From Michael Romanov
to Peter the Great

The reign of Michael Romanov

When young Michael Romanov (1613–1645) was elected to the throne, he introduced a period of restoration with the help of his father Patriarch Filaret (1619–1633). The artistic legacy of the century of Ivan the Terrible was deliberately revived, doubtless to erase the memory of the Time of Troubles. Like his predecessors, Tsar Michael had the most significant relics brought to the Kremlin, and gave new impetus to the palace workshops. The new reliquary commissioned in 1628 by Michael I for Tsarevich Dmitry was therefore of symbolic importance.

The Stroganov workshops and painters

The Stroganovs were a family of merchants from the White Sea region. Their social ascent in the days of Ivan the Terrible and the first Romanovs stemmed from Russian expansion beyond the Ural Mountains and the colonization of Siberia. They were rewarded for their services with extensive properties in the newly annexed regions, where they set up commercial and industrial operations. The center of their empire was Solvychegodsk, on the Vychegda River, where they made their fortune from salt. In the late 16th century, the Stroganovs established an embroidery workshop there, which experienced its "golden age" around 1650-1680 under the direction of Anna Ivanovna, wife of Dmitry Andreevich Stroganov. A series of paintings, produced for them or under their patronage between the late 16th and late 17th centuries, came to be known as the "Stroganov school"; these were works by the finest artists of the tsar's workshops, such as Prokopy Chirin and Nazary Istomin-Savin. The "Stroganov school," distinguished by its precious nature and fragile slender figures, had a Mannerist elegance that gave it all its charm.

The contradictions of the 17th century

The reigns of Alexis Mikhailovich (1645–1676) and of his son Feodor (1676–1682) were marked by Russian expansion both westwards and eastwards to the Pacific (achieved in 1647). This period corresponded to a time of institutional change but of division too, with the schism of the Old Believers engendered by the reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1652–1658). At the same time, art forms slowly became westernized. The art of portraiture emerged, and the naturalism of Western painting began to influence the tsar's icon painters, first among whom was Simon Ushakov. Tradition and baroque innovation were sometimes surprisingly blended.

The revolution of Peter the Great

In 1697 and 1698, Peter I the Great (1682–1725) toured Europe on a diplomatic mission known as the "Grand Embassy" which marked a watershed between ancient and modern Russia. A gradual, tentative process of Westernization had begun in the mid-17th century, but Peter the Great imposed it nationwide with a series of radical reforms affecting army, state, and society. The Patriarchate itself—left without a head since the death of Patriarch Adrian in 1700—was abolished in 1721 and replaced with a state-controlled Holy Synod. Finally, St. Petersburg with its port on the Baltic was founded in 1703 and became the capital in 1712, consolidating Russia's orientation toward Europe. In the new city, domed churches were abandoned in favor of Western-style basilicas topped with spires. The Tsar sent for European architects and artists, especially from the Netherlands. Northern European baroque art flourished in St. Petersburg, and soon spread throughout Russia. Modern Russia was in the making.

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Lid of the reliquary of Tsarevich Dmitry

Dmitry, son of Ivan the Terrible, died in mysterious circumstances in 1591 at the age of 9, perhaps murdered on the orders of Boris Godunov. He was soon counted among the saints of the Russian Church. His remains were placed in the necropolis of the tsars at the Church of the Archangel Michael in the Kremlin.
In 1628, Tsar Michael Romanov commissioned a group of silversmiths (headed by Gavrila Ovdokimov) to create a gilt silver reliquary, only the lid of which has survived. Each of the medallions around Dmitry shows a patron saint of the family of Michael I; the new dynasty was thereby entrusted to the protection of one of the last Rurikids. The young tsarevich, wearing a rich caftan, is shown in high relief. His image obeys strict iconic canons, clearly visible in the figure's impassivity. However, the round, childish face with its prominent lips and staring eyes reflects a concern for realism that heralds the advent of portraiture.
Pavel and Dmitry Alexeyev, Vasily Korovnikov, Timothy Ivanov, Vasily Malosolets, under the direction of Gavrila Ovdokimov
Moscow, Kremlin workshops, 1628–1630
Gold and gilt silver on a wood core; enamel; precious stones; pearls; glass
H. 1.58 m; W. 70.3 cm
Provenance: reliquary of Tsarevich Dmitry in the Church of the Archangel Michael in the Moscow Kremlin.
Moscow, Kremlin Museums, inv. n° МР-9989
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Letter of the Solovetsky monks refusing the new service books

