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Formal Opening of the Exhibition “Tsars and Knights. Romancing with the Middle Ages”

Published 30 June 2023

The guests and participants in the ceremony were greeted by Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage:

“This exhibition has many different features. It is about two Middle Ages. About the Middle Ages that people, prompted by Petrarch, described as dark, although they weren’t, and at the same time about the image of the Middle Ages that existed in Russia and was an important element in the life of the Russian imperial family. This is a display about two collections born of the Romantic interest in the Middle Ages. The first is the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo Arsenal that was created by Nicholas I and removed to the Hermitage by Alexander III. The second is Alexander Bazilevsky’s tremendous collection assembled in Paris that brought together mediaeval artefacts from East and West and caused a sensation on leaving France,” he said as he opened the exhibition.

“The theme of knighthood can be traced in the works of outstanding Russian artists, writers, composers and philosophers from the most varied periods. Some of them probably also found inspiration in the masterpieces presented in this hall. There are few museums in the world whose collections permit the creation of such large-scale projects. The State Hermitage is one of them. It is a real treasure house for Russia. The ROSSETI group is proud that since 2014 – the year of the museum’s 250th anniversary – it has been part of many landmark initiatives realized within these walls,” said Andrei Murov, First Deputy General Director of the ROSSETI Federal Grid Company of Unified Energy System, introducing the exhibition.

Participating in the opening ceremony were Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage; Andrei Yevgenyevich Murov, First Deputy General Director of ROSSETI; Svetlana Borisovna Adaksina, Deputy General Director and Chief Curator of the State Hermitage; Olga Grigoryevna Kostiuk, head of the Department of Western European Applied Art; Dmitry Vladimirovich Liubin, head of the “Arsenal” Department; the exhibition curators – Yury Georgiyevich Yefimov, head of the Weaponry Sector of the “Arsenal” Department and Yekaterina Nikolayevna Nekrasova-Shchedrinskaya, head of the Precious Metals and Stone Sector in the Department of Western European Applied Art; and Yelena Yuryevna Solomakha, deputy head of the Research Archive of Manuscripts and Documentary Fund.

The extensive display tells about the romantic Middle Ages and the real-life Middle Ages. The former were popularized through literature and became a fascination and a style of life for the Russian imperial court in the 1820s–40s. The latter were discovered by those who wanted to learn more about the era, and that is a story from the second half of the 19th century, when art collectors developed an interest in the Middle Ages.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Romantic movement was spreading across Europe, the Middle Ages with their noble knights and beautiful ladies, chivalric tournaments and hoary castles came into vogue. The interest that Russian Emperors Paul I and Nicholas I took in this historical period prompted the adoption in Russia of patterns of behaviour, chivalrous morality and knightly etiquette. The fascination with the Middle Ages led to the formation of some superb collections of arms and armour, such as Nicholas I’s in the Tsarskoye Selo Arsenal, which was moved to the Imperial Hermitage in 1885. It was the Romantic movement that first aroused European and Russian collectors’ interest in acquiring relics of bygone times. The romantic enthusiasm of the Paris-based Russian collector Alexander Petrovich Bazilevsky (1829–1899) and his genuine interest in the history of the Middle Ages enabled the formation of one of the world’s most important assemblages of art objects from mediaeval and Renaissance times. Emperor Alexander III’s acquisition of that phenomenal collection came as a sensation to contemporaries.

The exhibition presents the culture and art of the Middle Ages, bringing together images from that era and the conceptions of it that established themselves in Russia and Europe in the late 1700s and over the course of the 19th century. The display includes knights’ tournament and parade armour, examples of Western European weapons, works of mediaeval applied art, paintings and graphic works, sculpture, books, manuscripts, stained glass and also pieces of furniture, glass and ceramic articles, porcelain and tapestries – in all, more than 380 items from the stocks of the State Hermitage that tell us what the Middle Ages were like and how they were envisaged in the 19th century.

The author of the idea for the exhibition “Tsars and Knights. Romancing with the Middle Ages” is Georgy Vadimovich Vilinbakhov, Deputy General Director of the State Hermitage for Research.

The exhibition has been organized by the State Hermitage with the participation of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve.

It can be visited by all holders of tickets to the Main Museum Complex.

More about the exhibition


Sponsor of the exhibition – ROSSETI Federal Grid Company of Unified Energy System

Profile Media Partner – The Art Newspaper Russia