Pretender’s Portrait and Armour Guide for a New Exhibition of the Moscow Kremlin Museums

April 11

The Rurik dynasty, the descendants of the semi-legendary Varangian prince who came to rule Novgorod in 862, was interrupted when Fyodor Ioannovich, the son of Ivan IV (the Terrible), died in 1598. The most tragic period in the history of Rus began.

The Time of Troubles witnessed natural disasters, the Russian-Polish and Russian-Swedish Wars, a civil war and emergence of pretenders. Mikhail Fedorovich, the founder of the Romanov dynasty, ascended the throne only in 1613.

The exhibition that opened in the exposition halls of the Patriarchal Palace and Assumption Belfry helps understand the secrets of the late 16th — early 17th centuries. The exposition includes items from the collections of the Moscow Kremlin Museums and the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts as well as some other Russian museums and Dresden State Art Collections. See TOP10 most interesting exhibits in the publication.

Sigismund’s Plan of Moscow

The most detailed surviving city plan from the pre-Peter period was commissioned by Polish king Sigismund III during the Russian-Polish War of 1609-1618. Sigismund’s detailed plan depicts Moscow within the modern Garden Ring and conveys the structure of buildings well. For example, one can see the Old English Court, the Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel in the Kremlin, and Patriarchal Chambers. The map comprises a text with a list of facilities and brief information on the structure of Moscow and its inhabitants.

The original plan goes back to 1610. The exhibition introduces one of its copies made for the Civitates orbis terrarum atlas. Theatri praecipuarum totius mundi urbium (in Latin – “Atlas of the earth cities. Review of the noblest cities of the entire world”) as of 1618.

Sigismund’s Plan of Moscow (Moscovia Urbs Metropolis Totius Russia Albae). Engraving from an original by Lucas Kilian. Civitates orbis terrarum atlas sheet. Theatri praecipuarum totius mundi urbium. Cologne, 1618. Moscow Kremlin Museums

Regal Book of the Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible

The Regal Book is the last part of the Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible, the largest (about 10 thousand sheets) chronicle of Medieval Rus created at the behest of Ivan the Terrible in the 1560s-1570s. The word “litsevoy” in the title of the chronicle means that it is illustrated, that is, it is represented “in faces.”

The Royal Book captures the details of all important events of the last Rurikids’ reign: Grand Duke Ivan Vasilyevich’s (future Ivan IV) coronation ceremony, his wedding with Tsarina Anastasia Romanovna, the capture of Kazan, the birth of their heirs, etc.

Coronation of Grand Prince Ivan Vasilyevich Miniature of the Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible. Moscow, second half of the 16th century. State Historical Museum

Ivan the Terrible’s Gold Drinking Ladle

This luxurious utensil was created to commemorate Ivan the Terrible’ victory in a battle of the Livonian War that began in 1558. During its first stage, Russian troops took over 20 cities and fortresses in the Baltic States, including Narva and Dorpat. The most important strategic point on the Lithuanian direction was Polotsk that the Rurikovichs considered theirs together with the adjacent lands. In January 1563, the city was sieged, bombed and stormed, and the local garrison capitulated.

Then Ivan the Terrible ordered to take Polotsk gold and use it to make a ladle decorated with precious stones and pearls, casting, engraving and niello. Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich’s full title is engraved on the edge of the ladle, while the occasion and what it is made of are specified on the bottom.

Gold drinking ladle. Moscow, Kremlin workshops, after 1563. Green Vault, Dresden State Art Collections

Portrait of False Dmitry I

The death of eight-year-old Tsarevich Dmitry, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, in 1591 still remains a mystery. There is no clear answer to the question whether it was accidental or planned by Boris Godunov who later ascended the throne. However there were rumours that the boy had not died. This gave rise to the emergence of pretenders — people pretending to be the miraculously survived prince.

False Dmitry I, or, as he used to call himself, Dmitry Ivanovich, arrived to Moscow from Poland in the summer of 1605 and was crowned soon. He had a chance to rule for somewhat less than a year – he was killed in the spring of 1606. Contemporaries had ambiguous opinions about the pretender’s personality but they were unanimous in describing his expressive look: “he was medium-tall, without a beard at all, strongly-built, well-set, dark-skinned, with a wart near his nose, under his right eye.”

This engraving going back to 1606 is one of the best and most authentic depictions of False Dmitry I. It was created by Lucas Kilian (1579-1637), a German draftsman and printmaker, master of ornamental engraving from a large family of Augsburg painters and jewellers.

Lucas Kilian. Portrait of False Dmitry I. Engraving. Augsburg, 1606. State Historical Museum

Armour of False Dmitry I

According to his contemporaries’ recollections, False Dmitry I was a sturdy thick-set medium-tall man. This fact is indirectly confirmed with the surviving parts of his ceremonial armour. However, its size is not the only interesting aspect of this exhibit. The armour was made in the armoury of a famous Milanese gunsmith of that time, Pompeo della Chiesa, located in the Sforza Castle.

