No. 1, 2006

Alexander Yefimov


In anticipation of their 200th anniversary, the Moscow Kremlin museums are preparing new unique historical exhibitions.

In early spring of 2006, the Moscow Kremlin museums will celebrate their 200th anniversary. Today, the magnificent decor of the Kremlin's cathedrals and its rich collections of various types of Russian, West European, and Eastern art evoke genuine thrills and delight among both Russians and numerous tourists from all over the world.

Pages of history

March 10, 1806 is considered the date of the Moscow Kremlin museums' founding. On that day Russian Emperor Aleksandr I signed a decree On the Rules for Managing, Keeping in Order, and Preserving the Integrity of the Valuables in the Armory and the Workshops. This completed the process, begun as early as the reign of Peter the Great, of transforming the royal repositories and workshops into museums. The Armory became Moscow's first public museum, and its work over the years has become an important contribution to the history of similar Russian institutions nationwide.

As a result of the Napoleon's invasion of Russia in the summer of 1812, work on preparing the Museum's first exposition was cut short, and the valuables in the Armory were transported first to Nizhny Novgorod and then to Vladimir. Under the direction of the antiquarian Prince Nikolay Yusupov, archive preparations were made for the museum's first exhibition, once the articles had been brought back to Moscow. The exhibition itself was ready by 1814, at record time.

Two major events in the 19th-century history of the Kremlin Museum were the construction, following the design of architect Konstantin Ton, of a new Armory in 1851, and the Museum's participation in the 1867 World Exhibition held in Paris. For the first time, the Museum brought and presented its brilliant displays to the foreign public.

The events at the start of the 20th century, the First World War, the Russian revolutions and the Civil War brought about a decline of the Museum. By the spring of 1919, the exhibitions were virtually shut down, many items were placed in storage, and the Museum went unheated. The Kremlin collections were saved by the Museum's director, Mikhail Sergeev. He managed to assemble a corps of dedicated curators at the Armory who flung themselves into the task of the Museum's restoration. As early as 1921, the first exhibition was held, following the end of the Civil War, Enamels in the Armory Collection.

By the mid-1920s, a unique museum complex had taken shape on the territory of the Moscow Kremlin. Besides the Armory, it included the Assumption, Archangel, and Annunciation cathedrals; the Church of the Deposition of the Virgin's Robe; Ivan the Great's bell-tower, and the 17th-century Patriarch's Palace.

In June 1941, the Museum's traditional work was suspended by the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. With timely help from General Nikolai Spiridonov, the Kremlin's Commandant, the Museum's workers were already packing away its collections on June 23. On June 30, the artifacts were evacuated to Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). The treasures were brought back to Moscow in February 1945, and the halls of the Armory received new visitors on April 17 of that year: the soldiers of the Kremlin garrison, who had helped in evacuating and bringing back the collections. In June 1945, those who took part in the Victory Parade were shown the first Moscow Kremlin Museum's exhibits. Some members of the foreign delegations present at the Parade, including General and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also visited the Kremlin Museum.

In the postwar period, the Kremlin was actively preparing to be opened to the general public, and the Moscow Kremlin Museum conducted its first tours in the summer of 1955. The 1970s and 1980s were a time of the Museum's rapid development in all of its many operations. The scholarly work done by the museum staff led to its being awarded the status of a scientific research institution in 1986.

Oil company support

At the very beginning of the 1990sa new period in the history of Russiathe Moscow Kremlin Museum was granted the status of the Moscow Kremlin Historical and Cultural Museum and Preserve, thereby documenting a unique character of this museum complex. In 1990, the Moscow Kremlin, Red Square, and the Alexander's Garden were included in UNESCO's list of world cultural and natural heritage sites.

In the last years of the 20th century, the scope of the Museum's operations was continuously expanding. Its international ties were strengthened, and exhibition work was gaining new momentum. The Museum would also find new partners: LUKOIL, Gazprombank, Rosbank, Deutsche Bank, and others.

