Room 20. Russian Culture of the 16th and 17th Centuries

Elements of secular culture, new thinking and new attitude to the world and life began developing in Russia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Scholars usually describe this process as «Europeanisation» since Russia had received a new cultural impulse from Western Europe. There was a way for the ground of Peter’s reforms at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the wake of other European nations Russia made a historic transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Times, and that was the main thrust of the reforms.

cases 1-3
The first section (cases 1-5 and exhibit to the left of the entrance) present the Russian artistic culture of the 16th and 17th centuries. Case 1 is dedicated to music and theatre. Here one can see a manuscript with the sacred singing by Feodor Krestyanin, a well-known author of church music in the 16th century. This manuscript is a typical sample of the so-called «Znamennyy» notation (from «znamya» meaning a «sign») widespread in Russia until the 17th century, though Old Believers used them even longer. Placed beside is The Dvoeznamennik of the 17th century where a five-line notation is used along with «Znamennyy notation». This new method of notation in music was used in Western Europe for both liturgical and secular music notes. Its introduction in Russia might have opened new vistas for the development of secular music culture. A vivid example is the Rhymed Psalter by Simeon Polotskiy set to music by composer A.Titov.

In the centre of the case there is a portrait of Simeon Polotskiy, one of the first Russian enlighteners of the 17th century, a public and church figure and writer. He became famous for enriching Russian literature with syllabic poetry and creating first dramatics. Next to the portrait there is the first edition of Rhymed Psalter – a versification of the Psalter written by Simeon Polotskiy.

You can also see a cased portrait of A.S.Matveev that became famous in various fields. Being in charge of the Ukrainian «Prikaz» (Ambassadorial Department) he was actively promoting the unification of Ukraine and Russia. As an educated European gentleman, Matveev did much to organize the first Russian theatre – an absolutely new phenomenon for medieval Russia. A wooden plank in the upper part of the case can well be a chest lid. It features a pictorial representation of The Story of Esther based on the plotline of The Artaxerxes Action – the first performance played in Moscow, in 1672. The Russian Theatre began in court chambers, the first spectators were the tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich with his family. The performance staged by foreign actors was in the German language. And yet the interest in theatre performances was tremendous. It isn’t accidental that 1672 is thought to be the birth-year of the Russian Theatre.

case 4
In cases 4-5 there are artifacts of applied arts: samples of gilt and right-side sewing, all known techniques of working precious stones. In case 4 there are icons of Stroganov painting, so called because for the first time it appeared within the confines of the Stroganov merchants’ estates. Icon painting noted by extraordinary refinement and subtle elaboration of all details is much like the jeweller art.

case 5
Items decorated with Usol enamel (case 5) deserve special attention. The name «Usol» was given to paintings with enamel on metal – a technique mastered by craftsmen from the town of Solvychegodsk. Items are not only noted for a high technological level (when applying a paint of a given colour an object would be heated to a certain temperature), but also for a high artistic skill of the enameller – it is impossible to discover two like patterns on hundreds of items that have been extant to our days.

case 6
Book printing played a tremendous role in the history of Russian culture. Without typography no coordinated state policy could be pursued, and no education or enlightenment would be possible. Well aware of how important book printing was, Ivan the Terrible declared it a matter of state import. The tsar personally patronised the first printer Ivan Fedorov.

The last section of the room’s exposition is devoted to this subject. In the central part of case 6 is a watercolour depicting the Moscow Printing Works. It was a large government body engaged in the publication of printed matter, its further sale and distribution. There was a library and a shop at the Printing Works where each could buy or exchange books.

On the case podium there is a model of a printing press from the Moscow Printing Works going back to the early 17th century. Since it is an operable one, it could have been used for printing small format books. The model gives an exact idea of what printing presses were like in the Middle Ages. On a separate desk is the famous Apostle by Ivan Fedorov published in 1564 – the first Russian dated printed book without a single misprint or blot. The Apostle is still an unsurpassed specimen of printing art.

In Middle Ages such worship books as The Apostle, Prayer-Book, Psalter were used to teach kids reading and writing. In the 17th century first grammar textbooks called ABC books appear in Russia. In 1634 printer of the Moscow Printing Works Vasily Burtsov published a primer that was sold out within one day – so great was the craving of Muscovites for enlightenment. Burtsov’s primer ran through several editions. In the early 1690s Karion Istomin compiled an ABC book based on the visual method of teaching specially for tsarevich Aleksey Petrovich. Later on another edition of this primer was released by the Moscow Printing Works for mass distribution. The copy exhibited in the case is open at the page with letter «B» – one can see different ways of writing it along with images of things whose names begin with this letter.

