Topic: Imperial Russia
The opening of the Millennium of Russia monument in Novgorod in 1862
Artist: Bogdan Willewalde (1864). Novgorod Museum Reserve
This article has been revised and edited from its original by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2016
On 20 September (O.S. 8 September), 1862, the Millennium of Russia Monument was inaugurated in the fortress city of Novgorod the Great opposite the Saint Sophia Cathedral, in the presence of Alexander II and members of the Imperial family.
Funds for the establishment of the monument had been partially collected by the All-Russian subscription. In 1859 a competition for the design of the monument was held, in which about forty sculptors and architects took part. The choice fell on the young artist and painter M. Mikeshin, who the year before had graduated from the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.
The monument had been constructed by a group of renowned sculptors – I. N. Schroeder, M. A. Chizhov, A. N. Laveretsky, R. K. Zaleman, A. M. Opekushin, A. M. Lyubimov, P. S. Mikhailov.
During the 1860s all the necessary materials were gathered and delivered to Novgorod. Bronze parts for the monument were cast at the factory of Plinke and Nichols in St. Petersburg. Granite for the monument’s foundation was brought from Serdobol'skii quarries on Lake Ladoga. By 13 July (O.S. 1 July), 1862 all the bronze groups, reliefs and the lattice made at the foundry were ready for the emperor’s inspection. Alexander II gave his approval, and soon the parts were transported by barge via the Neva and Volkhov Rivers to Novgorod.
The opening of the monument was scheduled for 20 September (O.S. 8 September), 1862. The preparations for it were enormous: Novgorod had been renovated and re-paved. Troops arrived in the city along with representatives of the nobility. On 19 September (O.S. 7 September), Emperor Alexander II arrived by steamboat, accompanied by his family and entourage. On 20 September (O.S. 8 September) the tsar received a deputation of the local gentry, inspected the troops formed for the parade, and then together with the Empress and his entourage headed for the Cathedral of St. Sophia, where he attended a divine liturgy. After that, the procession marched from the cathedral to the monument, around which the troops and the public stood on a specially constructed platforms. The unveiling of the monument was marked by a 62 gun salute, a military parade, and an official luncheon headed by the emperor himself. In the evening the festivities were held in the city.
The composition of the monument is shaped like a bell. The height of the monument is equal to 15.7 meters, diameter of the granite base is 9 m, the height of the sculptural groups is 3.7 m, height of the frieze on the podium - about 1.5 m, its length - about 27 meters, the weight of bronze casting is 65.5 tons.
The monument contains of 129 figures. Sculptural images are divided into three levels. The monument is crowned by the figure of a woman kneeling before the angel. The woman represents Russia. The middle part of the monument is occupied by six sculptural groups representing different periods of history of the Russian state: the creation of the state (Rurik with a shield), the adoption of Christianity (Prince Vladimir with a cross in his hand tells the farmer to break a pagan idol, from the other side a mother brings him a baby for baptism), victory on Kulikovo field (Dmitry Donskoy tramples a defeated Tatar warrior), the centralization of the Russian State (Ivan III in Monomakh’s Cap with orb and scepter in his hands, at his feet there are defeated rivals, behind - a figure of a Siberian, supporting a giant ball), beginning of the Romanov dynasty (sculptural group "The election of Mikhail Romanov to the throne" or "Minin and Pozharsky” - Kuzma Minin presents to young Michael imperial regalia), Peter's reforms (Peter I against the outstretched wings of the genius of Fame, at the feet of the emperor – a defeated Swede).
Ivan the Terrible is not among the statesmen due to his reputation as a fierce ruler, especially in Novgorod, because of the massacre perpetrated by oprichniki in Novgorod in 1570. Emperor Paul I, Arakcheev, Benckendorff are not represented on the monument either.
At high relief encircling the monument there are 109 people united in the four groups. The first is for “Enlighteners of people” among which are mainly clerics. The second group of "statesmen" is made up of princes and tsars. The third group shows the "Military men and heroes" (Prince Svyatoslav, Dovmont of Pskov, Alexander Nevsky, Ermak, Kozma Minin and Prince Pozharsky, Ivan Susanin, Bogdan Khmelnitsky, Kutuzov, Platov, Nakhimov, etc.).
The group of "Writers and artists" presents: Lomonosov, Fonvizin, Derzhavin, architect Kokorinov, actor Volkov, Krylov, Karamzin, Zhukovsky, Gnedich, Griboyedov, Lermontov, Pushkin, Gogol, Glinka, Bryullov.
During the World War II the monument was dismantled by the Nazis. The bronze grille and lights which stood around the monument (these elements are now lost) were moved away by railway. On 20 January, 1944 Novgorod was liberated by Soviet troops. The Committee for Architecture under the Soviet of People’s Commissars of USSR and the Executive Committee of the Leningrad Regional Council of People's Deputies decided to restore the monument. The Leningrad Regional Department of Architecture was in charge of the restoration. More than 1,500 missing details were reproduced. The monument was completely restored and inaugurated for the second time on November 2, 1944.
© Presidential Library / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 20 September, 2016