Of all the reforms imposed on the Church between 1653 and 1656 by Patriarch Nikon (1652–1658), prompting the schism (Raskol) of the Old Believers within the Russian Church, the revision of the service books was one of the most radical and profound; it was very badly received by the members of the clergy, who rejected the revised books.
The monks of the Solovetsky monastery refused to use them for the liturgy, declaring: "that they would officiate as they had in the past, according to the tradition of the thaumaturgic saints, St. Zosimus, and Metropolitan Philip […]." Metropolitan Philip Kolychev—a former hegumen (abbot) of the Solovetsky monastery who became Metropolitan of Moscow (1566–1569)—was a victim of Ivan the Terrible.
The monastery remained fiercely opposed to the innovations introduced by Nikon's reforms and only yielded after several sieges, when their revolt was bloodily suppressed by the tsar's armies in 1676.
Solovki, June 8, 1658
Paper; three folios
H. 45, 30, and 27 cm; W. 16 cm
Provenance: former Synodal collection.
Moscow, State Historical Museum, inv. n° 80370 (ms Syn. roll n° 1171)
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Sakkos (ceremonial tunic) of the Metropolitan of Rostov Jonah Sysoyevich

The sakkos is a priestly tunic of Byzantine origin, initially worn only by the Metropolitan of Moscow before its use was extended to all in 1675. This one was presented in 1665 to Jonah Sysoyevich (1652–1690), Metropolitan of Rostov and Yaroslavl, by the Stroganov family of merchants and art patrons who settled in Solvychegodsk, 1000 km from Moscow.
Sakkos from the Stroganov embroidery workshops are characterized by their rich decoration and an iconography combining liturgical feasts and images of saints. The embroideresses simplified the design of human figures, modeling the forms with chiaroscuro. They chose the colors of the clothes and the details of the architecture and backgrounds, which they worked in underside couching with silk or metallic threads of various colors.
Workshop of Anna Ivanovna Stroganova
Solvychegodsk, 1665
Silk, gold, and silver thread embroidery; satin; damask satin; canvas
H. 1.26 m; W. 52 cm
Provenance: gift of Dmitry Andreevitch and Grigori Dmitrievitch Stroganov to the Assumption Cathedral in Rostov in 1665.
Yaroslavl, History and Architecture Museum, inv. 5432
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Portable iconostasis

This portable iconostasis was designed to accompany its owner wherever he went; it consists of twenty-seven independent boards that could easily be stored inside a small box. It is a miniature replica of a church iconostasis with three superposed tiers: the Deesis, the Feasts of the liturgical calendar, and the Prophets. As it was not designed for a particular place, it has no "local tier" on the lower section; nor does it have the Patriarchs tier, which first appeared in the 16th century and remained optional.
Moscow, first third of the 17th century
Tempera on limewood; gilt silver
H. 31.5 cm; W. 13.5 cm (central panel) and 6.9 cm (side panels); Th. 2.4 cm (central panel) and 1.2 cm
Provenance: gift of state secretary Ivan Tarasievich Gramotin to the Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery in 1638.
Sergiev-Posad, State History and Art Museum, inv. 2385-ихо
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Pokrov of St. Sergius of Radonezh

This pokrov (veil) is a masterpiece from the workshops of Anna Ivanovna Stroganova. Designed to cover the reliquary of St. Sergius of Radonezh, it is remarkable for its luxury materials, the perfection of its embroidery, and the abundance of pearls and precious stones which reflect the wealth of the powerful Stroganov family.
The central part shows St. Sergius in his monastic habit: cowl, cloak, and scapular. The halo is decorated with five large, round, enameled gold appliqués embellished with a hundred and eighty-four precious stones. The border is divided into twenty pearl-fringed sections with bands of inscriptions: the section above the saint shows the Trinity, while the others illustrate episodes from the life of St. Sergius. The backgrounds are fully embroidered with silver threads—except those of the inscriptions which, like the images, are worked in gold thread on both sides.
Workshop of Anna Ivanovna Stroganova
Solvychegodsk, 1671
Silk, silver, and gold thread embroidery; satin; canvas; gold; rubies (101); emeralds (60); spinels (21), corundums; garnets; pearls; enamel
H. 1.83 m; W. 67 cm
Provenance: presented to the Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery on July 11, 1671, by Anna Ivanovna, widow of Dmitry Andreevich Stroganov, and their children.
Sergiev-Posad, State History and Art Museum, inv. 400-ихо
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Portrait of Patriarch Nikon