The 17th century was marked by the foundation of the first institution of higher learning in Russia – the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy founded at the initiative of Simeon Polotskiy in 1682. The Academy offered secular education based on teaching «seven free arts» following the tradition of European universities. History was one of the «arts». Displayed in the case is the first Russian textbook on history – The Synopsis by I.Gizel published in Kiev in 1674. The book was extremely popular and had been released until the 19th century having run through 25 editions. The Synopsis highlights the national history from the times of Old Rus to the campaigns of the Russian Army in the late 1670s.

case 7
In case 7 there is exhibited The Privilege – regulations of the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy. Close by there is a textbook Rhetoric written specially for the Academy by one of its tutors, Sophronius Likhud.

case 8
The scaling up of practical human activities enhances the interest of man in scientific knowledge. First textbooks on natural sciences, teaching aids and reference books (especially medical ones) appear, precision instruments are brought from Europe not as rarities, but to be used according to their main purpose. Exhibited in the case is a sun-dial, a spyglass and Jacob’s staff. Already in the 16th century under Ivan the Terrible it was planed to create The Big Draft – a general map of the Russian State. Nobody knows whether this plan was implemented, but displayed in case 8 is an interesting document – The Book of the Grand Draft. This is the most detailed description of national land and waterways with indicated distances between inhabited localities. Most likely, The Book was the source material for map compilation.

case 9
Exhibited in cases 8-9 are materials dealing with the development of scientific knowledge in the Russia of that time. The central part of case 9 is occupied by the icon of «Mother of God the Joy for All Mournful» representing the Universe: celestial spheres stretch above the Earth Plane with luminaries and planets attached to them while the stellar sphere is the Kingdom of Heaven. The entire portrayal is crowned with a scene of Mother of God pleading with Jesus for the people. The icon is an illustration of The Cosmography by Kozma Indikopiov who lived in the 6th century and drew a fantastical picture of the world: the flat Earth in the ocean resting on three whales, dog-headed people at the edge of the Earth etc.

Pier. Globe
The second section of the exposition is dedicated to education and science. The central place is assigned to a copper and wood-carved Globe made in Holland in the early 1690s and cased by the firm of successors of famous cartographer Willem Blew on demand of Swedish King Karl XL His heir Karl XII refused to redeem the globe, and in 1697 it was purchased by Peter the Great, when he stayed in Europe with the Grand Mission. It is known that in 1711-1730 the globe was exhibited along with the famous «botik» (little boat) in the Kremlin, in the annex to the Bell-Tower of Ivan the Great, the first Moscow public museum. In 1733 it was moved to the Sukharev Tower, where the mathematical-navigation school founded by Peter the Great in 1701 was quartered. The globe had been used there as a teaching aid until 1752. Then it was transported to St. Petersburg and later it was brought back to Moscow, Rumyantsev’s Museum, whence it was passed to the custody of the Historical Museum.

The globe of W. Blew is a unique artifact of the world cartography. Mapped there are all geographical discoveries known at that time. Thus the western Australian coast discovered by Dutch sailors in the 17th century is well seen. The territory of the Russian State delineated on the globe very closely follows the outlines of Russia on the famous map compiled by Dutch cartographer H. Gerrits in 1611 (close by in case 8 one can see a copy of this map released in 1613).

The greater part of the section is devoted to the Russian painting of 16th and 17th centuries. The central place is allotted to the authentic iconostasis from the side-chapel of the Prokhor and Nikanor of Smolensky Cathedral in the Novodevichy Convent.

Particularly interesting is the icon «Saints Vera, Nadezhda and Lyubov (Faith, Hope and Charity) and their Mother Sofia» painted by famous icon-painter of the 17th century Karp Zolotarev. There is a remarkable semblance of the Saints’ images with tsarevna Sofia; hence the representation can rightly be described as a portrait.

Current exhibitions

“English Breakfast” in Russia. Late 18th – 19th century. Within a framework of the cross-year “Russia – Great Britain”

5 Dec., 2014 — 3 Mar., 2015

Russian Glass. Recent Acquisitions by the State Historical Museum

19 Nov., 2014 — 31 Mar., 2015