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15 December 2022 – 15 March 2023

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

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The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts


The State Historical Museum, State Museum of Oriental Art, State Hermitage, Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Science, Moscow Kremlin Museums, Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera), Russian State Library, Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents, Mardjani Foundation, and others


«Manchurian» helmet

The Moscow Kremlin Museums take part in the large-scale exhibition project "The Universal Language" presented in the main building of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. At the core of its concept is the biblical myth about the Tower of Babel as a symbol of the bygone unity of mankind. Having settled separately around the world and having lost the universal language, people have been seeking ways to mutual understanding throughout their history. According to the curators’ idea, the display must show the diversity of languages in art and culture, as well as remind the visitors about the importance of communication between nations. One of the forms of international communication, successful establishment of economic and cultural ties is the art of diplomacy. The surviving documents and items from the ambassadorial gifts offer insight into this art.

The Moscow Kremlin Museums possess the world's largest collection of diplomatic gifts, sent to the Russian tsars. They became hard evidence of the extensive work of foreign policy, carried out by the Russian state. The ambassadorial gifts were an important instrument of diplomacy and an essential part of official ceremonies at the tsar’s court. Their "appearance" was the most impressive event of the foreign ambassadors’ receptions which were held in two main halls of the palace – the Faceted and Gold Chambers. The delivered items of silver and gold, precious fabrics and garments, horses of finest breeds in rich harnesses could have contained hints or invitations to diplomatic or military activity, interest in the continuity of peaceful trade relations or an intention to make a good match.

The Museum gave on loan ten art pieces by European and Oriental masters of the 17th century from the collection of ambassadorial gifts, which comprises artefacts of great diversity. Among the objects, there is a unique "Manchurian" helmet of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich brought from Buddhist lama Erdeni Dai mergen Nansgo, the spiritual advisor of Altan Khan Ombo-Erdeni-Khung Taiji, the Khotogoids ruler (north-west Mongolia). The Sanskrit text of widespread Buddhist mantras is inscribed in three rows on the crown of the helmet.

The standing cup by famous Hamburg silversmith Hans Lambrecht II is notable for its exquisiteness. Its bowl is made in the form of a branch of grapes, and a cast figure of a wild man covered with fur serves as a leg. The precious vessel was presented to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich in 1644 among other ambassadorial gifts from Danish King Christian IV. As a present to the Russian tsar, only new-fashioned, prestigious items executed on the highest artistic level by the first-rank European masters were chosen. Such choice met the desire to establish strong diplomatic ties.

The same year Iranian Shah Abbas II sent a saddlecloth with embroidered images of two lions among the floral ornament as a gift. In 1656, Greek merchants Avraam Rodionov and Dmitry Konstantinov presented Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich and Tsarevich Alexey Alexeevich with a saddle covered with precious stones – a splendid art sample made by the best Istanbul masters.

Gifts from English King Charles II to Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, delivered to Moscow in 1664 by the embassy of Sir Charles Howard Carlisle, were distinct in opulence and careful choice. Among them, there was a basin and ewer set that, before leaving for Moscow, had been in the treasury of Charles I as a part of the dowry of his spouse Henrietta Maria, Princess of France, and a gilded silver flask with chased images of a unicorn and a boar among the baroque-like pompous floral ornament.