Heritage Museum collaborates with Kremlin Museum to bring Russian royal artefacts to life

Hong Kong’s Heritage Museum collaborated with Moscow’s Kremlin Museums to present the “Tsar Of All Russia: Holiness and Splendour of Power” exhibition. The Kremlin Museums brought 170 masterpieces to Hong Kong, allowing audiences to appreciate an extensive portrayal of the Russian king’s religious, military and personal objects.

The Kremlin is one of the largest architectural complexes in the world. Their collection of more than 600,000 pieces is a depository of early imperial Russian treasures and artefacts, which reflect the rise and fall of the Russian Empire. Its main buildings, including the Armoury Chamber, the Assumption Cathedral, the Archangel Cathedral and the Annunciation Cathedral collectively form the present-day Moscow Kremlin Museums.

Jug in the Shape of a Female Bust 

Silversmith: Melchior I Gelb 

Germany, Augsburg, 1651-1654 


40.2 cm (Height) 

Collection of Moscow Kremlin Museums

Sakkos of Patriarch Philaret 

Russia, Moscow, Kremlin Workshops, 1631

Samite, velvet, taffeta, satin, gold threads, gold, silver and pearls

134 cm (Length)

Collection of Moscow Kremlin Museums

Imperial Russia

Russia is the largest country on earth, with a land area of 17 million square kilometres. The country stretches across two continents from Europe’s Baltic and North Seas to the north, to the Caspian and Black Seas to the south, as well as Asia’s Sea of Japan and Pacific Ocean to the Far East.   

Like other large countries in history, one of the biggest issues was to unify under one ruler. When one thinks of Russian history, prominent figures such as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great come to mind. But did you know Mikhail I (1596-1645)?

In this case, our story goes back to the early 17th century, after 10 years of upheaval, the Zemsky Sobor (Russian Parliament) elected Mikhail I (full name Mikhail Fyodorovich) as the ‘Tsar of All Russia’. By adopting the title ‘Tsar’, the Russian equivalent of the word ‘Caesar’ – the grand prince of Muscovy was now establishing his claim to be equivalent, in might and glory, of the Roman and Byzantine Emperors. Before Mikhail I, the young Ivan the Terrible (r. 1533-1584) was the first to be crowned ‘Tsar of All Russia’ in 1547.

Mikhail I was the first Romanov ruler, a dynasty that annexed large territories in Central Asia’s Kazan and Astrakhan khanates and Siberia to the East. It ruled the vast empire for more than 300 years from 1613 until the end of the Romanov dynasty with the killing of the Tsar Nicholas II (r. 1894-1917) and the royal family in 1917.

Object Introduction

According to Hong Kong Heritage Museum’s Curator, Raymond Tang, this exhibition commences with relics used in the coronation of the Tsars, a fitting display of how politics and religion were intertwined during the period of the Tsars of All Russia.

Equestrian Portrait of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich 

Unknown artist

Oil on canvas

42 x 32 cm

Collection of Moscow Kremlin Museums

One exhibit that embodies the amalgamation of religious and political power is the Equestrian Portrait of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich. The portrait depicts Tsar Aleksei (r. 1645-1676), Mikhail I’s heir to the Russian throne. The tsar is dressed in Russian national costume, a red kaftan (men’s long suit) with insignia patches on the chest and a white fur-lined coat with a slitted sleeve. On his head is a high cap with a band of sable.

The lack of realistic proportions and correlations between volume and space were typical of this period, when Russian painters only started to assimilate the experience of their Western counterparts. By this time, European artists had already developed a set of representational formulae for official royal portraiture. The most imposing and visually striking was the equestrian portrait, presenting the ruler in the image of a victorious military commander.

The monarch’s personal courage and glorious military leadership were key concepts in the state ideology upholding the supreme power of all nations at the time. Thus, the overriding theme of the portrait is the military heroism and services of Tsar Aleksei to the country. Royal power is glorified in this work with the aid of such accessories as the sword in the golden scabbard lying across the tsar’s hip and the five-pointed cross (including the extra point at the top of the object) held up to the viewer (a symbol of the Russian Orthodox state). The existence of several equestrian portraits of a similar style and composition indicates the popularity of such images of the tsar at the Russian court in the second half of the 17th century.

