Peter the Great's Collection Lives On: Russia's Oldest Museum Marks 300th Anniversary Topic: Peter the Great
View of the Kunstkamera across the Neva
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the December 1st, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Yekaterina Chuprunova, owns the copyright of the work presented below.
The famous St. Petersburg Kunstkamera, the first museum to be built in Russia, turns 300 this year. RBTH reviews the history of the museum's unique collection, which includes Peter the Great’s notorious “freaks”, and reports on its latest news.
St. Petersburg’s Kunstkamera museum, famous for its colorful display of human and animal “freaks” collected by Peter the Great, is marking its 300th anniversary this year.
Although the museum opened in 1714, the Kunstkamera's history is considered to have originally begun with Peter's long trip abroad known as the Grand Embassy (1697-98), when the tsar went to Europe to study shipbuilding. During his travels he gathered many impressions about European life and culture. In particular, he was fascinated by the kunstkameras that were appearing on the continent and, inspired by what he had seen, he decided to create his own cabinet of curiosities.
Peter decreed that anything he found amazing was to be brought to the Russian Kunstkamera. The collection was supposed to show the diversity of the world and the mystery of nature. In 1706 the French Journal de Trévoux wrote that the muses and science were moving north, "where the current Tsar Peter Alexeyevich is intent on enlightening his country."
The foundation date of Russia's first museum is usually considered to be 1714, when, according to Peter's decree, all the articles he collected during his travels abroad were moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg. In the beginning, in order to attract visitors, the Kunstkamera offered treats and gifts. But the museum quickly became famous and soon visitors had to buy tickets.
Peter's collection moves to a house
The main difference between the St. Petersburg Kunstkamera and its European counterparts was the reason for its opening. The museum had been created not as a private collection, but as an educational institute. "I want people to look and learn!" said Peter about the Kunstkamera, according to tradition.
In the 18th century the museum moved to a building on the eastern tip of Vasilievsky Island. According to legend, Peter had chosen the location himself after seeing a pine tree of an unusual form. The Petrine Baroque building that was constructed on the spot later is still considered one of the symbols of the city. The majestic structure on the banks of the Neva is crowned by a tower with an armillary sphere, symbolizing the Solar System.
The museum collection
In the first years of its existence, the Kunstkamera collection, along with rare books, devices, instruments, weapons and natural rarities, also contained "live" exhibits. These were children born with physical defects who lived in the Kunstkamera and received a high annual income.
As years passed the Kunstkamera transformed from a collection of curiosities and oddities into a real scientific collection. When, in 1724, Peter founded the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Kunstkamera became its first institution. Having become academic, the museum subsequently concentrated on collecting ethnographic rarities: clothes and household items from various peoples. Ever since then the museum's permanent exhibition has been dedicated to the native cultures of North America, Asia and Africa.
But it is the Kunstkamera's collection of "freaks" that has always been most popular among visitors. This is an array of anatomical rarities and anomalies embalmed in alcohol. Peter had bought most of the articles from a Dutch anatomy professor, Frederik Ruysch. Ruysch had collected and treated the "freaks" for several decades and agreed to sell the collection to the Russian tsar, hoping that Peter would leave it for posterity. The embalmed embryos with their inborn anomalies shocked the 18th century public, and continue to do the same to today’s visitors.
The Kunstkamera today
The modern Kunstkamera is one of the biggest ethnographic museums in the world, and actively carries out scientific research. The museum contains more than one million exhibits and is constantly enlarged thanks to expeditions and new acquisitions.
Every year the Kunstkamera organizes about 50 scientific expeditions to various regions of Russia, as well as to Asia and Africa. Each expedition enriches the museum with new exhibits. Museum Director Yury Chistov says that the Kunstkamera no longer "fits" in its historical building. The administration is currently in talks with the city authorities about the possibility of creating a separate storehouse for the collection.
The museum is broadly known for its educational programs and thematic guided tours on various subject matters: from the history of costumes to anthropology. Currently, only general orientations are available in foreign languages, but the Kunstkamera management promises to add more programs for foreign tourists.
"Our collections are interesting for the foreign visitor because they were collected long before those that today are exhibited in Europe," says Chistov. "All our ethnographic exhibits are unique because they were not influenced by European culture."
