Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The Kunstkamera is the first state public museum in Russia. Its foundation date is usually considered to be 1714, when the library and collections of Peter I were moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg. They were temporarily placed in Peter’s Summer Palace, then in Kikin’s Mansion, and in 1726 they were moved to a purpose-designed building (architect Mattarnovi), that was intended to house the museum (Universitetskaya Embankment, 3). During the Grand Embassy in 1697–1698 Peter I was fascinated by European “cabinets of rarities”, and decided to build up his own collection. In 1704 Peter the Great issued several decrees ordering to acquire unusual objects and anatomical anomalies for the museum. The Kunstkamera became one of the first institutions as part of the St. Petersburg (Russian) Academy of Sciences established in 1724. Since then, the Kunstkamera was not merely a museum, but also a research institution, in which many prominent scientists worked. Throughout the 18th – 19th centuries the collection of the Kunstkamera constantly grew as new exhibits entered: they were either donated by famous Russian travelers, voyagers, and diplomats, or were diplomatic gifts given to Russian emperors. Special expeditions were mounted to various regions of Russia to gather items for the collections. Early ethnographic collections of the museum also date from the time of Kunstkamera’s foundation.

Academician A. A. Shifner - Director of the Museum of Ethnography, and Academician K. M. Baer -  Director of the Museum of Anatomy put forward a proposal for foundation of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (MAE), which was established on November 10, 1879 by the decree of the State Council. It became the successor to the Kunstkamera and in 1903 it was named after Peter the Great.

The Institute of Anthropology, Archeology and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (today the Miklouho-Maclay Institute of  Ethnology and Anthropology) was established in 1933. From 1943 to 1992, the MAE was the Leningrad branch of this institute. In 1992, the museum again became an independent institution as part of the Historical-Philological Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).

Today, the MAE holds over 1.2 million items; the institution remains one of the leading research centers of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In accordance with orders of the President of the Russian Federation (No. 294 of December 18, 1991 and No. 1487 of November 30, 1992) the MAE RAS was ranked among the particularly valuable sites of the cultural heritage of peoples of the Russian Federation, and was added to the List of Particularly Valuable Sites of the Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of the Russian Federation.

The collection, which is timed to coincide with the 305th anniversary of establishment of the Kunstkamera and the 140th anniversary of foundation of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, includes studies, guidebooks, archival documents, maps and visual materials that give an insight into the history of the museum - its foundation, organization of its activities, staff expansion and new acquisitions.

The collection is based on the materials from the collections of the Russian State Historical Archive, the Russian State Library, the State Public Historical Library, the Russian Geographical Society, the Tobolsk Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve, Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the National Film Center, the Children’s Postcard Museum and private collections.

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