Kunstkamera - Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography

The Kunstkamera is one of the oldest and most famous museums in Saint Petersburg.

The name kunstkamera is derived from the German word kunstkammer – a palace of arts, a Renaissance term for collections of paintings and rarities.

The legend has it that Peter the Great was inspired to found this museum after spotting a weird birch tree on Vasilievsky island – the tree’s trunk had grown into another tree (a section of that birch tree is still part of museum collection).  

In autumn 1714, Peter the Great gave an order to doctor Robert Areskin to move his personal collections and library from Moscow to the new capital and begin work on the creation of the first state public museum – the Kunstkamera. The collections, consisting of “fish, reptiles and insects in bottles”, mathematical, physics and chemistry instruments, and also books from the Tsar’s library, were put in Peter’s Summer Palace. 

It was almost a personal passion for Peter - in 1717, the ordered the governer of Voronezh to capture rare animals and bring them to the museum.  And in 1718 he signed a decree stating that any recently found antiques be donated to the Kunstkamera. His governers obeyed - a four-eyed sheep was delivered from Vyborg, and a three-eyed sheep sent from Tobolsk. All travelers were ordered to purchase and bring back rarities and oddities, if they could find them. Peter the Great personally contributed to the museum collection as well – he brought petrified bread and wooden shows from Holland.

For Peter the Great, it was extremely important to create an image of a changing Russia. The emperor had the habit of receiving ambassadors in his museum, and a tour of the museum was part of the visit program for all important guests.

The first public exhibition of the Kunstkamera was opened in 1719 in the “Kikin chambers” – the confiscated home of the disgraced boyar A. Kikin. At this time, it was also decided to build a special building. Peter chose the location for the Kunstkamera himself in the center of the capital.        

In December 1726, collections began to be brought to the new building of the museum. According to a report from the newspaper “Sankt-Peterburgskie vedemosti” on 26 November 1728, “yesterday the imperial library with the kunst and natural camera were opened after they were brought to the new academic chambers”. The working days of the library and kunstkamera were reported, and also the fact that entry to them was free. Peter believed that “enthusiasts should be taught and entertained, instead of taking money from them.” So instead of charging an entrance price, a free cup of cofee or a shot of vodka was offered to all visitors - and a yearly budget of 400 rubles was allocated for that purpose.

The Kunstkamara, or Museum, contains an immense number of interesting specimens of the works of nature or of art, many of them truly objects of great curiosity...The fourth room comprises — anatomical preparations, and a number of insects and reptiles preserved in spirits, the more curious of which are, a child with two heads, encircled by a serpent ; the dressed skin of Peter the Great's giant, seven feet three inches and a half in height, stuffed with hair ; also that of his dwarf, prepared in the same manner, the hands and feet of which terminate in two forked points, instead of common fingers and toes ; the skeletons of both these preparations are also preserved here. 

James Holman, Travels Through Russia

A great Russian scientist and the founder of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the first Russian University, Mikhail Lomonosov, had an office in the museum in the years of 1741-1765. The museum also housed the first Russian planetarium and a space observatory.

A fire destroyed the building in 1747 and subsequent reconstruction was not completed until 1766, but the cupola was only restored in 1948.

 

The Kunstkamera has the following collections on display:

COLLECTIONS ON THE CULTURE AND LIFE OF THE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD

  • Australia, Oceania and Indonesia
  • America
  • Africa
  • East and Southeast Asia
  • Eastern Slavs and Peoples of European Russia
  • Europe
  • Caucasus
  • Siberia
  • Central Asia
  • South and Southwest Asia

 

Archaeological collections

The archaeological depositories contain over one thousand collections comprising nearly 600 thousand specimens.

Epochs

Number of collections

Number of specimens

Paleolithic

120

200,000

Mesolithic

30

60,000

Neolithic

255

90,000

Chalcolithic

39

60,000

Bronze and Iron Ages

567

172,000

Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург) is the second largest city in Russia. It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. St Petersburg is often described as the most westernized city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital.It is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over one million.

Population: 5 197 114 (2015)
Founded : 1703
Time zone : UTC+4
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Area code : (00 7) 812
Postal code : 190000-199406
Former name : Petrograd (1914-1924)
Former name : Leningrad (1924-1991)