We have had a partner relationship with the LUKOIL company for many years now, going all the way back to 1997, says Yelena Gagarina, the Kremlin Museum Director. The first exhibition prepared and presented with LUKOIL's support was The Russian Coat of Arms: 500 Years. Other exhibitions followed after the success of the first: Christie's and LUKOIL in Moscow, Treasures of the Moscow Kremlin, Siberian Relics, Masterpieces of German Silver in the Kremlin, Russia and Great Britain, and The Royal and Imperial Hunting.

Of special interest to lovers of history and antiquities was the Russia and Great Britain exhibition dedicated to the 450th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries (held from December 2003 through March 2004). We displayed objects from a unique collection of jewelry produced by British craftsmen and sent to Moscow tsars as gifts from the British Crown or brought by British trading agents, explains Mrs. Gagarina. An international scholars' conference, devoted to the history of Russian-British relations, was held in parallel with the exhibition.

When speaking of The Royal and Imperial Hunting, exhibition held in late 2004, one cannot help but note the social orientation of this event. In the words of Igor Beketov, General Director of the LUKOIL Charitable Fund, in 2004, we got the idea of taking exhibits of the Kremlin museums to those regions where the company operates, in particular, to Perm. The idea was nothing as simple as a traveling exhibition; we were planning an exhibition that would be accompanied by a children's art contest, to which we, working together with the Kremlin museums, would invite youngsters from the orphanages that we support in the Perm Region. The twenty winners of the Drawing the Kremlin competition were brought to Moscow, where their works were displayed in the Armory's Ceremonial Hall. The children were introduced to the city and the Kremlin, and were given commemorative awards and presents. This was a great event for us, says Mrs. Gagarina. The museums' joint charitable program with LUKOIL during the Royal and Imperial Hunting exhibition in the Perm Art Gallery was perhaps our most important latest project.

In mid-December 2005, there was opened the Ratification of Friendship exhibition displaying a collection of foreign ambassadors' gifts to the Russian tsars - latest joint project of the Kremlin Museum and LUKOIL. In London, the company and the Kremlin Museum will present the British Silver in the Tsars' Court exhibition in May 2006.

Joint regional projects continue to hold a special place in the Company's collaboration with the Museum. The next of these will be the Royal and Imperial Hunting exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod, to be held in the same format as in Perm (see Oil of Russia, No. 1, 2005). It is planned that the exhibition will have an interactive zone and will be accompanied by a specialized tour and lecture program, with elements of theatre thrown in for children. Nizhny Novgorod isn't the last city in our joint regional program, adds Mrs. Gagarina. Over the long term, there will be several others to comewe just haven't decided which ones yet.

International recognition

With the new stage of the Museum's development, foreign exhibition work has assumed large-scale dimensions. Unlike the Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum exhibitions that are held abroad, notes Yelena Gagarina, our exhibitions are noticeably more expensive. This is largely due to the fact that we need to use expensive specialized display equipment. One of the preconditions for a successful display of our collections is that we engage an experienced and creative designer able to arrange our exhibits in such a way that they look elegant and impressive in their display cases.

Among the Museum's recent foreign exhibitions, the two held in connection with the Europalia Festival in Brussels deserve special mention: Faberge: the Romanovs' Jeweler and Russia: From Tsars to Emperors. Also worthy of note was The Majesty of the Tsars: Treasures of the Moscow Kremlin held at the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas. The Kremlin Museum also actively participates in exhibitions held by other museums - for example, To the Motherland and the Nation: 300 Anniversary of the Order of the White Eagle held in Warsaw's Royal Castle, and Napoleon and His Times: The Sublime Triumph of Culture held at Tokyo's Fuji Art Museum.

The Kremlin Museum has established strong and friendly relations with New York's Metropolitan Museum. We are constantly taking our exhibits to the expositions staged by the Metropolitan, explains Yelena Gagarina. The latest Metropolitan Museum project in which the Kremlin Museum participated was a large exhibition devoted to the late Byzantine art Byzantium: Faith and Power (12611557).

