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The Armoury

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Kremlin: The Armoury
 
 

Armoury (Oruzheinaya Palata, in Russian) is one of the oldest museums in Russia. It took its name from one of the Kremlin workshops. The Russian word "palata" is poly-semantic and means "palace", stone building, mansion or chamber. Precious objects, antiquities and arms could be kept at the chamber. Armoury is the museum whose name and collection are unique and unrivaled.

Armoury is in South-west of Kremlin. It was built in 1851 by the architect K.A. Thon, from St. Petersburg. The building was designed specially for museum. It has two stories and two tiers of windows, which is typical of palatial architecture. It faces the Moscow River and is amply decorated with white-stone carved ornaments, imitating the architectural style of 17th century. There are 9 exhibition halls in museum, 4 on the first floor and 5 on the second, with total area of 2500 Sq. m. There are 55 various showcases for some 4000 exhibits.

Armoury boasts the richest collection of the works of Russian and foreign decorative and applied art of 4th-20th centuries, including Russian, West-European and Eastern arms, art silver, clothes and valuable fabrics, state regalia and gala carriages. Articles by the old-Russian silversmiths and goldsmiths, gun-makers and embroideries.

The collection began in 14th-15th centuries, when Russian centralized state was being established and the treasury started to gather together works of great historical and artistic value.

As long ago as 14th century, there was special chamber in Kremlin, the grand princes' treasury. Its most ancient items were mentioned in the testaments of Ivan Kalita, Dmitry Donskoy, Ivan III, Ivan IV the Terrible and others. At the end of 15th century, the so-called Treasury Court was built between Archangel Cathedral and Cathedral of Annunciation to keep the, by then, considerably increased treasury.

The first mention of Armoury was in chronicles in 1537. In 15-16th centuries
, Equestrian Prikaz (Department) was established with workshops, which produced ceremonial horse gear. In 16-17th centuries, Tsarina's Workshop Chamber and Silver Department were set up. In 1624, the latter was split up to from Goldsmiths' Department. They stood beside the present Armoury building. The second half of 17th century witnessed the flourishing of Kremlin workshops' activities. They resembled kind of academy of arts, because gifted craftsmen and artists gathered there.

In the early 18th century, country's capital was transferred to St. Petersburg and Kremlin workshops were closed down. All depositories of the treasury merged into one under new name of Workshops and Armoury.

In 1718, Peter I ordered to organize exhibition of hereditary relics, tsars' crowns and garments. This was the first exhibition in arranging museum exposition.

In 1806, on order of Alexander I, Armoury was turned into public museum and new building was erected for it after the architect I.V. Yegotin's design near Trotsky Gate in 1806-1810. National treasures were kept there, until the mid-19th century, when the present building was constructed.

In 19th century, famous figures of Russian science and culture, such as N.P. Kondakov. M.N. Zagoskin. A.F.Veltman, S.M. Solovyov and G.D. Filimonov headed the Armoury and worked there. The role and importance of the oldest Russian museum as center of enlightenment was highly appraised.

At the beginning of 20th century, church relics were passed to the museum from Kremlin cathedrals, patriarch's vestry and also from abolished monasteries and the country's reserves. In 1924, the first exhibition, based on systematic approach to compiling collections, was opened.

The present exhibition in Armoury, which embodies the latest achievements of museum practice, was made in 1986, after large-scale, modern restoration and repaid work was carried out. Progressive engineering solutions, new technology and materials were used to maximally expose the original architectural design and color scheme of the museum's interior.

The exhibition opens up with the world's richest collection of articles made by Russian goldsmiths and silversmiths, in the first two halls on the second floor. The techniques applied and proportions of the exhibits are particularly interesting. The exhibition gives clear impression on the main techniques, stylistic trends and the development of national tradition over the period of 8 centuries.

Articles on display bear witness to the flourishing of crafts in pre-Mongolian Russia. They are the works of Moscow silversmiths in 15-17th centuries, and that of silversmiths of Novgorod, Solvychegodsk, towns of Volga area, Moscow and St. Petersburg in 18-19th centuries, and number of jewelry firms of 19-20th centuries.

Archeological exhibits of the period of great migration, works of Byzantine and South Slav and Georgian art open up the exhibition.

Early Russian art was greatly influenced by Byzantium, which maintained close ties with antique art traditions. This influence could be felt in the first item of the collection, which is silver jug, made in circa 400 AD in Constantinople.

Cloisonne (partitioned) enameling is considered to be major achievement of Byzantine craftsmen, in the period of flourishing art, 10-12th centuries. Small 11th-century, called "Crucifixion", is fine example of this kind of technique.

Collection of Byzantine cameos (gems carved in relief) is one of the best in the world. Particularly interesting is 12th-century chrysoprase cameo of "Assumption of the Virgin", which used to be set in Patriarch Joseph's panagia-icon.

Previously hidden treasures give us an idea about jewelry work in pre-Mongolian Russ. Armoury collection includes finely executed articles, made by goldsmiths of that time. Among them are pieces of women's jewelry, as head-dress pendants, necklaces, rings and bracelets. Articles from the famous hidden treasures, found in Ryazan, such as golden necklaces and head-dress pendants could be referred to as unique specimens of 12-13th centuries.

12th-century chalice, was made by the craftsmen of Vladimir-Suzdal Russ, is magnificent example of silverwork. The Chalice is connected with the name of Yuri Dolgoruky, the legendary founder of Moscow.