The armour pieces are made of iron and are richly decorated. They have an etched and gilded floral ornament, oval medallions with royal double-headed eagles, circles with images of the instruments of Christ’s suffering and the coats of arms of the kingdoms and lands mentioned in the royal title. Also, the armour has a large royal seal of Ivan the Terrible – the pretender used it to confirm the legitimacy of his power.

Parts of the armour (neckpieces, bracers and cuisses) of False Dmitry I. Milan, 1605-1606. Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps, Saint Petersburg

Coronation Medal of False Dmitry I

Coronation medals first appeared in Russia during the reign of False Dmitry I who was trying to create an image of a European ruler and choosing corresponding memorials, i.e. items associated with his reign. Such medals were minted in Poland and Moscow for the pretender’s wedding with Marina Mniszech. The most famous one is the Polish medal that shows three quarters of the False Dmitry’s body – with uncovered head and a cloak. Its numerous replicas were made later, for example, this very medal from the collection of the Moscow Kremlin Museums that you can see at the exhibition.

Medal commemorating the coronation of False Dmitry I. Imprint from an original stamp, Moscow, early 18th century (probably). Moscow Kremlin Museums

Chromolithography: Reception of Polish Ambassadors by False Dmitry I in the Faceted Chamber

False Dmitry went to Moscow with the support of the Polish king: he promised to give him part of the Russian lands and introduce Catholicism in Rus. The pretender’s promises were not destined to come true. The reason was the incorrect title of the supposed sovereign.

In May 1606, shortly before the death of “Dmitry Ivanovich,” Polish ambassadors arrived to the Royal Household. They gave him a letter from Sigismund III, but the tsar refused to take it – the Polish ruler called him simply “the prince of Moscow” rather than “invincible Caesar and emperor.”

The chromolithography (i.e. “colour lithography”) depicts that very reception of Polish ambassadors in the Faceted Chamber. There one can see the main characters of the Time of Troubles: False Dmitry I (in the right, red corner of the Chamber), Polish ambassadors one of whom holds out the notorious letter to the tsar, and Yuri Mniszech, the father of Marina Mniszech (depicted in profile to the right of the ambassadors).

Reception of Polish ambassadors by False Dmitry I in the Faceted Chamber on 3 May, 1606. Chromolithography, Russia, second half of the 19th century, copy from the original as of 1606. State Historical Museum

Kerchief: The Story of False Dmitry

The main mystery of the Time of Troubles is who False Dmitry I really was. There are several hypotheses. The most popular one was the assumption that monk Grigory Otrepyev who escaped from the Chudov Monastery was hiding under the name of Dmitry Ivanovich.

It was this legend specifically to become the foundation for creating an official version and was reflected in historical and fiction literature. A good example of its vitality is the commemorative kerchief with fragments of engravings from Thaddeus Bulgarin’s novel “Dmitry the Pretender” first published in 1830.

The kerchief depicts scenes from the pretender’s life with the following inscriptions: “Sigismund recognises the pretender as Dmitry,” “Dmitry the pretender changes his faith,” “Grishka turns into Dimitry the pretender,” “Grishka being ostensibly ill in Poland,” “The pretender goes to Moscow with king’s help,” “Citizens meet the pretender in Moscow,” “Kaleria unmasks the pretender in Moscow,” “pretender’s death in the village of Kotly,” etc.

The Story of False Dmitry Commemorative kerchief. Russia, first half of the 19th century. State Historical Museum

Armistice Treaty

Vasily Shuysky ascended the throne after the death of False Dmitry I. He was the ruler from 1606 to 1610, during the hardest time for the state. This armistice treaty for three years and 11 months that he concluded with Sigismund III testifies to his desperate situation. As far back as in the spring, the army of the new pretender had moved to Moscow.

Unfortunately, the armistice treaty did not give Shuysky anything at all – the Polish troops who came with False Dmitry II continued to ravage the Russian land, while Marina Mniszech released from Moscow recognised her husband and “true sovereign” in the second pretender. Shuysky was captured by the Poles and spent the last two years of his life as a prisoner.

Treaty concluded between Polish king Sigismund III and Tsar Vasily Ivanovich Shuysky on 20 July, 1608. Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts

Royal Titular Book

The succession of the dynasty from the Rurikids to the Romanovs is reflected in the Royal Titular Book, or the Great Tsar’s Book. This illustrated handwritten book was created in 1672, under the reign of Aleksey Mikhailovich, the second Russian ruler from the Romanov dynasty. The titular books contained information on the titles of Russian and foreign monarchs, coats of arms and seals.

The text for the Royal Titular Book was written by diplomat, traveller and geographer Nikolai Spathari and Ambassadorial Order clerk Pyotr Dolgovo. Apart from texts, the Titular Book contains portraits of tsars made with silver and coloured paints. They were created by Simon Ushakov’s student Ivan Maksimov and patriarchal icon painter Dmitry Lvov, gold painter Grigory Blagushin, and other famous artists of that time.

Royal Titular Book. Moscow, Ambassadorial Order, 1672. Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts



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