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30. A copy of the mineralogical collection acquired by Peter I in Germany in 1716.

In the 18th century speculation about the Earth’s composition bordered on the preposterous. The well-known mineralogist Lehmann, for example, stated that «the veins of ore we bare during excavations are nothing but branches of an enormous trunk rooted in the very core of the Earth». The budding science of mineralogy was a descriptive one. It was just making its first attempts to systematize the material according to indistinct exterior characteristics. Russian polymath Mikhail Lomonosov tried to establish a solid theoretic foundation for the young science.
One of Lomonosov’s main interests was the origin of amber. This mineral was well-known in the North of Russia: it was called «the incense of the sea». Elizabeth’s court valued it for its decorative qualities. In the 18th century it was generally believed that amber was created as a result of a chemical reaction between sulfuric acid and «stone oil», i.e. petroleum. Lomonosov, on the other hand, tried to prove that such a phenomenon was impossible. He made flies and other insects trapped within amber pieces his witnesses. Lomonosov also paid attention to the crystal structure of different minerals. He tried to establish a link between the exterior shape of a mineral and its inner structure. The prominent scholar pointed out five origins of minerals: compression, fixation, cornation, build-up and intrusion. Surprisingly, modern science also recognizes these processes, but now they have complex scientific terms like «coagulation» and «diagenesis».

31. Samples of wood from Siberia.

Popular curios included so-called «mock objects» or things that appeared to be something they were not; for example, these pieces of wood decorated to resemble the spines of books.

32. Herbarium with the signature of Surgeon-in-Ordinary Areskin, dated 1709.

Surgeon in Ordinary of Peter’s court, the Scotsman Robert Erskine or Areskin, as he was called in Russia, was an avid gatherer of Russian natural rarities or «the naturalia». When in 1714 the museum occupied the Summer Palace and required a special staff to look after and preserve it, Areskin was appointed «chief supervisor» of the collections. By gathering herbs and plants one by one and observing the process of their collecting, he later created numerous herbariums, like the first Russian herbarium, which was also made by him. These herbariums were arranged in the fashionable baroque style: each grass was placed in an elaborately carved holder.

33. Model of a boat made of clove. Southeast Asia. 19th century.

This model of a boat is made of the dried blossoms of the clove tree, a common spice. Clove comes from Southeast Asia, which was also the «cradle» of this wondrous boat. Today we use clove as a seasoning in food. But in medieval cuisine and even later, when refrigerators had not yet been invented, spices were highly valued for their preservative qualities since they suppressed the growth of bacteria. They were also highly valued for their medicinal properties and were used to prepare many balms and ointments. People always referred to eastern spices as «desirable». During some historical periods they were in great, even booming, demand.

34. Imitation insects made of wood. Japan, possibly 18th century.

It is hard to believe that all these insects are not representatives of the natural world caught and dried by an inquisitive naturalist, but were carved in wood and then painted! They were made in Japan and if one did not know that they were made two centuries ago, one could take them as modern souvenirs.

35. Collection of Albert Seba.

In 1716 a «fine collection of four-legged animals, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, shells and other strange East- and West-Indian creatures belonging to Albert Seba» was acquired in Holland. In Europe in those days it was fashionable to collect different wonders of nature — they were called «naturalia» — as well as objects of human workmanship, called «artificialia». Collectors called themselves «amateurs», and this name was quite appropriate: the driving force in the development of the sciences at that time was curiosity, while the «amateurs» earned their living in different ways. Seba, an apothecary, divided his exhibits according to the traditions of the Renaissance, i.e. according to their usefulness. Thus, for example, depending on whether the plant was edible or used for making medicines, it would be attached to a certain department of his collection. However, while arranging shells, plants and other mineral objects in an exquisite pattern, he consulted with Linnaeus and as a result developed new methods of classification.