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1747 fire in the Kunstkamera

On December 5, 1747, around five in the morning, a disastrous fire occurred in the Kunstkamera building.  The fire area was in the tower, near the western wing of the gallery.  The wooden tower, where the observatory with all instruments inside was, had completely burnt out.  Of the Gottorp globe, only the metal framework and the door, which then was kept separately from the globe itself, remained.

The gallery with the showcases containing ethnographic collections was also seriously damaged. In particular, the fire destroyed many of the items of clothes, everyday life, and faiths of Siberian peoples brought by the expedition participants, as well as Chinese collections. Afraid that the fire would spread out onto the entire building, attendants were throwing exhibits, books, and documents out of the windows right onto the snow.  Count Kirill Razumovsky, the President of the Academy of Sciences, noted that more exhibits were damaged in this “sudden evacuation” than by the fire. Besides this, a noticeable part of the items was plundered.  In regard of that, a special verdict was issued demanding that things were brought back to the Academy of Sciences. The remaining exhibits were moved to Demidov and Stroganov’s palaces located nearby the Kunstkamera building. A series of measures were undertaken to restore the museum funds: approximate lists of lost items were composed and in 1761 sent out to the provinces with a request to gather items and send them to the Academy. Prior to that, in 1753, an inventory with drawings of Chinese items had been composed and given to the academic physician Fr. - Luka Jaellatscbitsch going to China. To restore the zoological collection, in 1752, objects from the second Albert Seba’s assemblage were acquired at an auction in Amsterdam.

The exhibits returned to the newly restored building only in the end of 1766. The Kunstkamera tower, however, got back its historical look only 200 years later.