Peter the Great and the Foundation of the Academy of Arts
For all its distinctiveness, medieval Russia was certainly not isolated from the rest of Europe at an artistic level. Italian masters built the towers and walls of the Moscow Kremlin, their “swallow tails” so reminiscent of Verona and Milan, as well as designing cathedrals and churches, and the murals of the Transfiguration Church in Novgorod were created by the Byzantine master Theophanes the Greek. As early as 1672, during the reign of Tsar Alexis, the first theatrical productions featuring foreign actors took place, artists from abroad were invited to Moscow to paint portraits, and so on. The Kremlin Armoury fulfilled the role of the artistic centre in Russia before Peter the Great, and among the duties of its masters was the training of the next generation.
Dementy SHMARINOV. Peter the Great at the Foundation of St. Petersburg. 1940
Black watercolour and charcoal on paper. 35.5 × 28 cm. Illustration for Alexei Tolstoy’s novel “Peter the Great”
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Emperor Peter I carried out reforms that brought about a general increase in the level of culture in the country. There was a need for people capable of making maps, creating drawings and illustrations for books on the arts of war, sailing and engineering, as well as medicine, botany and other sciences. The creation of international networks on an artistic level was advanced to the status of state policy.
During the two trips he made abroad (the “Grand Embassy” of 1697/8 and in 1716), Peter visited Holland, England, France and even, travelling incognito, Italy - although not for long, as his stay in Florence was cut short by the arrival of news relating to the revolt that was brewing among the Streltsy in Moscow. For all the Tsar’s overriding interest in the technological and economic characteristics of life in Europe, and especially in everything related to ship construction and navigation, the great builder also paid special attention to anything that could aid him in his other grand project - the creation of his new capital city of St. Petersburg. Among the items acquired for the future municipal museum (Kunstkamera) were not only exhibits reflecting the monarch’s views on natural wonders and technology, but also works of art. The Tsar examined the collections of universities and botanic gardens, visited the museum of the Royal Society in London, Oxford University’s museum and Buckingham Palace. In Dresden, he visited the collection of Emperor August II, and much more. The highlights of his time in France were his visits to Versailles and the Academie Frangaise, which elected the Tsar an honorary member.
Peter visited artists’ workshops and, in Holland, even took a few painting lessons. The court painter Godfrey Kneller (1648-1723), who created portraits of eminent contemporaries and princes for the Royal Collection, painted a portrait of the young Peter in London in 1698. That artwork has entered history as the “G. Kneller Type” and has since been reproduced by many other artists in various compositions and costumes. The original remains in London and forms part of the Royal Collection housed at Hampton Court Palace. The Great Reformer understood that, in order to carry out his grand schemes in Russia, it would be necessary to develop not only science, but the arts as well. It was with this aim in mind that, in 1711, he established his Secular Drawing School under the auspices of the Kremlin Armoury Typography in Moscow, at which students not only copied originals, but also drew from life. The first head of the school was the icon painter Grigori Odolsky, who was succeed by his brother, Ivan.
The school’s journal for November 3, 1715, reads: “His Highness was at the academy, drawing from life took place”. The term Academy refers precisely to this drawing school at the Kremlin Armoury, which Peter ordered in a special set of instructions to “teach according to the canon and in all types of art.” Artists were invited from abroad to act as teachers, and contracts were signed with Georg (1673-1740) and his wife, Dorothea Maria Gsell (nee Graff, 1678-1743), from Switzerland, the German draughtsman Ellias Grimmel (active in St. Petersburg from 1741), Bartolomeo Tarsia (?-1765) from Italy, Louis Caravaque (1684-1754) from France, and others.
During Peter’s reign, drawing was introduced to the educational curriculum - it was included among the academic disciplines of the Naval Academy (1715), the surgical school of the St. Petersburg Military Hospital (1716), the Karpovka School of Theofan Prokopovich (1721), and later the Cadet Corps (1732), the Gymnasium of the Academy of Sciences (1747), the Smolny Convent School, and others.
All of these events were precursors to the foundation of the Academy of Arts. In 1724, Peter the Great issued a decree establishing the Academy of Arts and Sciences. On January 22 (February 2), the Senate discussed the draft Regulations on the Foundation of an Academy of Arts and Sciences, which had been compiled on the Peter’s direction by his personal physician and director of the Kunstkamera, Laurentius Blumentrost. It stated that the Academy should “strive towards the perfection of arts and sciences.” Classes in drawing and engraving were among its activities.
Emblem of the Russian Academy of Arts
However, the activities of the Academy of Arts and Sciences founded by Peter developed largely in the scientific sphere. Its first president was the head of the Kunstkamera and the Tsar’s personal doctor Laurentius Blumentrost (presidency 1725-33), followed by the diplomat Hermann Karl von Keyserling (1733-4), Johann Albrecht von Korff (1734-40), Karl von Brevern (1740-1), and the Count Kirill Razumovsky, who occupied the post for 52 years. After his death in 1798, the institution became known simply as the “Academy of Sciences”.