The last quarter of 15th century, under the rule of Ivan III, was significant stage in the development of jewelry art in Moscow. The best craftsmen made valuable church plate for the newly built Kremlin cathedrals. Among the exhibit of that time are the censer from the Cathedral of Annunciation (1489), and two tabernacles from the Cathedral of Assumption, called "Bolshoi" (Great) and Maly (Small) Zions (1486), shaped as single-domed cubic churches, which is typical of early Russian architecture.

At the beginning of 16th century, Moscow became the unifier of Russian lands. Skilled craftsmen from all over Russia worked in Moscow Kremlin workshops, where they created valuable articles used in palaces, at court ceremonies and church services. Foreigners, also, worked in Kremlin, side by side with Russians. Despite close contact with foreign culture, the art of Russian craftsmen retained its national features.

Moscow jewelers of 16th century reached high level of perfection in the application of various techniques in their work with precious metal and stones, particularly the technique of engraving and niello work. A gold plate, weighing 3 kg (1561), made by order of Tsar Ivan the Terrible for Kabardinian Princess-Tsarina Maria Tyemryukovna is distinguished by its exquisite simplicity and classical perfection.

A gold censer, belonging to Tsarina Irina, wife of Fyodor Ivanovich (1589) and a censor from Archangel Cathedral (1589) are also wonderful. jewelry from the period of Ivan the Terrible is represented by gold filigree enameled icon encasements and luxurious gold cover for the manuscript of the Book of Gospels (1571) from the Cathedral of Annunciation. The cover is picked out in delicate filigree with precious stones set into it in engraved casts.

Traditions and innovations were combined in 17th century and foundations of secular culture were laid. Painting developed simultaneously with decorative and applied art and its main branch, gold and silverwork. Jewelry of that time is extremely ornate and polychrome of enamels and gem-stones is characteristic feature. Elements of the daily life style also overlap into the themes of religious art.

Tendency toward polychrome is evident in the works of the outstanding Moscow silversmith Gavrila Ovdokimov, for example, the cover of the Book of Gospels (1632), donated by Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov (1613-1645) to Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery.

Roofs of the shrines of Prince Dmitry (from Archangel Cathedral) and of St. Cyril of Belozersk, prominent enlightener of Russian Middle Ages, were donated by boyar F.I. Sheremetev to the Monastery of St. Cyril of Belozersk, and are unique works of Old Russian metalworking art of 17th century.

A chalice (1635) presented by Patriarch Nikon to Tsar Alexi Michailovich is a real masterpiece of enameling. The cover of the Book of Gospels was made in Moscow Kremlin workshops in 1678 and it vividly demonstrates the stylistic trends of decorative art from that period.

Gold and silverware were considered to be necessary attribute of 17th century court life. It usually imitated wooden and ceramic worlds. Richly decorated bratinas (loving-cups) used to be passed around by people at the table. They often bear the names of their owners and didactic texts inscribed on the edge of the cups. Gold and silver ladles were used for drinking red and white mead and were also given as awards. Their exquisite shapes and fine niello pattern rims with pearls and uncut gem-stones make them particularly attractive. Gold ladles, which belong to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich, were used during receptions at Facets Palace. Small ladles, wine cups, goblets, glasses and plates for serving various dishes are also of special interest.

Gold and silverwork of 18-early 19th century
occupies central place in Armoury collection. By that time secular trend was taking shape in Russian art, which was, in fact, largely determined by radical economic and political reforms, carried out by Peter I. Russia was involved in the all-Europe art process. In 1712, St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia. The best craftsmen from West-European countries were invited to build and decorate it. Gold and silversmiths were transferred from Moscow and Kremlin to the new capital.

New style, Petrin baroque, was formed in Russian Art. Jewelry was decorated with embossed, high relief scallop-shells, scroll work and cartouches-border scenes; acanthus leaves and tulip flowers were prevalent in floral decoration. Snuff-boxes were usually decorated with enameled miniatures of Peter I, which appeared at that time.

In 1740s-1760s, articles made from precious metals were made in the style of rococo school, with cast and embossed high-relief designs. In the third quarter of 18th century, rococo style was replaced by classicism.

Large jewelry firms were established in Moscow and St. Petersburg, such as Sazikov's (1793), Faberge's (1842), Ovchinnikov's (1853), Grachev's (1856) and Khlebnikov's (1860). Articles, made by these firms, are displayed in the museum.

The next two halls are devoted to arms and Armour, made in 12-19th century. They house wonderful samples of Russian, West European and Oriental combat arms and ceremonial and hunting weapons, as well as armour and chain mail to protect the rider and his horse. They were connected with tsarist court life and the establishment and development of Russian statehood and are characterized by the combination of European and Oriental techniques in producing arms.

Works by armoires from Holland, Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Iran, Turkey are shown as well as Russian arms; and also the biggest collection of West-European silverwork of 13-19th century. Foreign states' diplomatic gifts to the royal family make up the basis of the unique collection. It vividly demonstrates the history of Russia's political ties and trade relations with other countries. It also acquaints the visitors with all the main stylistic trends in silverwork from Gothic to Empire.
Works reflect the high level of proficiency of goldsmiths from Britain, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Poland , Sweden and France.

Collection of regalia and articles of royal court ceremonies of 13-19th century, collection of tsar's thrones, tsar's carriages, valuable fabrics, old Russian secular and religious dress, gala costumes of 18-20th century, political and ornamental embroideries and jewelers are also displayed in this museum.
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