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“Russian North” exhibition at the State Historical Museum

The “Russian North” exhibition at the State Historical Museum tells about the traditions of the Vologod, Achangelsk and Murmansk regions, as well as the republics of Karelia and Komi.

The term Russian North only appeared in the 19th century. Previously this territory was called Zavolochye, Goluborussia and Pomorie.

Ludmila Savchenkova, senior scientific staff member at the State Historical Museum: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many Russian intellectuals, artists and writers were incredibly drawn to this territory and began traveling there. This area was so attractive because it had preserved the culture and art of the era predating Peter the Great.

The exhibition presents the works of national handicraft like icons, clothes and headwear. It’s rare to see women’s robes in such good condition. The sleeves of the 19th century robes are covered in drawings and ornaments. This was done not only for looks, but also for protection.

Artem Arutunov, methodist at the State Historical Museum: A person’s arms are the main source of living in the rural areas. So the biceps and other arm muscles had to be protected from evil spirits. These pagan beliefs were preserved in rural culture for a very long time. So these ornaments were considered a means of protection against evil.

Visitors can also see headwear from the 18th and 19th centuries, like kokoshniks and bridal wreaths decorated by pearls, which were used a lot back then.

Artem Arutunov, methodist at the State Historical Museum: Up until the middle of the 18th century, Russia was the world’s biggest exporter of river pearls, which were a bit rough and were even referred to as ugly. There was many pearls, but the barbarian means of extraction led to their supply running out in Russia.

The favorite decoration of homes in the Russian North is a wooden horse on the roof, called Ohlupen. They were carved from entire logs and some were even two-headed.

Ludmila Savchenkova, senior scientific staff member at the State Historical Museum: The horse is a solar symbol, a symbol of the sun, so their image is a common thing to see.

These lands have always been known for the art of bone carving. National craftsmen would make vases and various lockboxes from bone. The most valuable exhibits at the museum are considered to be the ones from the collection of artist, illustrator and theatre decorator, Ivan Bilibin. He brought back headwear and towels from his trips to the north in the early 20th century.

Ludmila Savchenkova, senior scientific staff member at the State Historical Museum: When he moved abroad, we presume his collections ended up in the museum fund created after the Bolshevik revolution. It was filled with items from the sacked or abandoned homes of the noble and wealthy in Russia. It seems Bilibin’s collection was taken there too.

Many of these exhibits had been stored in the archives of the Historical Museum until now. This is the first opportunity to see them.

Oleg Fomin, Ovanes Avetisyan, TV BRICS