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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

The Arts

Treasures of the Nations Memory
By Marina Sinitsyna

Barmy (jewelry). Russia, Ryazan. 12th -13th century.

To commemorate its 200th founding anniversary this year, the State Kremlin Museum is displaying little known and rarely seen treasures from various collections, in a special jubilee exhibition. Set up for the first time in two exhibition halls from 11 March to 4 October, the Russian Emperors and the Armory Chamber presents 300 items mainly from the museums collection but also from the Russian State Depository of Historical Archives and the State Historical Museum. The seven-month long exhibition has already attracted considerable attention. In addition, this month will see on display items once belonging to the Armory on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, including a brooch bouquet of flowers studded with diamonds and rubies that Catherine the Great kept in her room in 1795 as well as diamond-encrusted costume jewelry she especially ordered in 1764. Spirited out of the Soviet Union after the Revolution, these items were auctioned off at Christies in 1927 and bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert in the 1950s and 1960s.

The exhibition, which will be held at the Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral and the One Pillar Chamber of the Patriarchs Palace, which was recently renovated after being used as a toilet in Soviet times, showcases the Armorys special status as a court museum that was originally founded on March 10, 1806 through an imperial edict signed by Aleksander I.

This essentially completed a process started by Peter the Great to convert into a museum the closed repositories of court treasuries, war trophies (mainly from the Battle of Poltava in 1709), gifts from visiting dignitaries, ceremonial weaponry and the like. As Moscows first public museum, the Armory serves as a rich record of the grandeur of Russian history and a complex memorial to imperial art.

Caftan of Emperor Peter II. France, 1727-1730.

As the countrys seat of power for Russian tsars before the capital was moved to St Petersburg the early 19th century, for the Politburo in Soviet times and currently for the Russian president, the Kremlin has always limited access to the public. Elena Gagarina, daughter of Yuri Gagarin and museum general director since 2001, has constantly said that her main goal is to make the museum more accessible to the public. The current exhibition, she said, was a way to go beyond its traditional base and to reach new audiences for its collections. The exhibitions innovative theme of connecting the personalities of the Romanov dynasty from Peter I to Nicholas II with the history of the Armory first as a family treasury and later as a state museum establishes its collection as the principal depository of imperial regalia and other objects related to the main ceremonies. 

The exhibition in the Armory, which houses such treasures as the Cap of Monomakh, Ivan the Terrible's throne, the Diamond Throne of Czar Alexei and nine Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs, pays special attention to the court ceremonies such as the coronation, which continued to be held in Moscow despite the northern shift of the imperial capital in 1712 in the manner of the coronation costume of Peter the Greats wife Catherine I. 

To the pre-Petrine state sword, banner, orb and scepter, the imperial crown and mantle was added. Through the 19th century the Armorys collection continued to expand due to acquisitions and donations. Numerous additions necessitated the need for the construction of a new Armory in 1851, based on the design of architect Konstantin Ton. The planned construction later this year of a new building worth US$50 million, the first expansion outside the Kremlin, is expected to double the current space with the addition of 23,000 more sq. m. When completed, the new building outside the premises controlled by the presidential administration will welcome visitors without obliging them to pass through long security checks. Until that time, however, the current Armory exhibition offers Muscovites a unique chance to look into the Kremlin's well-hidden treasures.

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