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Fr.-L. Jeallatscbitsch trip to China with a mission of the Academy of Sciences (1753-1756)

Vast collections of traditional culture and everyday life of China, mostly handicrafts of china, stone, ivory, and cast metal ranked high in the Kunstkamera’s collections of the first third of the 18th century.  This showed both the fascination with Chinese art in the educated circles of Russian society and interests of political, economic, and academic character. The museum was keeping Chinese items from collections of Peter I, his close friend and brother-in-arms Field Marshall General J.D. Bruce, and also items which D.G. Messerschmidt brought from his expedition to Siberia.  

The major part of the museum’s Chinese collection was lost in the fire of December 5, 1747. After the fire, physician Fr.-Lucas Jelachich’s trip to China (1753-1756) became the principle source for its replenishment.

Fr.-Lucas Jelachich arrived in Russia around 1740. Since 1743, he was sub-physician at the St. Petersburg Land Force General Hospital. In 1743-1747, he served as physician at the “tea” caravan of merchandise to China. In the beginning of 1754, he was appointed physician of the caravan under command of A.M. Vladykin. The Academy of Sciences commissioned Jelachich to bring from China collections for the Kunstkamera, while the Medical Chancellery gave him a special task to bring from Beijing ¼ of a pound of jin-seng roots and knowledge about the plant. 

The Academy of Sciences gave Fr.-Lucas Jelachich a list of all necessary items and an album of drawings of the former Kunstkamera’s Chinese items, most of which were lost in the fire. The idea was to compose an utmost full panorama of Chinese culture through material memorabilia: from dolls imaging officials, military officers, priests, etc. up to ship models, calligraphy sets, musical instruments with notes, and game with descriptions. In June 1756, after his return from China, Fr.-L. Jelachich presented the expedition’s results to the Academy.  By conclusion of the translator from Chinese and Manchurian languages L.K. Rassokhin and sub-librarian of the Kunstkamera J.C. Taubert, the items collected in China excelled the burnt ones not only in their number but also in the “curiosity,” enlightening both scholars and visitors of the Academy of Sciences’ museum.