Ancient engravings. Moscow as seen by travellers in 17th–19th centuries

November 24, 2019

Moscow had always attracted travellers, and they sought to capture its image. What was Moscow like to visitors from Europe at the time when there were no smartphones and social networks? At the's request, Head of the Rare Books and Collections Centre of the Foreign Literature Library Karina Dmitriyeva has chosen six books illustrating engravings with Moscow images of the 17th–19th centuries, and told about their authors.

The 17th century. Adam Olearius and Johann Arnold von Brand

Adam Olearius (1599–1671) was a German scholar, traveller, linguist and painter. Since he had engaged in diverse occupations, he was nicknamed 'the Holstein Leonardo'. Olearius visited Russia twice as a member of the Embassy of Schleswig-Holstein Duke Frederick III — in 1633, as Secretary and interpreter, and in 1636–1638,  as a Councillor. The German scientist, who spoke Russian well, was favoured a lot by Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich. He even invited Olearius to stay in Moscow, but the scientist chose to return to his homeland to work on the records made during his travels.

It resulted in a book with a long title 'The long-awaited description of new eastern journey made on the occasion of the Holstein Embassy visit to the Shah of Persia, which diligently describes the areas and countries encountered on the way, such as Russia, Tartary and Persia, as well as the nature, manners and customs of their inhabitants.'

The first edition was published in 1647. Due to its accurate facts, the Olearius's book became one of the most important sources of the Russian history of that time. His notes and observations are supplemented with a plenty of drawings.

Johann Arnold Brand (1647-1690), Doctor of Law and Professor at the University of Duisburg, visited Moscow in March 1673 with the Embassy of kammerat Joachim Scultetus. The delegation was sent by Brandenburg elector Friedrich Wilhelm to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich.

Brand described his journey to Moscow in the book 'Journey through Brandenburg, Prussia, Courland, Livonia, Pskov, Veliky Novgorod, Tver and Moscow'. After the author's death, the manuscript was transferred by his relatives to his University colleague, Professor Johann von Henin. He published the 'Journey...'  in 1702, supplemented with his remarks and comments. In 1703, the book was also published in Utrecht in Dutch.

18th century. Cornelis de Bruijn and Friedrich Christian Weber

Cornelis de Bruijn (1652-1727) was a Dutch painter, traveller and writer. During his lifetime, he published two books dedicated to two great journeys, featuring a large number of engravings made after his own drawings.

He visited Russia in 1701–1703. Having learned the life of the indigenous Arkhangelsk inhabitants, he sleighed via Vologda and Yaroslavl to Moscow. There he met Peter the Great, who spoke Dutch, and at his request painted portraits of the Emperor's nieces to be sent to their potential suitors. Cornelis de Bruijn was the first foreigner to be allowed to make sketches of remarkable buildings in detail. The Emperor was pleased to show the guest both the new fleet under construction, and the fortress.

De Bruijn's drawings and travel essays became the basis of his second book, a 'Journey through Muscovy to Persia and India' published in 1711. The full title of the book is 'A Journey through Muscovy to Persia and India, supplemented by three hundred skillful engravings representing the most renowned localities and cities, as well as the extraordinary birds, animals, fish and plants that can be found there'.

In Europe, the book was a sensation. In 1714, it was reprinted and translated into several languages. Today, it is one of the most renowned monuments of rossica (a term used to refer to the heritage of Western European artists who worked in Russia in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century).

The author of 'Transformed Russia' essays about Russia of the early 18th century, diplomat and writer Friedrich Christian Weber (1690 – 1739) was a Hanover resident at the Russian court during the reign of Peter the Great. The importance of Weber's embassy for diplomatic relations between Russia and the Great Britain was rather small, but his three-volume book had proved to be more beneficial.

The book, translated several times into French and English, tells about Russia in the period from 1714 to 1719, when the author visited St. Petersburg and Moscow. The work provides a variety of information about Russia then, including military, political and court events, life and manners of different classes, views of society and people on the Peter's reform. The first volume published in 1721, based entirely on the Weber's personal observations, is of the greatest interest.

19th century. Auguste Cadolle and  Robert Ker Porter

Auguste Cadolle  (1782–1849) was a French officer, painter and lithographer. During the war of 1812, he was captured by the Russians, then he escaped, and returned to Russia in 1819. Over three years, he had created a series of historical drawings of postwar Moscow. Back in Paris, Cadolle made three series of lithographic views of Moscow and its suburbs. Moscow images on his lithographs are captured down to the smallest details, including the passers-by clothing.

One of the most famous lithographs of the 'Moscow Views' series (lithographs based on drawings by Auguste Cadolle), dedicated to His Majesty Alexander I' is the renowned  'Moscow Panorama from the Imperial Palace in the Kremlin'. This visual document has a great historical value, as the lithograph presents Moscow rebuilt after the fire of 1812 in the smallest detail.

Robert Ker Porter (1777–1842) was a Scottish artist, soldier, writer, diplomat and archaeologist. He travelled a lot, with a significant part of his life associated with Russia. At home, Porter became known for his huge historical paintings, including 'Prince Bagration, Leading the Attack of the Cossacks' and 'The Russians Defeating the French on Chyortov Bridge'.

No wonder that in 1805 he received a high-prestige commission to make three large paintings to decorate the Grand Hall of the St. Petersburg Admiralty. In 1809 in London, Porter published his diary entries in the book 'Travel Essays from Russia and Sweden in 1805, 1806, 1807 and 1808'. The edition is provided with 40 author's illustrations made in aquatint technique (a kind of etching that allows reproducing an ink drawing in printing).


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