During the press conference dedicated to the Kunstkamera’s 300th anniversary, President of the Russian Museum Union Mikhail Piotrovsky paid tribute to the museum: "Along with the Kunstkamera's anniversary we are celebrating 300 years of Russian museology. This is the first and the oldest museum in our country and it is also a very important landmark in the development of museums in Europe."
Monument to Peter the Great Unveiled in Nizhny Novgorod Topic: Peter the Great
In Nizhny Novgorod, a new monument to Emperor Peter I was unveiled earlier this week. It was Peter the Great, who signed a decree in 1714 founding the Nizhny Novgorod province.
"Today, we talk about the Nizhny Novgorod region as a large scientific, industrial, cultural, business center. It was Peter I, who was the first to have seen the potential and opportunities of our region. After his decree, people began working on the land to prepare it for agricultural purposes, they started introducing monetary relations and practicing social division of labor - they started building and developing industrial companies, - said Nizhny Novgorod Governor Valery Shantsev. - Each district of the Nizhny Novgorod region still has the features that saw the light and developed in those times: leather and steel production, rope factories and shipbuilding. Peter I did a lot for science, education and economy."
The figure of Peter the Great stand 3.7 meters (more than 12 ft.) high. The monument is made of bronze; the three-meter pedestal is made of granite and concrete. The artist of the monument is Nizhny Novgorod-based sculptor Aleksey Schchitov.
"Symbolically, the monument was placed on this particular location. Peter the Great is looking at Strelka, and there is the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin and Zachatskaya Tower behind him. I think it came out great. This is where history comes together - the present and the future: the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, the militia, the 300th anniversary of the creation of the region - one can feel all this at once. I'm sure that at the monument to Peter I, Nizhny Novgorod residents will be holding ceremonies, landmark meetings and other important activities," said Valery Shantsev.
The Legendary Journey of Peter the Great Topic: Peter the Great
Peter the Great at Deptford Dockyard. Artist: Daniel Maclise, 1857
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the July 18th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Joe Crescente, owns the copyright presented below.
Peter the Great travelled to many different countries on his educational voyage in the last years of the 17th and elements of the European lifestyle: all of which went on to help shape modern Russia
Nicholas II was the first Russian Tsar to travel to the Far East and Siberia. However, the inspiration for educational trips for future heirs to the crown came from Peter the Great’s legendary European journey of 1697-1698.
Peter the Great was that rare autocrat that liked to lead by example. He viewed his trip to Europe as a journey of knowledge that would have the potential to positively impact the people.
From an early age Peter was fascinated by shipbuilding and sailing, and always had ambitions of making Russia a major maritime power. When Peter became the sole ruler of Russia in 1696, the Russian Empire had access to only one port, in the North Sea at Arkhangelsk. At the time the north Baltic Sea was controlled by Sweden, and the Black and Caspian Seas were commanded respectively by the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid dynasty, an early Persian state. After capturing the fortress of Azov from the Ottomans in July 1696, Peter was determined to gain further access to the Black Sea. But, he knew that at that moment Russia couldn’t take on the Ottoman Empire alone.
Thus, Peter came up with the idea of his Grand Embassy, a diplomatic mission with the goal of securing allied support against the Ottoman Empire. In particular this trip sought to strengthen the Holy League, a union of Christian empires that Pope Innocent XI had formed in 1684. Russia joined in 1686. Peter also sought to use this journey to acquire knowledge and technology and hire foreign specialists for service in Russia.
In 1697 Peter set off with a 250-person entourage on an 18-month journey. Officially the “Embassy” was headed by three of his closest advisers and Peter used a pseudonym throughout the trip, Pyotr Mikhailov, as he wished to be anonymous. Although Peter was the first Tsar to travel abroad, he was easily recognizable as he was more than two meters tall. Records from the time attest that few European leaders were fooled by the disguise.
The first leg of the trip was considered unsuccessful. He met with the heads of France and Austria. France was unwavering in its support for the Ottoman Sultan and the Austrian leader was mostly concerned with keeping things quiet to their east, so that they could pursue their objectives to the west. Europeans on the whole were largely uninterested in Peter’s ambitions.
From there, Peter moved on to the Netherlands, where he took on an apprenticeship as a shipbuilder in Zaandam (the house where he lived is now a museum: http:/ /www.zaansmuseum.nl/index.php?id=52). For the Tsar, learning about naval technology was crucial to his objective of creating a truly modern navy, and Dutch sailing vessels were considered among the most advanced in the world at the time. The home where Peter stayed belonged to Gerrit Kist, a Dutch blacksmith that had worked for a stint in Moscow for the Tsar. Kist and the Tsar remained friends for life.