This painted portrait on canvas of Patriarch Nikon, executed around 1660–1665 (during his lifetime), is probably the first true portrait in Russian history—conceived, moreover, as a group portrait. Nikon (1605–1681) was Patriarch from 1652 to 1658, when he resigned from his responsibilities and withdrew to the New Jerusalem Resurrection Monastery, which he had founded at a distance of some fifty kilometers from Moscow.
Nikon stands in the foreground in an almost three-quarter pose, wearing his official insignia. To the left, just below the platform, are eight members of the monastery brotherhood. The layout, the light, the lively realistic faces, the attention to detail, the oil painting technique, and the touch are not those of a Russian painter; the influence of Western painting—especially of the Dutch school—is clearly perceptible.
Unknown artist, c. 1660–1665
Oil on canvas
H. 2.34 m; W. 1.80 m
Provenance: New Jerusalem Resurrection Monastery.
Istra, "New Jerusalem" Museum of History, Architecture, and Art, inv. КП 9805 / Ж 98
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Liturgical set

This liturgical set is composed of a chalice, a large paten (for the consecration of the bread) with an asterisk to hold the protective veil (aër), two patens for breaking the prosphora (i.e., the loaves used for consecration and blessing in honor of the Virgin), a lance for cutting the prosphora, and a spoon for administering communion. The complete set also included a cross and a Gospel Book that were placed on the altar during the service.
The set was made in 1679 by the goldsmiths of the Kremlin workshops on the orders of Tsar Feodor III Romanov (1676–1682), half-brother of Peter the Great, for the palatial church of the "life-giving" Resurrection.
Moscow, 1679
Gold; silver; enamel; diamonds; sapphires; emeralds; rubies; amethysts; spinels; topazes; white sapphire; quartz
Chalice (inv. Э- 9743): H. 28.7 cm and max. diam. 16.6 cm; large paten (inv. Э- 9739): H. 12.2 cm and diam. 26.6 cm; asterisk (inv. Э- 9740): H. 17 cm; patens (inv. Э- 9736, 9742): Diam.: 21.3 cm, 20.8 cm; spoon (inv. Э- 9747): W. 21 cm and L. 4.6 cm; lance (Э- 9749): W. 23.7 cm and L. 2.4 cm
Provenance: High Church of the Resurrection at the Armory Palace in Moscow, mentioned in the inventory of 1729/1742.
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum, Department of Western European Art
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Icon: St. Onuphrius

St. Onuphrius, a 4th-century Egyptian anchorite thought to have been the son of a Persian king, was sent by an angel to a monastery in the Thebaid; while still very young, he left the monastery to live in the desert, surviving on water, dates, and the bread that an angel brought him. From the 12th century onward in Byzantium, then in Russia, he was represented as he is here, with "extremely long hair and beard reaching to the ground, covering his nudity," his loins "girded with the leaves of desert plants." Above the saint, a very small figure of Christ blesses him. The finely shaded flesh and volume given to the loincloth of leaves strongly evoke the Muscovite painting of the 1670s–1680s.
Cemetery churches were often dedicated to Onuphrius who, according to a Russian legend, had prayed for the dead in the Jerusalem cemetery for foreigners and travelers.
Moscow (?), 1670–1680
Tempera on wood; gilt silver
H. 1.27 m; W. 1.07 m
Provenance: Church of St. Onuphrius in the Solovetsky monastic cemetery.
Moscow State Integrated Museum Reserve (Kolomenskoye, Izmailovo, Lefortovo, and Lublino), inv. КП- 2630/1, 2
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The Holy Face

The Holy Face was one of Simon Ushakov's favorite themes. He used light colors and modeled the flesh with light and shadow, deeply humanizing the face of Christ; the folds of the Mandylion are natural and supple, its realistically knotted ends embellished with gold-embroidered motifs.
By painting the face of Christ alone against a drapery background, the artist attained a truly lifelike effect, and the Holy Face represents an ideal, almost academic perfection. Ushakov, who was appointed painter to the Tsar at the age of twenty-two, earned the admiration of his contemporaries; heir to the icon painting tradition, he was also enamored of Western painting, and even tried engraving. His work, which influenced his fellow painters, was the ultimate incarnation of the 17th-century Russian dichotomy between tradition and modernity.
Simon Ushakov
Moscow, Armory School, 1678
Tempera on limewood
H. 53 cm; W. 42 cm
Provenance unknown.
Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery, inv. N 30531
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Funerary iconostasis of the Regent Sophia, half-sister of Peter the Great

At the death of her brother Tsar Feodor III in 1682, Princess Sophia (1657–1704) took over the regency on behalf of her brother Ivan V and half-brother Peter the Great, both minors at the time. For having supported the 1689 Streltsy revolt against them, she was shut up in the Novodevichy Convent for the last fifteen years of her life; another Streltsy uprising in 1698 raised her hopes of a return to power, but the terrible repression that followed forced her to take the veil.
This iconostasis, composed of the icons that accompanied her throughout her life, represents the private devotions of a late 17th-century princess: the Virgin (represented by eight icons), the Trinity, St. Sergius of Radonezh... Most of these works were produced in the tsar's workshops and all but one still have their gold revetment.
Provenance: Church of the Virgin of Smolensk, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow.
Moscow, Novodevichy Convent Museum, affiliated to the State Historical Museum
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Funerary portrait of Tsar Feodor III Romanov

This painting shows Tsar Feodor III (1676–1682), son of Alexis I, who died at the age of 21. He was a young man of fragile health, who distinguished himself by his piety and erudition; during his brief reign he undertook a series of social reforms pertaining in particular to justice, economy, and education.
Three years after his death, the regent Sophia commissioned this funerary portrait from the chief court portraitist, Ivan (Bogdan) Saltanov; its size and iconography echo traditional images of the tsars. Despite the conventional style reminiscent of icons of young saints, the personalized facial features met the new requirements of portraiture (parsuna). The wood support was prepared traditionally, but the painting is a blend of distemper and oil, colored glaze and applied gold, with Western-style shadows for modeling.
Ivan (Bogdan) Saltanov, Hierotheus Elin, Luka Smolianinov
Moscow, Armory Palace, 1686
Tempera and oil on wood
H. 2.44 m; W. 1.19 m
Provenance: Church of the Archangel Michael in the Moscow Kremlin.
Moscow, State Historical Museum, inv. 29175/ И VIII 3760
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Portrait of Peter the Great

This full-length portrait was painted by Gottfried Kneller during Peter the Great's "Grand Embassy" to Europe between the spring of 1697 and the summer of 1698. At that time, the German-born Kneller was a sought-after portraitist at the English court. He excelled in rendering the delicacy of flesh tints, the richness of fabrics, and the gleam of metal armor. He executed the portraits of the English kings Charles II and James II, and was appointed principal painter to the king (together with John Riley) in 1688.
The 26 year-old Peter I is depicted in the style of a European monarch, with the idealized beauty of youth. Copies of the engraved portrait circulated throughout Russia, serving as models for a series of head and shoulder portraits that were engraved and painted on enamel.
Gottfried Kneller (Lübeck, 1646–London, 1723)
London, 1698
Oil on canvas
H. 2.41 m; W. 1.45 m
London, the Royal Collection, Kensington Palace, inv. n°405645
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Model of Smolny Convent of the Resurrection, St. Petersburg

Paris-born architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700–1770) was brought up in the French school and influenced by German and Italian architecture. He was the son of a sculptor who had been summoned to St. Petersburg by Peter the Great. From the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, he designed all the royal buildings, and his responsibilities spread throughout Russia; he disseminated the baroque and rococo style that was so popular in Europe.
The model of this convent—which owes its name to its location on the site of a former tar (smola) yard—was constructed in limewood and decorated with gilt lead and plaster; on a scale of 1/ 62, it shows every element of the grandiose project. The model, which can be dismantled, comprises some 95 separate pieces. Despite its symmetry and a rigorous hierarchy of volumes and spaces, Smolny Convent nonetheless evokes the monastic cities of the past, enclosed within their fortified walls.
Project by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli
St. Petersburg, 1750–1756
Wood; lead; oil paint; gilding
H. 2.72 m; W. 5.26 m; L. 5.05 m
St. Petersburg, Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts, inv. AM-2 KP 253/2