Pectoral Cross of Tsar Peter the Great 

Russia, Moscow, Kremlin Workshops, 1682-1689

Gold, diamonds, emeralds

15.6 cm (Height); 10.7 cm (Width)

Collection of Moscow Kremlin Museums

Another important exhibit that represents the monarchical power is the Pectoral Cross of Tsar Peter the Great. It was worn by Peter the Great, (also known as Peter I, r. 1682-1725), on top of his regalia. The cross was probably created around 1682, when he and Ivan V (Peter the Great’s elder brother, r. 1682-1696) jointly ascended the throne.

The smaller cross is decorated in ways typical of West European jewellers working in the second half of the 16th and 17th centuries. The cutting of the emerald, however, was clearly performed by a Russian craftsman, directly before it was placed on the pectoral cross of Peter the Great. The evidence for this is the Cyrillic inscriptions and the form of the legs of Jesus Christ, who has been crucified with two nails, characteristic for Orthodox tradition.

Pair of Pistols with Flintlocks 

Barrel and lock-maker: Philipp Timofeyev

Russia, Moscow, Kremlin Workshops, The Armoury Chamber, 1680s

Iron, steel, silver, ivory

68 cm (Length); 13 mm (Calibre)

Collection of Moscow Kremlin Museums  

Russia’s growing international importance and unique geopolitical location meant that she was increasingly drawn into political and economic relations in both eastern and western spheres of influence. The second half of the 16th century saw the establishment of new diplomatic and trade links with the English, Dutch and Persians.

One of the main commodities in these trade links was the pistol. Pistols were first used as weapons by European cavalry in the 16th century. They were generally manufactured in pairs and held in holsters to both sides of the saddle. Russian began producing her own pistols in Moscow in the 1620s. The court gunsmiths always utilised the greater experience of their European colleagues. This ceremonial pair of pistols was made in the 1680s by Philipp Timofeyev, a master craftsman of the Armoury who came to Russia from the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The barrels and locks have been blued and damascened in gold. The barrels are decorated with foliate ornament, including large flower buds, while the locks are adorned with symbols, namely a double-headed eagle, sceptre, orb and of dragons. The flintlock has the most advanced construction for that time, which was borrowed from French gunsmiths. A human figure and lion are depicted on the firing trigger. The gunstocks (main body) is skilfully carved from ivory and were probably originally made in the Netherlands, which experienced a great flourishing of ivory carving in the 1660s. It is unknown as to how exactly the gunstocks ended up in Moscow, but they were probably brought by one of the numerous Dutch merchants who traded actively with Russia in the 17th century. The gunstocks’ silver details are probably the work of Russian court jewellers.

In terms of their value, these pistols occupied third place in the list of weapons in Russia’s Royal Armoury. The combined value of the pistols and their holsters was estimated to be 110 roubles, an enormous sum of money at the time.

Mongolian Helmet 

Manchuria, 1616-1630s

Iron, stones

21 cm (Diameter)  

Collection of Moscow Kremlin Museums

This ceremonial Manchu helmet is linked to the history of diplomatic relations between Russia and the Khotogoid khanate, a kingdom which occupied the present-day territory of north-west Mongolia and a large part of southern Siberia in the early 17th century. In 1637, this helmet was sent as a gift to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich from Erdeni Dai Mergen Nangso, a Buddhist lama of Tibetan origin who was the spiritual teacher of the Altan Khan, the ruler of the Khotogoid people.

The body of the helmet consists of two sections, which have been joined together at the forehead and the back of the neck. Two gilded openwork crests have been attached as overlays. The decorative openwork details include carved images of dragons, ornamental foliage, and sockets for precious stones. Sanskrit inscriptions reproducing the texts of popular Buddhist mantras have been damascened in gold and arranged in three rows on the crown of the helmet.

Exhibition Details:

“Tsar Of All Russia: Holiness and Splendour of Power”

Venue: Thematic Galleries 1, 2 and Function Place, Hong Kong Heritage Museum

Dates: Now until 29 August 2021

Time: 10am-6pm, Monday, Wednesday to Friday. 10am-7pm, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. Closed on Tuesday (except public holidays)

Website: https://bit.ly/3jolC7Q