Peter’s visit to the Netherlands was the most influential of any country he visited. There, he acquired not just technical knowledge, but also learned about how Europeans lived. One notable technology that Peter discovered was the fire hose. This was especially important considering the prevalence of fires in 17th Moscow. He learned about the technology from its inventor, Jan van der Heyden. Afterwards he went to Amsterdam and with a little help from its mayor, Nicolaas Witsen (an expert on shipbuilding), Peter was able to put what he had learned in Zaandam to use by going to work at the largest shipbuilding yard in the world. He spent four months at the wharf, which was owned by the Dutch East India Company. In addition to acquiring vast maritime knowledge, Peter also set to work hiring skilled workers, sailors, and lock builders. But his biggest prize was probably luring Cornelis Cruys, a high-ranking official in the Dutch Navy, to come to Russia. There, he was appointed the vice-admiral for the Russian Navy and became the most influential adviser to the Tsar for maritime affairs for decades to come.
From Holland Peter moved on to England, where he met King William III and toured the cities of Oxford and Manchester, where he learned about city planning. He would put this knowledge to use several years later when he founded St. Petersburg. After England, Peter’s entourage collectively journeyed to the cities of Leipzig, Dresden, and Vienna, and met with August the Strong, the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor and a frequent antagonist of the Ottoman Empire.
Peter was forced to return early to Russia in 1698, as the Streltsy—armed Russian guard units—had rebelled. The uprising was crushed before Peter made it back from England.
Peter was very impressionable during his “Embassy” and came back convinced that certain European customs were superior to Russian ones. Peter announced upon his return that nobles had to cut their beards (or pay a tax) and wear European clothing. The calendar was changed to better align with the European one. The rest of Peter’s reign until his death in 1725 was marked by several victories over Sweden, which led to Russia’s status as the supreme power in northeastern Europe. While Russian troops engaged Ottoman forces on several occasions, no significant settlements were made. St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 and the country began to look west.
One of the first things that Peter did upon his return was to divorce his wife, Eudoxia Lopukhina. For Peter the Great it really was out with the “old” and in with the “new” after this life-changing journey.
Breaking Bronze - the Equestrian Statue of Peter the Great Topic: Peter the Great
The Bronze Horseman, an impressive monument to the founder of St Petersburg, Peter the Great, stands on Senate Square, facing the Neva River
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the June 25th, 2014 edition of The St. Petersburg Times. The author Gus Peters, owns the copyright of the version presented below.
The Bronze Horseman, the famous statue of Peter the Great immortalized by Pushkin and which stands sentinel on the southern shore of the Neva, is one of the most recognized symbols of the city. It is considered to be a masterpiece, an imposing edifice symbolizing the power of autocratic rule; a masterpiece its creator would never see finished.
In the 1760s, at the beginning of the reign of Catherine II, better known in the Western world as Catherine the Great, the Empress wanted to build a monument that physically expressed the monarch’s bond to the lineage of Russia’s great rulers, despite her German heritage. Yet she did not believe any artist in Russia was capable of taking the lead on such a project, so she asked her ambassador in Paris to find someone willing to work for the right price.
Through the Enlightment philosopher Denis Diderot, the ambassador was introduced to Etienne Maurice Falconet, the director of a sculpture workshop in a French porcelain factory who was renowned for his small figures but had never built anything on the large scale Catherine wanted. He was not a vastly talented sculptor but he was competent and, more importantly, willing to work for less than what more accomplished artists demanded. He accepted the Empress’ offer and moved to St. Petersburg in 1766 to begin his work.
After three years of work, an incomplete model of the statue was revealed to the public to mixed reactions. Some did not understand why there was a serpent beneath the horse’s hooves and they told Falconet he should remove it, not understanding that the serpent was essential to the statue’s ability to stand. A finished model was presented a year later to yet more criticism. Some claimed that Peter looked more like a Roman emperor than a Russian tsar because of the clothes he wore. Catherine had to reassure her obsequious sculptor, telling him in a letter, “…you can’t please everybody.”
