Expositions and exhibitions in the House of the Father Superior

Permanent and temporary exhibitions in the House of the Father Superior

The exposition “Old Russian Art of 15th-17th centuries” is open on the first floor of the building. The icons from the iconostases of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery and the icons of the Church of St. Prophet Elijah in Belozersk are displayed in nine halls. In all, visitors can admire over 90 images from the museum collection as well as articles of the church embroidery of the 15th-19th centuries.

The most ancient icon is “Dormition of the Virgin”. It is a unique work of the Old Russian icon-painting demonstrating close ties of ancient Russia with Byzantium. The origin of the oeuvre is connected with St. Kirill Belozersky.

Book Heritage

The exhibition “Craft and Masterpieces” was opened on the ground floor of the House of the Father Superior in 2014. Icons and works of decorative and applied arts of the 15th - early 20th centuries from the collection of the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve are presented there. The art works of the 15th – 17th centuries that were among the perfect examples of Russian medieval art and came from the churches of the Kirillo-Belozersky, the Ferapontov Monasteries and the Goritsy Convent of the Resurrection have been known to the public for a long time. They include the icons of the late 15th century from the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral of the Ferapontov Monastery and the Dormition Cathedral of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, jewellery items made by the virtuoso silversmiths of the Armoury Chamber, embroidered articles created by the skillful women of the Ascension Convent in the Moscow Kremlin and the Goritsy Convent. Along with the famous masterpieces, there were many other works in the churches of these well-known northern monasteries and parish churches located next to them.

Such articles that didn’t have so high artistic merits were often marked as works of “the third grade” in the first inventory books of the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve. But connoisseurs of Russian art have shown more and more interest in them within the last years, giving a chance to learn about the art tendencies in the provincial centres. Therefore it is not by chance that this exhibition has united the works made in different style by people of various artistic skills. You can see the items of the Moscow’s and Vologda’s masters who participated in the decoration of the northern churches and local specialists. Several works of the northern craftsmen are notable for the refinement of forms and lyricism of the images. The others are simple and sometimes unsophisticated in execution, but surprisingly expressional. Display of many of them became possible only after restoration.

Hall 1

The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery was a large religious and cultural centre in the North of the country. There were workshops of various craftsmen on its grounds. The names of monastery elders, peasants from the monastery estates and masters from other cities, mainly Vologda and Belozersk, who painted icons, were listed in the monastery documents of the 16th – 19th centuries. Researchers trace the development of the “icon-painting service” of the monastery during almost 100 years, from the late 17th century to the 1770s. Several masters worked during a very short period of time, the names of the others were mentioned in the documents of many years. We also have information about few dynasties of icon-painters. They repainted images, painted mainly hand-span sized icons for distribution and seldom images of saints for the churches of northern monasteries and parish churches. Icon-painters were trained both in the monastery itself and in the capital where they gained experience in painting of church images in oils on canvas. Invited masters carried out large work in the monastery. The exhibition presents images from the churches of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, neighbouring cloisters and churches created within the framework of traditional icon-painting and demonstrating the influence of the modern age art with its latest requirements to the character of painting and interpretation of famous subjects. A lot of researchers become interested in the late Russian icons now. The artistic level of such works demonstrating the variety of styles and directions is diverse and reflects peculiarities of the development of the icon-painting art, spiritual and economic processes taking place in the region. In this connection, the signed icons are especially interesting because they give a chance to reconstruct the development of artistic culture of the northern region to the fullest extent possible. Such icons are also displayed at the exhibition.

Hall 2

The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery was one of the richest in Russia. Members of the Grand-Ducal family and other noble persons paid special attention to it. They endowed the monastery with land and money and replenished its churches and sacristies with precious articles. Contemporaries admired fantastic wealth of the cloister. The items of the 15th – 17th centuries handed over to the museum from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery and the Afanasievsky town church in Moscow form the basis of the museum collection of silver artwork. Among them there are decorations of icons, altar Gospels, pectoral and altar crosses, chalices, icon-lamps, and candle-sticks. The articles made by the outstanding silversmiths, including the masters of the Moscow Armoury Chamber, are notable for fine carving, wonderful stamped and engraved ornaments, enamel and niello compositions. The reforms of Peter I and Catherine II undermined the economic prosperity of the monastery. Precious objects were almost not donated to it in the 18th – 19th centuries. At that period old silver articles were often melted to create new church items. A tabernacle, sacramental fans, medallions of the Royal Doors from the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple made in the 1770s, a stamped cover of the icon “Christ Pantocrator” of the 19th century are the examples of it. In the 18th – 19th centuries, local silversmiths and masters of Vologda usually executed orders of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. Their works are also displayed in the exhibition “Craft and Masterpieces” on the ground floor of the House of the Father Superior. The monastery didn’t have its own large silver workshop with rich traditions. We can find information only about several masters who used to work in the cloister, including monks of Kirillov, and mainly invited silversmiths of Vologda and Belozersk who created their articles in a special house located in the New Town of the monastery. Several items presented at the exhibition were made by the first appointed master who came to Kirillov only in the 1730s. Visitors can also see some valuable historical relics in the display that were handed over to the museum from the neighbouring monasteries, churches and various institutions from 1929 to the 1950s.

