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Jewelry exhibitions are the "visiting card" of the Kremlin Museums

14 march 2022

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Elena Yurievna Gagarina is Director General of the Moscow Kremlin Museums. She graduated from the Faculty of History of the Moscow State University, the Department of History and Theory of Art. She is a Russian art critic and has a Ph.D. in History of Arts. She is awarded the title of an Honoured Cultural Worker of Russia and is an Honorary Member of the Russian Academy of Arts. Elena Gagarina told Rough&Polished about the jewellery collections at the Moscow Kremlin Museums, recalled the memorable, significant jewellery exhibitions, and shared her short-term plans for events to be held at the country’s major Museum.

The Moscow Kremlin Museums pay a lot of attention to the jewellery art, which - in your case - combines the history, culture, and aesthetics. The jewellery art pieces were displayed at a variety of exhibitions, including the last ones (Rurik, France and Russia). What role do they play and how do they convey the spirit of the time and place, the atmosphere of the historical events and the role of personalities in history?

You are right, the collection of jewellery art of the Moscow Kremlin Museums is known all over the world. Only the best works of the Russian and foreign jewellers invited to the tsar’s court from all over the world were added to the Armoury Chamber, a treasury of the Grand Dukes and Tsars. The Russian monarchs received luxury gifts from many foreign rulers, and the current collection of the embassies’ gifts, which include, of course, jewellery items, is one of the best at our Kremlin Museums today. The rulers were always proud of their jewellery, they valued precious stones, and the most magnificent and valuable stones adorned the state regalia and were the symbol of the power and prosperity of a monarch.

As for the exhibitions, the choice of exhibits depends on the concept, and in each case, their selection is a unique process. The project “The Decline of the Dynasty. The Last Rurikovichs. False Dmitry” continued the tradition of the exhibitions we always use to talk about the Russian monarchs, starting with Ivan III. Such a narrative, of course, could not do without demonstrating the state regalia and symbols of power. For example, we displayed the Kazan Cap (crown) decorated with sapphires, rubies, pearls and created by the order of Ivan the Terrible in honour of the annexation of the Khanate of Kazan. Or we displayed the Boris Godunov’s throne, the gift from the Iranian Khan Abbas, decorated with magnificent precious stones especially valued in the Middle East such as rubies, tourmalines, turquoise.

At the exhibition “France and Russia: Ten Centuries Together”, the visitors had an opportunity to see the work of the best French painters, weavers, medallionists, portrait medalists, gunsmiths, and, of course, jewellers. We showcased the works of the French jewellery houses made in the 19th century such as brooches, bracelets, watches, elegant snuff boxes decorated with miniatures - everything, without which it is impossible to get an idea of ​​the French art of that period.

In addition to the exhibitions you mentioned, we hosted a wonderful exhibition “Suprematism Vision: Space Motifs in the Graphic Works and Jewellery Designs of Nadya Léger” in 2021 dedicated to the anniversary of the first space flight. We set ourselves the goal of revealing another facet of the talent of Nadia Léger, a wonderful artist, a bright representative of the Paris school of art, and presented jewellery in the Suprematism style created under her design to our visitors. The collection consists of 37 jewellery pieces made of gold, platinum, and diamonds and represents the “cosmic” compositions expressed in brooches, rings and watches. In 1976, Nadia donated these items to the Soviet state, and since 1980, they have been kept at the Moscow Kremlin Museums. By the way, this project became the most popular in 2021, the exhibition was visited by more than 90 thousand people.

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Pictured: The Museums of the Moscow Kremlin

How are the jewellery pieces selected for the exhibitions, who are the art experts of the Moscow Kremlin Museums?

The art experts are, first of all, our curators, top-class experts who keep the jewellery collection of the Moscow Kremlin Museum. We have wonderful collections of jewellery ranging from the 12th century gold and silver items to modern jewellery art pieces.

What exhibitions of fine jewellery art held at the Moscow Kremlin Museums are especially memorable and valuable to you?

You know that we have held many exhibitions of jewellery art works, and each of them was an important cultural event. Our visitors remember well the projects dedicated to the major European jewellery houses of the 20th century, they still ask for their catalogues in souvenir shops, which is very nice.

