Ancient Russia Jewellery
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English Russian

ANCIENT SLAVIC JEWELLERY IN THE COLLECTION OF THE RUSSIAN MUSEUM

  • By now more than 250 ancient Russian treasures troves are known;
  • Wide-scale preservation and research of treasure troves started in Russia in 1859 under the Emperor Alexander II;
  • The Russian Museum collection counts 10 ancient Russian treasures troves;
  • The Russian Museum collection is complete and well preserved.
Pot with jewelleries from Kiev treasure trove of 1893
Pot with jewelleries from Kiev treasure trove of 1893

History of the ancient Russian troves

The history of ancient Russian treasures troves, by now count more than 250, dates back to the IX-XII centuries. Particularly many troves were buried during the Mongol-Tatar attacks in Rus’ in 1237. The jewellery pieces dated back to those times were found with the traces of fire having faded and burnt enamel. To save their possessions merchants (kuptsy) and nobles (boyare) buried their treasures in pots putting them on an axe and covering with an object like a pan.

The first attempts to systemise and preserve antiquities had been initiated by the Sate already in the XVIIth century, however an extensive work on this attempt started in 1859 when Alexander II established Imperial Archaeological Commission in St. Petersburg, which was the first state body organising archaeological research, and participating in the protection of cultural heritage. Since that time the jewellery was purchased from the persons who found them in order to donate them to museums. Nevertheless, not all artefacts reached state museum funds as many of them were stolen or scrapped for the sake of precious metals.

Ryasny. Second part XIIth century. Kiev. Gold, pearls; embossing, enamelling, soldering.
Ryasny. Second part XIIth century. Kiev. Gold, pearls; embossing, enamelling, soldering.

The Russian Meseum collection of treasure troves

The Russian Museum collection by now counts ten ancient troves, represented by the jewellery pieces like signet rings, naruchi (vemraces), torcs, temple rings, ochelye (headband), kolts, ryasna, barmy. Some pieces may be distinguished as masterpieces of ancient Russian jewellery making. Back to those days the master made jewellery from gold, silver, bronze, copper alloy, and used various stones for incrustation – jasper, pearls, garnet, onyx and heliotrope.

The Russian Museum collection is unique as many of the paired jewellery pieces represent a complete set, for example, kolts and temple rings. Besides that the collection contains equally valuable and interesting jewellery making tools, such as embossing molds.

Paired temple rings, second part XIIth – fisrt part XIIIth centuries. Gold; soldering, skan’, zern’, soldering.
Paired temple rings, second part XIIth – fisrt part XIIIth centuries. Gold; soldering, skan’, zern’, soldering.

Ancient Rus’ jewellery masters

Ancient jewellery masters used various techniques:

  • Skan’ – twisting of thin silver or golden wires;
  • Zern’ – covering the surface with golden or silver granules;
  • Enamelling – patterning surface filling spaces with enamel, which was then fired and polished. Bysantine technique;
  • Engraving was also widely used in the jewellery making and represented genre scenes, pagan rituals, mythical or real animals and birds.

Some of the most ancient pieces have distinguished signs of Scandinavian culture influence. This may indicate either Scandinavian origin of the jewellery or strong influence of Northern Europe on jewellery masters.

Paired kolts depicting birds. Front side. First part XIIth century (?). Kiev. Gold; embossing, engraving, skan’, mounting, soldering.
Paired kolts depicting birds. Front side. First part XIIth century (?). Kiev. Gold; embossing, engraving, skan’, mounting, soldering.

Exhibition at the Russian Museum

16 December 2015 – 16 March 2016 the Russian Museum held an exhibition “Treasures of Ancient Russia from the Russian Museum Collection”. More than 400 jewellery pieces made in various styles and techniques, as well as the tools of jewellery masters were exhibited. Despite the exhibition is long ago over, the catalogue with high quality illustrations is still available on the website of the Russian Museum.

Barmy. Bead necklace with medallion depicting a cross. End of XIIth – first fart XIII century. Rus’. Silver; soldering, skan’, zern’, mounting, soldering, gilting, engraving.
Barmy. Bead necklace with medallion depicting a cross. End of XIIth – first fart XIII century. Rus’. Silver; soldering, skan’, zern’, mounting, soldering, gilting, engraving.

Sources:

  1. С.М. Новаковская-Бухман. Клады Древней Руси в собрании Русского музея / Русский музей представляет: Клады Древней Руси в собрании Русского музея / Альманах. Вып. 457. СПб: Palace Editions, 2015, ISBN 978-5-93332-525-3
  2. Императорская Археологическая Комиссия (1859-1917): К 150-летию со дня основания. У истоков отечественной археологии и охраны культурного наследия / Науч. ред.-сост. А.Е. Мусин. Под общей ред. Е.Н. Носова. – СПб.: ДМИТРИЙ БУЛАНИН, 2009, ISBN 978-5-86007-606-8
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