Hall 3

The exposition presents embroidered articles of the 17th – 19th centuries: vestments of the clergy, covers for church vessels made of expensive fabrics and decorated with pearls, beads, gold and silver threads and silver lace. The articles that used to be kept in the churches and sacristies of the Kirillo-Belozersky, the Ferapontov Monasteries and the Goritsy Convent are notable for richness of materials, variety of techniques and finesse of execution. The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery bought many embroidered things and received them as donations. Many church objects were made for the monastery in the workshops of noble and rich families and convents. In 1665, Moscow’s mistresses of needlework made the shroud “St. Kirill Belozersky” – the present of Alexey Romanov’s spouse Maria Miloslavskaya – that was destined for the shrine of the monastery founder. The Goritsy Convent was a large centre of embroidery in the Belozersk region. Princess Yefrosiniya Staritskaya, aunt of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, founded this convent in the middle of the 16th century. During the period of disgrace, she transferred her gold-embroidery shop that was famous for extraordinary skilful execution and refined style of the pattern, from the Moscow estate to the Goritsy Convent. In the 17th – 18th centuries, the economic problems of the convent affected the activity of the gold-embroidery shop. But competent management of Mother Superior Mavrikiya promoted further prosperity of the convent and revival of the art of gold-embroidery in the early 19th century. Nuns and lay sisters sewed church vestments and other articles, it was their duty. They coped with it and brought considerable additional means to the convent treasury. Travelers were amazed at the wonderful embroidered works of the Goritsy nuns that received a lot of enthusiastic comments. In 1847, Professor Stepan Petrovich Shevyryov wrote: “Various kinds of women’s needlework are flourishing in the convent. Taste is visible in everything… We will hardly find something more refined in taste, choice of colours and decorations. Gold, silver, pearls, silk, and fabrics – everything has submitted to the piety of the selected women’s taste…”

Hall 4

Old Belief is a special part of Orthodox culture. Its supporters opposed the church reform carried out by Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich in the middle of the 17th century. The Old Believers persecuted by the government had to look for new settlement areas. Thus this movement was widespread within the Russian state. The first villages of the Old Believers were founded in the Vologda region in the late 17th – early 18th centuries. Cast-copper articles (eight-pointed crosses, icons, folding icons made as a rule by the founders of Pomorye and Moscow in the large Old Believers’ centres – the Vygovsky Monastery, the Transfiguration community and Guslitsy), books, icons, cheap popular prints illustrating lives of saints, human sins and punishments for them are kept in the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve. A considerable part of the Old Believers’ religious utensils was handed over to the museum from the chapel closed in the Novlenskoye rural council of the Vologda district in the 1930s.

Hall 5

The collection of objects of artistic wood carving kept in the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve consists of the articles coming from the churches of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, neighbouring cloisters and parish churches. This extant items show that wood carving was developed in the Russian North. The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery was one of its famous centres. The inventories contain information about richness and variety of carved elements in the churches and enumerate a lot of household articles. As a rule, the carved works were made by the appointed masters who originated from the villages of the monastery and only a small part of them was donated. The workshop of Kirillov was mentioned for the first time in the 16th century. Small articles and dishes were often presented by the monks to noble people. Carved wooden spoons made in Kirillov were especially famous in Russia.

In the 17th century, skilful local carvers were commissioned by the monastery and private persons to make large items. In the 18th century, all important work connected with artistic wood carving was carried out only by masters from other cities. For example, the craftsmen of Vologda replaced old iconostases in several monastery churches with new, baroque structures decorated with sculptural elements. According to Nikolay Nikolaevich Pomerantsev, Russian wooden carving is “an important kind of original artwork of Russian people”. Three-dimensional wooden figures in the churches displeased church and secular authorities that discovered features of pagan culture in them and insufficiency of artistic taste and skills of folk craftsmen. But numerous decrees aimed at the extermination of this kind of art couldn’t impede its further development in the Russian North. The exhibition presents multi-figured compositions, figures of saints, including the widespread carving “Christ in the Dungeon” (“The Midnight Saviour”), carved crosses, icons, folding icons and icon cases. The works of modern artists from Vologda evidence the continuity of traditions of artistic wood carving.

This exhibition is among the first that presents such a full collection of works of wooden carving from the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve holdings. Many of them have been restored for many years and are displayed for the first time. 

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