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The State Armoury Museum in the Moscow Kremlin, the oldest Russian Museum, is an art treasure depository bearing witness to the growing economic and political might of Moscow, the centre of the united Russian principalities. The growing influence and power of Moscow in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries brought in their train the extensive building of churches and palaces. Magnificent church plate for state occasions became customary, as did expensive table services and precious items of personal adornment. Talented armourers, gold and silversmiths, wood and bone carvers, embroiderers and architects came to Moscow from all over Russia and from abroad.

The first documented mention of the Armoury as a depository of weapons and armour dates back to 1547. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Armoury was not only just a depository, but an artistic centre of the Russian state, fully capable of producing art treasures of its own. In the first half of the seventeenth century the Armoury comprised a workshop making magnificent garments, the Gold and Silver Halls, and from the year 1640 onwards, an art workshop which undertook commissions to paint icons, frescoes and parsunas, an early kind of portrait. The art of the Moscow Kremlin masters reached its peak in the second half of the seventeenth century. This was the time when the royal coffers were filled with numerous treasures, created by talented Russian craftsmen or brought from distant countries by commercial and diplomatic envoys.

The activities of the workshops and intensive amassing of artistic treasures in the Kremlin terminated only when the capital was transferred early in the eighteenth century from Moscow to St Petersburg.

In 1727 the Kremlin depositories and artistic workshops merged to become a single centre known as Workshop and Armoury Chambers. These became the foundation of today's museum. The building housing the Armoury and now known throughout the world was erected at the Borovitsky Gate of the Kremlin in 1851. But up to 1917 it was a palace museum glorifying the autocracy. Only after the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 the main task of the museum became the display of the unique works of art stored there, and the revealing of richness and variety of the Russian artistic heritage. During the first post-revolutionary years the Armoury was replenished with splendid collections from the Russian monasteries, churches and palaces. Today the nine large rooms of the museum contain thousands of works of decorative and applied art. Besides ancient armour, hand weapons and small firearms made by Russian master craftsmen similar works of art by Occidental and Oriental craftsmen, and the trophies of the Battle of Poltava, are exhibited in the first room. The world's biggest collection of the twelfth-nineteenth centuries, Russian gold and silver ware, includes magnificent and inimitable works decorated with enamel, niello, chasing and carving. The collection of fabrics and garments, embellished with delicate silk and pearl embroidery, is now world famous. In no other museum is the art of West European goldsmiths of the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries presented so fully. The collection is housed in the four main rooms of the first floor. The unique collection of thrones, of royal crowns and diadems, staffs of office, sceptres and other ofjects of state significance, and also coaches and ceremonial horse accoutrements are exhibited in the ground floor rooms of the museum. The Armoury is extremely popular. Every day thousands of visitors take away with them vivid impressions of the treasures they saw here.

A. M. Terekhova

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© Alexey S. Zlygostev, 2013-2018
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