The Romanov Dynasty

Russia's Past: Prologue To The Future

As fire refines and purifies gold, so the fires of history have forged the treasures of the Kremlin. Set against the backdrop of turbulent Russia, these glorious works stand as a testament to the spirit of the Russian people.

Moscow grew from a small village into the capital of the world's largest nation. Its location along a major river made it accessible to trade routes but also not easily attacked by nomads. The princes of Moscow were ambitious leaders. The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church moved to Moscow making it the major center of the Russian Orthodox Church. When Ivan III became czar in 1462, he expanded the empire. He brought Italian architects to build the walls, cathedrals and palaces that still are part of the Kremlin complex. Within the Kremlin, there is a bell tower and a square named after Ivan III. The fires of 1547 destroyed a considerable part of Moscow but did not destroy the Kremlin.

Icons, images portraying religiously significant saints and events, have long been part of the Orthodox tradition and are a revered symbol of Russian culture. Icons were sometimes covered by oklads, which were covers of silver, gold or brass. Openings in the covers exposed painted faces, hands and feet of the icon beneath. A particularly distinctive example of 16th century art work is the oklad of the icon, "Hodigitria Mother of God". It portrays the patron saints of Ivan the Terrible and his family along the border of the oklad, including St. Anastasia. The Romanov era was connected to the previous dynasty through Anastasia, the first wife of Ivan IV.

The oklad of the Hodigitria symbolizes Mary and the Christ child with the image of Mary pointing the way to her son, who sits on one arm. Hodigitria is a Greek word for "pointer of the way." An enameled and richly colored filigreed pattern of flowers and leaves is embellished with pearls, sapphires, rubies and almandine, as well as grains of gold. The oklad of St. Nicholas is another example of the rich detail found on these pieces.

Prince Dmitrii was the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible. To eliminate the chance of Dmitrii becoming czar, he allegedly was murdered by Boris Godunov in 1591. His casket of gilded silver was ordered to be made approximately 25 years later by Czar Mikhail Feodorovich, after Dmitrii was canonized a saint. Dmitrii's casket cover portrays him as a saint with a halo. The use of ornamentation is a main component of Russian art and it is beautifully shown in the surface patterns of the dress, background areas and in the margins. Along the rim of the lid are portraits of the patron saints of Czar Mikhail Feodorovich and members of his family. Prince Dmitrii's casket disappeared in 1812 during the invasion by Napoleon's troops. The lid was hidden and is now on display at the Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

As the Russian people share their cultural foundations and aesthetics, they look to their past for a renewed cultural identity. The splendor of these Prologue elements lures the museum visitor into a personal meeting with the grandeur of Imperial Russia. The art collection in this gallery introduces the students to a time when the people of Russia were in a time of turmoil. This time period is referred to as the Time of Troubles. Russian art often is described in terms of its use of vibrant color and ornate surfaces. The use of these qualities can easily be observed in this gallery's art works. The icon covers and the casket cover are excellent examples of the high level of metal artistry that was produced in the 16th and 17th centuries. The aesthetic value lies in the composition of shapes, the quality of line patterns and the arrangements of jewels. Icons were sometimes covered with skillfully worked silver or gilded silver covers made by repoussé and chasing.

In addition to the two described oklads, there are three 19th century paintings of different views of the Kremlin in the Prologue Gallery as well as a magnificent gilded silver oklad of St. Nicholas of Zaraisk (the familiar St. Nicholas, now shown as the patron saint of Zaraisk, Russia). This oklad is studded with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, turquoise and pearls.

Suggested Activities

To demonstrate that museum objects reflect what is representative of a culture.

Suggested Activities:

Source: Treasures of the Czars education guide by Kathy Sanz.

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