Jewellery exhibitions have always been the hallmark of the Moscow Kremlin Museums. These are international projects that are very difficult to arrange, both museums and private collectors always participate in them and we try to select the brightest jewellery works.

We displayed the collections of art works by Mario and Gianmaria Buccellati at the exhibition “Buccellati. Timeless Art”, the collections of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan, the Silver Museum (Palazzo Pitti) in Florence, the Smithsonian Institution, and other famous collections. Later on, there was the exhibition “The Art of René Lalique” showcasing the largest world and private collections with the works of René Lalique, as well as the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Danish Museum of Art & Design, and many others. The exhibition “India. Jewels that Enchanted the World” held in 2014 left an unforgettable impression on our visitors. The queue for it began in the Alexander Garden. It was the result of almost three years of intensive work with partners from many countries, and it was one of the most challenging projects. Nevertheless, we managed to arrange a truly unique exposition that showed how jewellery traditions developed from the Mughal era to the present day.

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Exhibition "India. Jewels that Enchanted the World" 

Of course, I cannot help but mention about the exhibition “Bvlgari. Tribute to Femininity”, which set a record attendance of over 220 thousand people. This exhibition demonstrated not only the development of the jewellery art, but also the development of society, it was about feminism of the 20th century, about women who ordered and self-purchased jewellery from Bvlgari, as well as about American and Italian actresses of the post-war period and about the jewellery used in the films.

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Exhibition "BVLGARI. Tribute to Femininity. Magnificent Roman Jewels" 

Everyone remembers the “Diamond in the Russian Avant-Garde” exhibition and the collection of diamonds and jewellery pieces that now belongs to the Moscow Kremlin Museums (or the Diamond Fund?). Is it possible to repeat this practice?

It was a wonderful project, which we also remember with pleasure. To create this collection “Brilliant in the Russian Avant-Garde Style”, ALROSA provided the best Russia’s diamonds, the jewellery pieces were made by the world-famous Jewellery House “Jewellery Theatre” under the designs of excellent Russian artists. It is very pleasant, that ALROSA assisted in the creation of the collection and preserved its integrity, and it also took care of the historical fate of the collection. This collection was donated to the Moscow Kremlin Museums. Now, it is kept in our funds and is added to the collection of modern jewellery art.

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Collection "Brilliant in the Russian avant-garde style", ring "Fan-1" (ALROSA - JT - Jewellery Theatre)

We have rather limited exhibition space, and we cannot show this collection all the time, but we plan to display these works in the new museum exposition on the Red Square.

Several years ago, you were the initiator of the exhibition of contemporary domestic jewellery art at the Moscow Kremlin Museums showcasing the jewellery by Ilgiz Fazulzyanov. Is it possible to continue this topic in the future?

It was a wonderful experience to collaborate with this very talented artist and jeweller. The Moscow Kremlin Museums have been familiar with Ilgiz Fazulzyanov’s creative works for a long time, his art works were already in our collection. Ilgiz is known all over the world, but in Russia, as it often happens, he is less known, and I am glad that we were able to show his talent to the Russian people. The exhibition was very popular, we received a lot of rave reviews. I hope that the new exhibition space will help us continue projects related to contemporary jewellery art.

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Necklace "Dragonflies on burdock", Ilgiz F.

What jewellery exhibitions are you going to hold in the near (or distant) future at the Moscow Kremlin Museums? If they are not planned, then, maybe, are existing in your dreams?

We are not preparing major jewellery projects at the Moscow Kremlin Museums now. But our immediate plans include the opening of the exhibition “Carl Fabergé and Russian Jewellers of the 19th-21st Centuries” in Chelyabinsk at the State Historical Museum of the Southern Urals this autumn. We will exhibit the jewellery pieces, many of which are known all over the world. I must say that our jewellery collection of this period has grown significantly over the past two decades, many precious accessories, objets d’art were added to it, and this gave us the opportunity to hold an exhibition of these amazing jewellery pieces. We hope to give a chance to the Chelyabinsk audience to enjoy the unique world of Russian jewellery, created by the artists united by the national creative spirit and contemporary culture.

Now, our main plans and all our work are connected with the future relocation of the Museum to the Red Square. There will be large exposition areas where there will be enough room for a variety of projects, including jewellery ones.

Galina Semyonova, Rough&Polished

All photographs courtesy of the Moscow Kremlin Museums