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The history of Kunstkammer

1704–1718Peter the Great issues decrees "about delivering born freaks and other curiosities found." (Complete Code of Laws of the Russian Empire, Vol. IV, St. Petersburg, 1830, ##1964, 3159, etc.) Peter the Great’s private collections and his anatomical and zoological collections are kept in the State Pharmaceutical Department (Apterkarskaya Kantselyariya).
1714–1719When the capital of Russia is moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg, all of Peter’s collections are assembled in the St. Petersburg Summer Palace. Supervision of the collections is entrusted to Robert Areskin, the Surgeon-in-Residence to the Tsar and president of the State Pharmaceutical Department, and Johann Schuhmacher, who is specially appointed "The Keeper of Rarities and Scientific Collections". The Museum is given the name "Kunstkammer". It is not open to the public at this time.
1719–1727Not far from Smolny Cathedral, the Kunstkammer collections are opened to the public in the house of Alexander Kikin, an out of favor boyar. The first public museum in Russia captures the imaginations of both Russians and Europeans because of the plenitude of collections displayed. The main source for new collections are the famous "academic expeditions" of D. G. Messershmidt, G. F. Miller, I. G. Gmelin, S. P. Krashenninnikov, V. N. Tatischev, etc., and the acquisition of various "curiosities" from different European countries in compliance with Peter the Great’s command. Among the collections that Peter the Great purchases, the most famous are Albert Seba’s collection, described as "a fine collection of quadrupeds, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, shells, and other extraordinary things from the East and West Indies." and F. Ryusch’s Collection of anatomical specimens (preserved in solution and "dry"). During the first years, the Museum presents "live" exhibits — freaks, dwarves, giants.
1727At Peter the Great’s command, the Kunstkammer and the Academy of Sciences’ Library move into a specially built edifice on the Point of Vasilyevsky Island. (Architects: I. Matarnovi and M. G. Zemtsov.)
According to Peter the Great’s order, there is to be no charge for admission. He believes that "willing museum-goers should be instructed and entertained, and not compelled to pay money." Preserved documents tell us that visitors were offered "coffee and zuckerbrots (cakes)" and treated to hors d’oeuvres and Hungarian wine, all provided by money allotted by the Tsar. A librarian assistant or other qualified official would greet visitors and conduct them around the museum, showing them the rarities and giving brief explanations. The visitors would eagerly feast their eyes on the Museum’s exhibits. It is clear from documents that there was always "a great number of ... people of different ranks."
1741–1745A two-volume catalogue of Kunstkammer collections (Musei Imperialis Petropolitani) and an illustrated guide-book in German and Russian is published.
1747A fire in the Kunstkammer destroys most of the ethnographic collections. On 7 December 1747, the "Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti" newspaper writes: "A fire last Saturday at five o’clock in the morning in the building of the Imperial Library and Kunstkammer spread so quickly that it was absolutely impossible to save the building, especially after the fire reached the tower."
Mikhail V. Lomonosov, who witnesses the fire, believes that it is caused by faulty ovens and chimneys. He writes: "Apart from a great number of books and anatomical items, the whole gallery of ethnographic collections in the Academy was incinerated." The
Academy of Sciences sends lists of the destroyed items to administrative offices in the provinces, asking help in gathering new materials in order to replace the ethnographic collections.
1766Restoration work is completed and the Museum reopens.
Late 18th -
Early 19th
The Kunstkammer adds items collected by Captain James Cook in Polynesia; ethnographic collections from Northeast Asia (Chukchi men, Aleutians, and Eskimos); from North and South America (collections of the Russian-American expedition, and world voyages of Russian sailors and researchers, I. F. Kruzenstern, Yury F. Lisnyavski, F. F. Bellinshausen, M. P. Lazarev, F. P. Litke, M. N. Stanjukovich, and others) to its acquisitions.
1820–1830sThe Kunstkammer serves as a model in the creation of the following academic museums: Ethnography Museum, Museum of Asia, Museum of Egypt, Anatomy Museum, Zoological Museum, Botanical Museum, Mineralogical Museum, and the Museum of Peter the Great’s Study (decree of January 8, 1836 "Regulations and Personnel of the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences"). These museums are located in two adjacent buildings on the bank of the Neva River. The Kunstkammer houses the Ethnography Museum, the Museums of Asia and of Egypt, and of Peter the Great’s Study.
Academician A. M. Shegren becomes the Museum’s first Director (1844-1855), and L. F. Radlov, its first curator. The Museum is replenished with items from expeditions and collections of the following researchers: H. D. Fren, F. A. Kolenati, P. I. Keppen, M. A. Kastren, A. Middledorf, L. I. Shrenk, I. S. Polyakov, K. T. Khlebnikov, L. A. Zagoskin, I. G. Voznesenski, and others.
1842K. M. Baer, who established the Kunstkammer’s anthropological (osteological) collections becomes the Director of the Anatomy Museum. (At present, these collections, which contain about 15,000 skeletons, mostly from archeological excavations in the European and Asian parts of Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus are kept in the Kunstkammer’s Department of Physical Anthropology. Since 1995, this Department has been located in a separate building at 24 Sredni Prospekt.)
5 desember 1878Academicians A. A. Shifner, Director of the Ethnography Museum, and K. M. Baer, Director of the Museum of Anthropology, recommend, and it is decided that the Academy of Sciences "establish a Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography instead of the two existing museums." The Museum is to combine all sorts of information (anthropological, archeological, ethnographic) about human origins and culture.
1870-1880sThe Museum adds collections gathered by Russian travelers in Africa (V. V. Juncker) and New Guinea (N. N. Miklucho-Maclay).
1889New expositions (on Russia, Asia, Africa, Australia, and America with sections on "Art and Industrial Artifacts", "Attributes of Buddhism", "Stone-Age Implements", "Human Skulls and Skeletons", and others) open in an addition, built out from the side of Tamozhenny Lane.
1894V. V. Radlov, a highly-qualified specialist in the ethnography and linguistics of the Turkish peoples of Siberia , is appointed Director of the Museum. As Director, he organizes the gathering of new collections, their scientific recording, and the publishing of the research results. ("The Collected Works of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography"). V. I. Iohelson, L. Y. Sternberg, V. G. Bogoraz-Tan and other outstanding Russian ethnographers collaborate with the Museum on various projects.
1903The Museum is named "Peter the Great’s Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography" in connection with the 200th anniversary celebration of the founding of St. Petersburg. It is still the official name of the Museum.
1910The Museum is enlarged by the addition of a third story to the building which overlooks Tamozhenny Lane. Archeological expositions are created in the new rooms.
1925A new ethnographic exposition is created.
1933The N. N. Miklucho-Maclay Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology is created under the auspices of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.
1943The Moscow Department of the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography is founded with Professor S. P. Tolstov as its Head. Later, the Moscow Department of the Institute becomes the central Institution, and its Leningrad branch is named the Leningrad Department of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology.
1946Museum expositions reopen to the public after being closed for five years due to World War II and the Siege of Leningrad. From 1946 to 1953, new expositions are created, honoring the ethnography of the peoples of the world. For the most part, these expositions can still be seen in the Museum.
1992 Peter the Great’s Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkammer) becomes an independent institution again. The Mikhail V. Lomonosov Museum, which had always been located in the Kunstkammer building, but for years had been considered part of the Institute of the History of Natural and Technical Sciences, becomes part of the Kunstkammer again. The Moscow Institute is renamed the N. N. Miklucho-Maclay Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.