If most books are collaborations, the Monuments of Moscow Antiquities (Памятники Московой Древности), issued in fascicles between 1842 and 1845, is an unusually instructive one, memorializing both Russian cultural life under Tsar Nicholas I (r. 1825-1855) and the state of printing in mid-19th-century Moscow.
Although his name does not appear on the title-page, this work was the brainchild of Aleksei Olenin (1763-1843). Olenin, an official of noble birth, was an artist, an archaeologist, and an ethnographer. By the breadth and trend of his interests, he exemplified the intellectuals of his generation who sought a native Russian culture and a national past pre-dating the Europeanizing influence of Peter the Great. Olenin secured the patronage of Nicholas I, who shared these interests and sought use them to strengthen the Russian state and Empire. Olenin passionately desired to discover and preserve the artifacts of Russia’s past, and to document and publish them to the world.
Olenin’s protégé, Fedor Solntsev (1801-1892), is credited with creating the visual style that came to be known to the rest of the world as the Russian or Old Russian style. Solntsev was the son of a serf; however, his artistic talent was recognized early and he attended the Imperial Academy of Arts, becoming an excellent draftsman and watercolorist, and eventually, in the spirit of the times, an archaeologist, ethnographer, and restorer of buildings and monuments. At a time when photography was still in its infancy, Solntsev’s talents were perfect for documenting archeological and ethnographic expeditions, as well as the medieval relics of Muscovite Russia. Solntsev’s renderings were said to be so exact that, on one occasion, a visitor to his workshop tried to pick up a gold plaque which turned out to be one of his watercolors. As an Orthodox believer and a loyal monarchist, Solntsev was well-suited to execute the ambitions of Olenin and Nicholas I. On the death of Olenin, Nicholas directly patronized Solntsev and supervised his activities.
In this volume, Solntsev’s illustrations of the Moscow Kremlin’s cathedrals and other ecclesiastical buildings and their artifacts are supported by a scholarly text by Ivan Snegirev, a Moscow University professor and an expert on Moscow antiquities. The printing was entrusted to the prominent French-born Moscow printer Avgust Semen, who sent a portion of Solntsev’s illustrations to Paris to be reproduced in color by the firm of Godefroy Engelmann. Engelmann had received the patent for his chromolithography process in 1837, so the process was still new, and crucial to the publishing ambitions of Tsar Nicholas and Olenin. This single volume is a kind of prelude to Solntsev’s masterpiece, Antiquities of the Russian state, a 6-volume compendium of Kremlin antiquities reproduced in gorgeous chromolithographs glorifying the current ruling house and Russia’s pre-Petrine past. That work, which appeared between 1849 and 1853, is also in the Houghton collection.
For more on Fedor Solntsev and Aleksei Olenin, see Visualizing Russia: Fedor Solntsev and crafting a national past, ed. by Cynthia Hyla Whittaker (Boston: Brill, 2010).
f Slav 3197.1.22*. Gift of A.C. Coolidge, 1924.
(Top left) Thurible of Tsar Fedor Alekseevich (1676-1682). Chromolithograph.
(Top right) Памятники Московой Древности (Monuments of Moscow Antiquities). Moscow: A. Semen, 1842-1845. Title-page.
(Above left) Vessels of St. Anthony the Roman, abbot of Novgorod (1067-1147). Chromolithograph.
(Above middle) Reproduction of an early plan of Moscow, attributed to Sigismund von Herberstein (1486-1566). In contrast to most of the color reproductions in this volume, this plate is hand-colored.
(Left) Plan and Elevation of the Church of the Assumption.
Thanks to Elaine Shiner, Rare Book Cataloger, for this post. This is the first of a series of blog posts highlighting Houghton’s Slavic collection.