Despite her initial assurances, Catherine grew more and more frustrated as the project dragged on. Once the base, a 1,500-ton boulder discovered in Finnish Karelia, was put in place, it took another four years to both find a casting master and to construct the mold for the statue. There were a series of failures during the casting and as time wore on and the cost rose, relations between Falconet and Catherine, who could not understand why there were such delays, frayed. Eventually, Catherine grew tired of her sculptor and asked for two Italian architects, telling the man in charge of hiring them that, “You will choose honest and reasonable people, not dreamers like Falconet; [I want] people who walk on the earth, not in the air.”
After 12 years, with the project still unfinished and Falconet tired of the constant criticism and the icy demeanor of the Empress, the sculptor asked Catherine for permission to leave Russia. She agreed and paid him the money he was due, but did not see him before he left. Falconet, a broken man, returned to Paris. He never sculpted again.
It would be another four years before the finished piece was unveiled on Senate Square on Aug. 7, 1782. In all, Falconet’s masterpiece, which he never saw completed, took 16 years to build. The statue of Peter atop his horse, looking out at the city he built, is now one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
Peter the Great's 'Toy Army' Topic: Peter the Great
Peter the Great’s ‘toy army’ went on to become an elite military unit
Copyright Notice - The following article was originally published in the May 8th, 2014 edition of The St. Petersburg Times. The author Peter Campbell owns the copyright presented below.
Throughout St. Petersburg you can see references to “preobrazhensky” meaning “transfiguration”. These references are particularly frequent around Liteiny Prospekt and one could be forgiven for thinking that they are a reflection of the religious character of Russian society. Instead, they reflect the critical role that the Preobrazhensky regiment played in Russia’s history and its curious inception.
A favorite story told about Peter the Great is how he used to play soldiers and created his own “toy army” — his poteshnye voiska. The story is often told to reveal Peter’s ambition and his ability to organize his peers but the creation of this toy army is firmly rooted in the political rivalry of the late 17th century.
The death of Tsar Fedor III on April 27, 1682, caused a political crisis in Russia. The Romanov family was split into two factions with the obvious heirs to the throne still in their minority. Streltsy troops were spurred into rebellion by rumors, spread by the Mikhailovsky faction opposed to Peter the Great’s accession. On May 17, Streltsy troops broke into the Kremlin and killed in front of the 10 year old prince, Peter’s two uncles Kirill and Ivan Naryshkin. Although, Peter survived the attack, it had a deep impact on the tsarevich.
The political solution led to the regency of Sophia Alekseyevna during the minority of Peter the Great and Ivan V. It was this same year that Peter established his poteshnye voiska with which he played his war games.
Whether or not this was just a child wanting to play soldiers, the poteshnye voiska soon took on a much more serious nature and by 1683 the “troops” consisted not only of Peter’s friends and servants, but had also recruited a serving soldier and the toy army was organized into a unit of 100. By the time Peter was 13, the toy army was recruiting soldiers and foreign officers to provide military expertise and specific military training to the so-called “toy army.” Whether Peter intended it or not, he was creating a personal bodyguard which would form the basis of his later political authority.
The establishment and ongoing development of Peter’s toy army is also important for the insights it gives into Peter the Great’s own military education and his approach to military affairs. His military training focused on taking children at a young age and developing their physical strength and agility at the ages of 9 to 12 by playing games and doing gymnastic exercises. The next step was to develop children’s bravery by adding an element of danger to the games by climbing cliffs and ravines, walking on rickety bridges, playing on logs and pretending to be bandits. These games also included guard duty and reconnaissance. The next stage in developing children’s military abilities included teaching them to use weapons — Peter the Great could fire a canon when he was 12. Other technical skills were also taught and a greater focus was placed on discipline, honor and comradeship. Patriotism and purpose were also taught by teaching selective moments of Russia’s history and the dangers and ambitions of neighboring countries. From these classes, children were taught a love of their fatherland and a love for the army.
The effectiveness of this training was soon demonstrated. In the power struggle that occurred when the tsar came into his majority, his potyshnye voiska gave him the core military support he needed to take over the royal court. When Sophia called on the Streltsy for support, most of them had already abandoned Moscow, preferring to live in Preobrazhensky village where the young tsar and his toy army was located — hence the name of the regiment.
In 1691 the puteshnye voiska located at Preobrazhenskoe and Semenovskoe villages were officially transferred as units in the Russian army and served with distinction during Peter the Great’s campaigns. Considered an elite unit in the Russian army its honor was not always unblemished — it participated in two palace coups, supporting both Elizaveta Petrovna and Catherine the Great in their accession to the throne. And in 1905 it was largely responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre. Although the unit fought in most major conflicts, in its role as bodyguard and kingmaker — this unit has potentially done more than any other to alter Russia’s history. It is this history which is memorialized in the streets around St. Petersburg, particular in Smolny, where the unit was located.