Pierre-Louis VERNIER. The seal of the Imperial Academy of Arts. 1763
Published in “Anniversary Catalogue of the Imperial Academy of Arts, 1764–1914”, compiled by S. Kondakov, St. Petersburg, 1914
In 1747, the Academy’s Department of Arts was founded on the initiative and scheme of Jakob von Staehlin (1709-1785), who was also named its director in 1757 by order of Count Razumovsky. Von Staehlin was also the author of the detailed notes “On the State of the Arts in Russia”. New teachers were also invited: the architect Johann Schumacher (1701-1767), the sculptor Johann Duncker and the painter Johann Grimmel (1703-1758). An album entitled “Map of the Capital City St. Petersburg with Illustrations of its Most Illustrious Views Published by the Academy of Sciences and Arts in St. Petersburg” was released, with drawings by Mikhail Makhaev (17181770) and inscriptions and design by Jakob von Staehlin. Professor Staehlin drew up plans for the expansion of the Department of Arts, although Count Kirill Razumovsky, who had been made president of the Academy of Sciences at the age of 18, put a stop to them, saying: “There are a lot of people of various ranks gathered at the Academy far in excess of its official staff, especially arts students, who are of no use to it and who will bring it no laurels in the future.”
In the first half of the 18th century, Russians generally received an artistic education abroad or in private studios, among which special fame was enjoyed by the studio of the painter Ivan Argunov (1727?-1802), the sculptor Louis Rolland (1711-1791), and the painter Pietro Rotari (1707(1710)-1762). Ivan Argunov was a wonderful draughtsman and had a thorough knowledge of painting techniques, which enabled him to give his students a sound professional training. Among those who passed through his studio were Anton Losenko (1737-1773), Ivan Sablukov (1735-1777), and Aleksander Golovachevsky (1735-1823).
In Russia, as in Europe, it was not at all unusual for a painter to study at the studio of a renowned artist. In the 18th century, students lived and studied at the studios of Ivan Argunov, Aleksei Antropov (1716-1795), Dmitry Levitsky (1735-1822), and Gavriil Kozlov (1738-1791). The wonderful artist Alexei Yegorov (1776-1851) taught at the Academy for many years. “As a teacher, Yegorov resembled the teachers of the ancient schools, where ties of brotherhood and friendship linked teachers and pupils, but, at the same time, there was a certain patriarchal seniority visible in the seeming equality. For him, a student was like a son and a friend, as well as a family member and often a servant. Yet no one was offended by this, quite the opposite - he was universally adored. He taught through action, and if he sometimes resorted to words, then they were concise and abrupt. He neglected no one in his advice and lessons, and his popularity was amazing.” Among the students of the famous artist and academic Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825) was the painter Aleksei Venetsianov (1780-1847), who left such a remarkable trail in the history of Russian art, thanks not only to his own creativity, but also to the foundation of his own school.
The history of the Imperial Academy of Arts gives a vivid example of how its activities and the merits of its members and leadership were variously evaluated at different periods of our national history. It is telling in this regard that different dates have been given with respect to the foundation of the Academy.
Illarion GOLITSYN. Toast. Shuvalov. 2006. Oil on canvas
Insofar as the Academy founded by Peter the Great developed chiefly in the scientific field, during the reign of Empress Elizabeth, the Resolution of the Governing Senate dated November 6, 1757, established an independent Academy of Arts (initially forming a part of Moscow University) - “To establish an Academy of Arts here in St. Petersburg, in respect of which Lieutenant General and Curator of Moscow University Cavalier Shuvalov shall present a plan and proposed staff and for the above-mentioned purpose now and in the coming years for the sustenance of teachers and students and other needs of the Academy [...] grant from the state budget 6000 roubles [...] hence [...] and forthwith.”
A medal commemorating the establishment of the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. 1765
The St. Petersburg Mint. Bronze. Diameter 51 mm. © The Academy Research Museum, St. Petersburg
Ivan REIMERS, Vladimir ALEXEEV. A medal commemorating the Academy of Arts’ centenary. 1864
The St. Petersburg Mint. Silver. Diameter 87 mm. © The Academy Research Museum, St. Petersburg
T.I. IVANOV. A medal dated 1718 commemorating the closing of Tsarevich Alexei's prosecution and restoration of peace in Russia. Last third of the 18th century
The St. Petersburg Mint. Bronze. Diameter 47 mm. Private collection
Ivan Shuvalov (1727-1797) was a favourite of Empress Elizabeth and a prominent statesman, as well as a patron and lover of the arts. His primary achievement was his patronage of education, and his most enduring acts were the founding of Moscow University and the Imperial Academy of Arts. Shuvalov composed the “Regulations of the Academy of Arts” and “Constitution of the Imperial Academy of Arts in 16 Articles”, which defined the principles of its functioning.
