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The Kunstkamera as part of the Academy of Sciences

On January 28, 1724, Peter I issued a decree establishing the Academy of Sciences in Russia. 

In the 1724 draft Statute on the Establishment of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Kunstkamera and the Library were considered as an integral part of the Academy of Sciences and as “instruments” which would support academics’ activities: “To make sure the academics had no lack of appropriate means, it should be provided that the Library and the Cabinet of naturalia were opened.  In the aforesaid, the Librarian should have a civilian directorate and the authority to order books and instruments that the Academy would need or to make those here”. This was exactly how they were considered in the course of the 18th – early 19th centuries.

In the 1747 Regulation of the Academy of Sciences, the Library and the Kunstkamera as part of the Academy of Sciences were named Imperial, while the Librarian “should be the major Commander under the President.”  By the staff schedule, the Librarian had sub-librarian, Library and Kunstkamera assistants, an apothecary, and also a “painter of animals and birds.”

In the 1803 Statute of the Academy of Sciences, these two institutions were considered as “scholarly appurtenances of the Academy.”  De-facto, the Library and the Kunstkamera as part of the Academy of Sciences were to be considered not only as “instruments” for academics’ researches. Development of the Library and the Kunstkamera, i.e., formation of the funds, their arrangement and cataloguing, directly depended upon the Academy of Sciences’ activities. On the other hand, exhibits collected for the museum were instrumental for the formation of new research fields in the Academy, such as, ethnography, archeology, and anthropology. 

In the 1830s, independent institutes were established on the basis of Kunstkamera’s collections. In November 1834, by request of a Member of the British Parliament Benjamin Hawes, who had been gathering information on the museum rules and regulations in various countries, an institutional scheme of the Academy of Sciences was composed.  It included the following museums: 1) Mineralogical and Geognostic; 2) Botanical; 3) Zoological and Zootomical; 4) Asian; 5) Egyptian; 6) Museum of Numismatics and Antiquities; 7) Memorial Office of Peter I; 8) Museum of Ethnography and Art.

The de-facto transformation of the universal Kunstkamera’s collections into specialized museums was formalized in the Statutes of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences approved by Emperor Nickolas I on January 8, 1836. According to §100, for the Academy of Sciences’ “preservation and administration” were entrusted: “Museums Mineralogical, Botanical, Zoological, and Zootomical with the laboratories; the Botanic Garden, the Numismatic Chamber, the collection of Asian and Egyptian Antiquities, and the Ethnographical Chamber”.

Separation by specializations of the universal Kunstkamera’s collection of the 18th century Academy of Sciences was dictated by the requirements of the current for the time structure of science, and also the governance policies. Each specialized museum got its own budget and staff; this gave better prospects for the development in the course of the science presented.

On November 19-26, 2014, official events dedicated to the 300th Anniversary of the Kunstkamera took place: a press-conference at the ITAR-TASS Press-center; an international scholarly conference on the topic of “Kunstkamera - the First State Public Museum of Russia: 300 Years of Tradition and Development;” an official ceremony dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the oldest scientific institutions of Russia: the First Public Museum of Russia, the Kunstkamera, and Library of the Academy of Sciences. President of Russia Vladimir Putin congratulated the Kunstkamera and the Library with the jubilee.