This column takes a closer look at St. Petersburg and the stories behind its tsars, revolutionaries, writers and composers. Peter Campbell is a local translator, interpreter and writer. You can visit his blog at www.intrepid-adventure.com.
Holland Presents Russia With Replica of Peter the Great House Topic: Peter the Great
A view of Peter the Great's House in Zaandam, Netherlands
The Dutch Navy has given Russia a replica of the house where Russian Tsar Peter the Great lived during the years of his "Grand Embassy" in Europe.
The handover ceremony was held near the Dutch patrol boat, the Friesland, at the Sea Terminal in St. Petersburg. The ceremony was attended by Commander of the Dutch Navy Vice Admiral Matthieu Borsboom and Commander of the Leningrad naval base Oleg Zhuravlyov, the press service of the Western Military District told Interfax.
Peter the Great's house was delivered to St. Petersburg disassembled, in five containers. After the containers are cleared through the customs, they will be moved to Moscow's museum estate Kolomenskoye, where the house will be assembled by Russian and Dutch engineers.
The replica was built by Dutch military engineers. It was handed over to Russia as part of Russian and Dutch cooperation in 2013.
The Tsar Peter House is located in Zaandam. It was built in 1632 as a cottage for shipyard workers, using old ship wood. Peter the Great lived in it during his stay in Holland in 1697. The house now serves as a museum.
Peter the Great's House in the Netherlands to Be Renovated Topic: Peter the Great
The 17th century house in the Dutch city of Zaandam where Russian tsar Peter the Great lived during the first days of his 1697 visit to Holland was closed for renovation on Thursday, RIA Novosti reports. “The museum closes for the work and will reopen in March 2013,” said Zaans Museum, which administers the building. The renovation is due to take about three months.
The house was built in 1632 from old ship's wood. A heavy wooden frame was built in late 19th century to support the old structure. Later it was encased in a brick building on the order of Russia’s last tsar Nicholas II.
Peter the Great, who came to power at the end of the 17th century, was determined to modernize Russia. At the age of 25, he travelled to the Dutch Republic, the leading power at that time. It was his first foreign visit.
Peter the Great stayed in Zaandam only for the eight days and studied shipbuilding incognito, posing as a Russian carpenter named Pyotr Mikhailov.
The house was designated a historical monument in the 18th century. It was handed over to the Russian royal family in 1886, but in 1948 the heirs of the Romanov family returned the building to The Netherlands.
Horseman from the Banks of the Neva Topic: Peter the Great
The Bronze Horseman is an impressive monument to the founder of Russia’s city of St.Petersburg, Peter the Great. On August 7, 2012 this symbol of St.Pete turns 230.
In Russian the monument is called “ the copper horseman” though it’s actually made of bronze. The famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was the one calling the horseman “copper” in his narrative poem of 1833.
Commissioned by Catherine the Great, the statue was erected on Senatskaya Square. In correspondence with the Empress, the famous philosopher Denis Diderot suggested French sculptor Étienne Falconet to create the monument. Before erecting the statue, Falconet did a lot of research about Russia and Peter the Great, says director Andrei Konchalovsky who knows a lot about the sculptor.
"Peter the Great was a mystery for any foreigner so Falconet wanted to understand his character. The monument is unusual –Peter has no symbols of power like orb and scepter. He is more of a hero, athlete on a horse rearing at the edge of a cliff. Falconet carved from life and as this was the pre-photography era a guard officer on a rearing horse was posing for him everyday."
It took Falconet 12 years to finish the monument. The statue was unveiled marking 100 years of Peter the Great’s ascension to the throne.
A horseman on a large stone is dominating the Neva embankment having survived the Revolution of 1917, the renaming of city to Leningrad and back and many other things. Its engraving says to Peter the Great from Catherine II.
The horseman’s outstretched arm is pointing towards Sweden while Stockholm has a monument to Karl XII pointing towards Russia reminding of fierce battles between the countries. Then, Peter defeated Sweden and gained access to the Baltic Sea.
The legend has it that during the Siege of Leningrad the statue was covered with sandbags and a wooden shelter. After the shelter was removed someone painted the Medal for the Defense of Leningrad on the horseman’s chestand it remained untouched for a long time.