Catherine the Great, who declared herself the successor not only of her “aunty Elizabeth”, but primarily of Peter the Great, made sovereign contributions to the development of the Academy of Arts. On November 4, 1764, the Empress granted “the Academy a Charter and Privileges”, announcing “the inauguration of the Academy” on the anniversary of her coronation. The sumptuous ceremony, which took place on June 28, 1765, was described by contemporaries in superlative terms. It was comprised of a richly decorated “theatrical performance on barges in the Neva and on the quays, a speech by the conference-secretary Saltykov, proclamation of the ‘granted privileges’, the awarding of diplomas to the professors, a welcome speech by Archimandrite Platon, prayers and the laying of the foundation stones of the Academy’s Church of St. Catherine and of the grand Academy architectural ensemble itself, which astounds one with its scale and grandeur to this day. The richly decorated ensemble of Academy buildings was open to the public for eight days.” “The onrush of distinguished, middle class and simple people who wished to see the Academy was so great and constant that the rooms and halls were teeming with people every day from morning till night.”9 All this in combination with its most important element - the legislative acts of state - were of such significance for the Academy’s status that, in the period until 1917, the year 1764 was considered the official foundation date of the Academy. In 1864, celebrations of the Academy’s centenary were widely celebrated, including the issuing of special medals and the publication of Pyotr Petrov’s three-volume “Almanack of Historical Materials of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts on its First Centenary” (St. Petersburg, 1884). Festivities for the Academy’s 150th anniversary were also prepared in 1914, including the publishing of Sergei Kondakov’s two-volume “Anniversary Catalogue of the Imperial Academy of Arts. 1764-1914” (St. Petersburg, 1914-1915), but wider celebrations were cancelled due to the outbreak of the First World War. If it were not for this circumstance, the anniversary would have been celebrated on a grand scale, as was the case with celebrations on the 50th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom (1911), the centenary of the 1812 Patriotic War (1912) and the tercentenary of the House of Romanov (1913).
Soviet historiography, which was aimed at striking out the efforts of the monarchy from Russian history, ignored this date. During the Soviet period, the year 1757 was considered the foundation date of the Academy, and chief among its founders was counted the Russian scientist and educator Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765), who was, in fact, an associate of Ivan Shuvalov only in the establishment of Moscow University. A few years later, the great Lomonosov was chosen as a member of the Academy for his mosaic work.
Today, historical justice has been restored. An exhibition named “Society of Arts and Sciences” was opened in the archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences on February 6, 2009, to mark the approaching 285th anniversary of the foundation of the “Academy of Arts and Sciences”.
Going forward, the Russian Academy of Arts celebrates its “birthday” counting from the date of its foundation by Peter the Great in 1724.
On the initiative of the Academy’s President, Zurab Tsereteli, in 2019, the Presidium created the Order of Peter the Great, which has a society-wide significance.
- Anniversary Catalogue of the Imperial Academy of Arts, 1764-1914, compiled by S. Kondakov, St. Petersburg, 1914. Vol. 1. P. 2.
- Full Edition of Laws of the Russian Empire. Volume VII St. Petersburg, 1830. P 220. Although the project was not the officially confirmed constitution of the Academy, it was the only regulation on the Academy until the rules of 1747.
- Notes of Jakob von Staehlin on the Fine Arts in Russia. In two volumes. Moscow, 1990.
- Manuscript Department of the State Public Library. Folio 871, item 251, side 1.
- Andreyev, A.N. Painting and Painters of the Main European Schools. St. Petersburg, 1857. P. 500.
- Petrov, P.N. Almanack of Historical Materials of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts on its First Centenary. St. Petersburg, 1884, Volume 1, p2.
- “Report to the Senate” by Ivan Shuvalov with a petition for the foundation in Russia of an independent Academy of Arts, see: RGADA. F. 248. Senate. B.2875. P. 211.
- Petrov, P.N. Collected Works. P 102-106.
- Ibid. P 151
Oil on canvas. 70 × 108 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Granite, bronze. Height 10.4 m. Senate Square, St. Petersburg
Bronze. Height 250 cm. Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts, St. Petersburg
Bronze. Height 12.6 m. St. Petersburg
Oil on canvas. 125 × 97 сm
© Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan
Bronze. Height 60 cm
© Military Medical Museum, St. Petersburg
Oil on canvas. 155.5 × 139 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Paper, colour lithograph. 42 × 57.5 cm
© Hermitage, Санкт-Петербург
Bronze. Height 380 cm. St. Petersburg
Oil on canvas. 135.7 × 173 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Published: R.C.Alberts, the Hague, Her. Uytwerf, Amsterdam, 1725
Private collection, Moscow
“As we know from the history of the Czars, Alexei Mikhailovich had two wives, and with his first wife, he had three princes and six princesses, and with the second, Natalia Kirillovna Narishkina, he had only two children” (Vol. II)
Private collection, Moscow
Oil on canvas. 310 × 590 cm
© Vasily Nesterenko State Picture Gallery, Moscow
Oil on canvas
© “Field of the Great Poltava Battle”
Historical-Cultural Reserve, Poltava, Ukraine
Mosaic. 481 × 644 cm. Building of the Russian Academy of Sciences. St. Petersburg
From the series “Russian War Trophies”. Oil and tempera on paper. 41.9 × 61.5 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Moscow Kremlin Museums
Gouache and white on cardboard. 68.5 × 88 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Life-size figure of Emperor Peter I
© Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Bronze, gray granite. Height 240 cm. Installed in 1991 at Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg