The Department possesses numerous valuable collections of items of traditional culture, photographs, drawings, posters, paintings, and other visual materials related to the original and diverse folk cultures of Europe. It is no secret that the scholarly interest in articles of European folk culture arose much later than that for “exotic, remote, and strange” peoples. The situation was the same with collections representing the life of peoples who live next to us, but turn out to be so little known to us.
The first European collections began to accumulate in the 19th century. Among the noteworthy items acquired at that time are Albanian clothes from crimson velvet with rich golden orphrey, presented to the Russian tsar Nicholas I. Together with Albanian weapons decorated with silver, they belong to the museum’s most unique specimens. Also in the 19th century, the collections were enriched with traditional artifacts representing the folk culture of Montenegrins, Macedonians, and other peoples. A purposeful collecting of articles of traditional European cultures began in the 20th century. The museum was enriched with rare exhibits from Scandinavia, Central, Southern, and Southwestern Europe.
The bulk of the Scandinavian collection of the Kunstkamera are runic calendars received in the 1830s, Norwegian exhibits dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s, Swedish peasant items from Run50102 (Ruhnu) Island, received in the early 1800s. The total number of Scandinavian exhibits at MAE is over 250.
There are more than one hundred objects and photographs from Spain, Italy, Monaco, Portugal and southern France (Department of East Pyrenees). Part of them was donated by Admiral K.N. Pos’et in 1899. Certain specimens such as plaster figurines, traditional headdresses and musical instruments, dolls in national costumes, and utensils were received from the Museum of Presents to I.V. Stalin (Moscow).
The department owns five collections representing the traditional culture of Germans (ca. 100 items). One of them is related to German colonists of the Volga region. Another one is an interesting collection of spoons donated to the museum by V.A. Ryshkov in 1927.
In 1990 a goal-oriented assemblage of items of the traditional Germans culture began. In 2000, during the First Russian-German Ethnological Expedition to northern Germany, the department staff members A.S. Myl’nikov, A.A. Novik and Yu.V. Ivanova-Buchatskaya acquired a collection comprising 24 specimens such as household objects, clothing, textile, and articles related to festivals.
A.A. Novik, who conducted several expeditions to Greek and Albanian villages in the Ukraine in 1998–2003, brought some 100 specimens reflecting traditional life of Greeks and Albanians. The collection is unique as there are no such artifacts in Russian museums.
The department’s photographic collections consist of films, negatives and photographs made by MAE researchers in various European countries in late 1800s. Especially noteworthy are those made by V.V. Radlov in Skansen, Sweden, in 1898. They show the traditional life of Scandinavian peasants and common town dwellers. Many photographs were made by L.J. Sternberg in early 1900s. His trips to Brittany in 1904 and to Galicia and Germany in 1919 enriched the Kunstkamera with unique photographs showing everyday life, culture, festive rites, etc. Such photos are very rare not only in Russian, but also in European museums, as the interest in ethnographic photography is rather recent.
Photographs are not the only boast of the department’s stock of illustrations. There are painting and drawings made by amateurs as well as by professional artists. Among them are two paintings by the famous Albanian artist Yu. Rota, depicting women of the northern Albanian town Shkodra in their national costumes. These small paintings were made in the 1950s, when traditional clothing was still popular with the Albanians at large rather than with members of folklore groups alone.
In 1999 the General Consulate of Norway donated to the museum a collection of illustrative materials showing the role of skis in the life of Norwegians.
Expeditions organized by the department have been an important source of new materials. Numerous photographs reflecting various aspects of life and culture were brought from Albania, Macedonia, Lithuania, and Germany. The Circum-Baltic region, Central Europe and the Balkans have become the foci of the department’s ethnological studies, and they are especially well represented by photographic materials. The joint Russian-German expedition to Jabelheide-Wendland (2000) should be mentioned in this context, because it enriched the museum with more than 700 photographs, ten video cassettes, and 23 audio cassettes. This allowed to document a considerable part of present-day folk culture – one which will be part of the past tomorrow.
Apart from describing photographic materials and using them in research work, the department’s staff members use them for educational purposes, stressing the importance of ethnographical photography in the new industrial world. In the last several years two exhibitions were organized: one of posters showing the role of skis in the life of Norwegians, another one titled Albania in the Photographic Art of George Argiropulo (1960). Other exhibitions are being planned.
J.I. Meskhidze has prepared the Catalogue of Artifacts from Western and Southwestern Europe in MAE and a publication titled Peoples of Belgium and Holland: A Catalogue of Artifacts and Photographs at MAE. Both are forthcoming.