Relations between the Kremlin Museum and the Louvre have been rapidly gathering strength. In the autumn of 2004, 23 masterpieces from the famous collection of Louis XIV's black lacquered vessels were for the first time displayed in Russia as a part of the Treasures of the French Crown: From the Collection of the Louvre exhibition. We have a joint program for the exchange of our national treasures, explains Mrs. Gagarina. We will be participating in two exhibitions organized by the Louvre.

The Kremlin Museum has also established good relations with other famous museums, including Sweden's Silver Palace and Vienna's History Museum.

Alongside exhibitions, the museum complex devotes special attention to its educational work. There's a wide variety of museum programs for children and adults. We have entertaining guided tours, some including theatrical elements, some in the form of lectures, that acquaint our visitors with the history and traditions of Russia, and with its relations with other countries, says Yelena Gagarina. We have recently organized the Lovers of Antiquity Club for high-school students where they can learn more about the culture, morals, and everyday life of their ancestors. They learn about the Kremlin museums and the main museum professions. They are also able to take part in the 'museum theater' performances.

The jubilee accord

In the run-up to its 200th anniversary, the Moscow Kremlin Museum is taking stock of its accomplishments and making optimistic plans for the future. The Museum's main problem is its lack of exhibition space. However, there have already been a number of breakthroughs in this direction, too. In the autumn of 2005, a new exhibition hall was opened at the Patriarch's Palace, where major restoration work had been going on for more than two years. In 2006, the construction of a new spacious exhibition hall will also commence.

General Director Yelena Gagarina elaborates on another of the Museum's priorities: We would like to make our museum complex more open to visitors. It's no secret to anyone that the Kremlin is now perceived as somewhat closed, somewhat all behind the walls. We show a very small part of what we have, mostly the Armory and the interiors of some cathedrals. The Museum's enormous area is taken up by restoration workshops, storage rooms, and auxiliary spaces. The Museum's management is planning to move those beyond the territory of the Kremlin and begin large-scale renovation of the premises. Right now, our number one priority is Ivan the Great's bell-tower and the Archangel Cathedral, explains Mrs. Gagarina.

A jubilee program of the museum anniversary events launched in 2005 with the exhibitions Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nikon and The Cabinet of Curiosities of the Hapsburgs: The Magic of Nature and the Mechanism of the Universe, is truly sweeping. Along with its many exhibitions, it also includes the publication of a series of jubilee albums, academic studies, collections of scholarly work on the history of the Museum and its collections, and a complete catalogue of the Kremlin Museum collections. The jubilee program includes the creation of a computer model reconstructing the history of the Moscow Kremlin, 48 three-dimensional computer models of different exhibitions, a computer program named A Trip Around the Moscow Kremlin of the 17th Century, and the holding of an international research conference devoted to the 200th anniversary of the Kremlin Museum's founding.

Not long ago, on February 5, 2006, the exhibition Ambassadors' Gifts to the Russian Tsars, completed its work. This was the latest joint project of LUKOIL and the Moscow Kremlin Museum. Staged in the Uspensky bell-tower, the exhibition displayed around a hundred valuable objects presented to the Moscow court in the 17th century as state gifts and personal tributes. All of the nations with which Russia maintained diplomatic relations in the 17th century left their calling cards at the Kremlin vaults. Gifts from eleven countries are on a display at the exhibition. Among them, jewelry produced by famous European goldsmiths, regalia, valuable cloths, parade weapons, exotic Oriental items, and lacquered crosses and staffs presented by ambassadors of the Christian East.

Today, on the eve of its 200th anniversary, the Moscow Kremlin Museum enthusiastically continues to carry out its special missionboth promoting ties between Russia and the rest of the world and developing our own unique culture and that of the future generations, as well as explaining, through the medium of its activities, the importance of valuing treasures of world culture.

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Oil of Russia, No. 1, 2006
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