Much of the exhibit is focused on religious relics from the period, including vivid icons, crosses, reliquaries and church objects. “None of his personal effects survived to show his personal life, but I think the important thing is to show what he did,” said Samoilova.
One exception is a wooden sculpture of St. George, which looks as if it had been carved and painted just last week. St. George became the patron saint of Russia during Ivan’s reign.
One of the most beautiful pieces on show is a cross that was brought to Moscow by Sophia Paleologue, the niece of the last emperor of Constantinople, who became Ivan III’s second wife. The cross was an attempt to bring Catholicism to the court, said Samoilova, but it was taken away from the papal legate who accompanied Sophia before it reached the Kremlin. Thereafter, it was kept in the Uspensky Cathedral.
Behind a magnifying glass, a gold coin bears the words “Grand Prince Ivan Vasiliyevich,” cast when Ivan was at the zenith of his power. It also has a two-headed eagle, the first appearance of the symbol of the Russian state.
A non-Russian speaker will find the exhibit less than informative, as only the names of individual exhibits are translated into English. But even if you speak Russian, the exhibit will only give you a partial picture of the reign and the man behind the throne.
Ivan III’s time was one of intrigue and battle comparable to that of the Tudors and the Borgias, Kommersant newspaper wrote in a review of the exhibit. And indeed, the times were bloody. As Ivan conquered the other principalities, he battled his own brothers, powerful princes in their own right. He also claimed his grandson from his first wife as his heir, then changed his mind to plump for Vasily, the son of Paleologue, who would become Vasily III, the next tsar. The former heir was thrown in jail, where he died.
“None of this is in the exhibit, and viewers instead are offered up abstract ideologies and a softspoken, serene image of Ivan III,” wrote critic Sergei Khodnev.
© The Moscow News. 26 March, 2013