“Ratification of friendship..." Ambassadorial Gifts to the Russian Tsars

Irina Zagorodnyaya

Article: 
CURRENT EXHIBITIONS
Magazine issue: 
#1 2006 (10)

In the middle of December the Assumption Belfry of the Moscow Kremlin opened an exhibition of works by foreign masters from the “The Moscow Kremlin" museum’s collection. Upon entering the hall, styled in sunny, soft colours, visitors find themselves in a festive and formal atmosphere, that in which the visits of foreign diplomats to the royal palace would take place.

Wash Tub. Nuremberg, mid 16th century
Wash Tub. Nuremberg, mid 16th century
Gift from King Janus II Casimir of Poland to Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich in 1651

The "presentation" of gifts was the last stage of such visits, an effective full stop - or, better yet, an exclamation mark - which ended the first meeting of the Moscow court and the foreign visitor. When the letters missive had been granted, speeches made and the Tsar's hand kissed, the master of ceremonies presented gifts from monarchs and governments, and personal ambassadorial tributes in succession following the lists translated into Russian by an ambassadorial decree. At the end of the visit the gifts were given to be stored by employees of different court institutions. There they were described and assessed by court masters and city tradesmen, with the resulting information registered in corresponding filing documents. Many of these have not survived; the losses and chronological gaps are considerable. However, the precious archival shreds of information about the state treasures, the current showpieces of the museum, which have been preserved, help to reconstruct in a more or less accurate fashion the body of diplomatic gifts brought to Moscow in the 17th century.

These treasures include not only ambassadorial books on Russia's relations with foreign countries and the receipts books of court orders but also illuminated letters missives and congratulatory documents. All of them are from the collection of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts. Together with the engraved portraits of emperors, kings and the merchant elite from the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum and the Hermitage, they build the historical context needed to recreate the live atmosphere of the artworks which had been placed in the Moscow treasury and inside the royal palace.

The study of the collection of diplomatic gifts of the Armoury Chamber began two centuries ago when by an order of Emperor Alexander I the museum was granted its status and the collection received curators and researchers. We know so much about the history of our monuments thanks to research done by the eminent man of letters Alexander Veltman, author of the novel "Stranger", and director of the museum. Serious work with archival sources and exhibits done by the authors of the first scientific description of the collection G.D. Filimonov and L.P Yakovlev also made a huge contribution to the development of these studies. There is still room for research and the process continues. The exhibition of ambassadorial gifts is a kind of public report on the scientific work done on the subject which has recently caught the interest of the catalogue's authors.

We owe the show's name to the Dutch Ambassador Kunrat von Klenk. "In ratification of ancient willing friendship and references..." - such were the words he spoke when presenting a governmental gift to Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich during his visit in 1 675, and they could have belonged to any diplomat sent to Moscow in the 17th century. In those days gifts from monarchs and ambassadors served as one of the means of introducing supreme power and as a guarantee of the unshakable foundation of potential solid and longterm relations.

Works of silversmiths, precious fabrics and clothing, jewellery, watches and toiletries, furniture and exotic Eastern items were brought from abroad and offered as gifts at formal audiences. Tsars received decorated weapons, horse harnesses and carriages. Representatives of the Christian East brought halidoms and relics which had survived in the Holy Land and Constantinople, on Athos and Sinai, as well as wooden carved crosses, panagias and staffs.

In the 17th century Russia maintained diplomatic relations with 16 foreign states, with Poland, Sweden and the Turkish Empire holding the leading positions. The fact that there were some fundamental directions in the foreign policy of the Moscow government is confirmed not only by archival documents but also by works brought to the capital as gifts. In addition to gifts sent from Warsaw, Stockholm and Istanbul (Constantinople) the exhibition displays showpieces identified by researchers as from England, Holland, Denmark, the Holy Roman Empire, German states, Iran and the Crimean Khanate. 36 embassies from eleven countries left their unique "calling cards" in the royal treasury and in the Assumption Belfry.

The organizers hope that the exhibition will bring the visitors the joy of viewing artistic masterpieces in an atmosphere which recalls the bloom of the Moscow state.

Goblet. Nuremberg, 1630
Goblet. Nuremberg, 1630
Gift from King Christian IV of Denmark to Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich in 1644

Illustrations

Watch with calendar. Mechanism: Geneva, mid 17th century; body frame: Istanbul, mid 17th century
Watch with calendar. Mechanism: Geneva, mid 17th century; body frame: Istanbul, mid 17th century
Gift from the Greek merchant Ivan Anastasov to Tsarevich Alexis Alexeevich in 1658 (?)
Cup. Istanbul, first third of the 17th century
Cup. Istanbul, first third of the 17th century
Gift from Yury Panagiot to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich in 1632
Dagger in a Case. Iran, early 17th century
Dagger in a Case. Iran, early 17th century
Gift from merchant Mohammed Kazim to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich in 1617
Sabre of the Grand. Set in a Case Istanbul, before 1656
Sabre of the Grand. Set in a Case Istanbul, before 1656
Gift from Ivan Bulgakov, merchant of the guest hundred, to Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich in 1656
Mug. Istanbul, first third of the 17th century
Mug. Istanbul, first third of the 17th century
Gift from the Patriarch of Constantinople Cyrill I Lukaris to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich in 1632
Quiver. Turkey or Crimea, early 17th century
Quiver. Turkey or Crimea, early 17th century
Gift from Crimean Khan Dzhan-Bek Girei to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich on June 10, 1616
Goblet – Nautilus. Nuremberg, 1632–1643
Goblet – Nautilus. Nuremberg, 1632–1643
Gift from King Christian IV of Denmark to Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich in 1644
Goblet. Koenigsberg, 1620s
Goblet. Koenigsberg, 1620s
Wash-stand set. Augsburg, 1674 (?)
Wash-stand set. Augsburg, 1674 (?)
Gift from the ambassadors of the Holy Roman Empire

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