Дата публикации: 12 ноября 2021
Автор(ы): Alexander TERYUKOV, Anton SALMIN
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №1, 2014, C.53-56
Номер публикации: №1636709124

Alexander TERYUKOV, Anton SALMIN, (c)

by Alexander TERYUKOV, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), head of the Department of Ethnography of Eastern Slavs and Peoples of European Russia, Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkammer), St. Petersburg, Russia; Anton SALMIN, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Senior Research Fellow


Dating back to the Petrine times (early 18th century), the famous Kunstkammer ("Art Museum") in St. Petersburg has a long and glorious record. Its collections expanded time and again. In the seventeen-hundreds, too, be it through field parties, or through private contributions. Thus, in 1715 Nikita Demidov, a Russian industrialist, made a donation; in 1716 Prince Matvei Gagarin did the same; in 1734 Johann George Gmelin, a German-born explorer of Siberia and the Urals, followed suit. Gerard Friedrich Miller, a German-born Russian historian, was among the givers as well (1737). An eminent scholar, Miller was elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1725. In 1739 Empress Anna loannovna had a whim: she wanted to stage a masquerade show for the Icehouse built on her orders on the ice-bound Neva, the main waterway in St. Petersburg. Lots of exotic dresses were to be collected for the masquerade, both here in this country and abroad. Some landed in Kunstkammer--namely, a collection brought from the Far North in 1730 by Nikolai de Lisle, an astronomer and member of several European Academies of Sciences (in St. Petersburg, too). Another major contribution came from Peter Simon Pallas in the wake of the fire of 1747. But Daniel Messerschmidt was the greatest giver.

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Daniel Messerschmidt was born in Danzig (Gdansk, Poland) in 1685, and died in 1735 in St. Petersburg. In Halle, Germany, he was studying medicine and orientalism. In 1708 he graduated from a School of Medicine and, in 1713, defended his doctoral dissertation. Two brothers, the Blumentrosts (Johann and Laurensius), were taking a course at this college, and Daniel was acquainted with both. He met them later in St. Petersburg--Johann Blumentrost became president of the Medical Chancellery of the Academy of Sciences, and Laurensius Blumentrost (known in Russia as Laurenti Laurentievich), its first president.


Versed in natural sciences, especially in zoology, mineralogy and botany, Daniel Messerschmidt was invited to Russia in 1716. And on November 15, 1718, he was honored with an hour-long audience by Czar Peter I, who issued a ukase (mandate) on his mission to Siberia for explorations out there. Messerschmidt was to collect "sundry rarities and pharmaceutical things: herbs, flowers, roots, seeds of medicinal value, and send all that to the chief pharmacy of St. Petersburg". In keeping with this mandate, Messerschmidt was to take orders from the Medical Chancellery or, rather, from its head and president of the School of Medicine Johann Blumentrost, and send thither whatever he had happened to collect, all that for a salary and an allowance to cover traveling expenses. And so on the fifth of September, 1719, Daniel Messerschmidt set out on his long journey in Siberia by joining an embassy of Prince Leo Izmailov bound for China.


There is a map tracing their journey down the Volga en route from Moscow to Tobolsk with red dots. The dashed lines show Blumentrost's further progress on land from Kazan and on eastwards. He was back in St. Petersburg as late as March 1727. So his explorations in Siberia took eight years.


He brought in a variety of items, for one, those relating to ethnic groups populating the region around the Volga and the Kama. We know Messerschmidt was collecting them in September to December of 1719 on his way to Siberia through Nizhni Novgorod and Kazan, and in January of 1727 on his homeward journey to St. Petersburg across the Volga. Also, we know he had been to the Stroganoff mines collecting ethnography- and archeology-related items, ethnic costumes in particular, which he bought on his own money: he was not supposed to do that in bounden duty. This is why his notes and diaries on the nationalities of this region are random and haphazard by and large. He went on with this job--at his own initiative again--which sparked a conflict with the Academy of Sciences and Johann Blumentrost.


Messerschmidt was out to purchase costumes in complete sets. He was particularly interested in ceremonial dresses donned for holidays or for sacrificial offerings. This is what he jotted down in the Udmurt village of Balezino: "At about 2.30 after midnight I managed, at great pains, to collect all kinds of rags related to the female costume..." And he continued: "To begin with, I had them packed up as the Udmurt female costume which I intend to place in my museum on a leather-and-tow dummy."

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Interrogation record of soldier Evsei Lenin on the fire in Kunstkammer anno 1747. St. Petersburg branch of RAS archives.


He sketched down a plan of his project. Publishing excerpts from his diary, Peter Pallas made this comment: "Messerschmidt was in command of excellent scholarship, he would write his diary late into the night, putting down what he had collected and snatching just a few hours for sleep. You wonder how he managed to do that alone, all too meticulous as he was..." The historian Gerchardt Friedrich Miller chimed in, "Not only a diligent collector, he had the makings of a real scholar in his descriptions... He was likewise endowed with the talent of sorting things out in accordance with the then conventional principles..."


Homebound in December of 1726, while laying over at Juska, a Udmurt hamlet, Messerschmidt made this entry in his diary: "The Udmurt women's costume of nettle or hemp fabric is composed of trousers and stockings, with the footwear laced together from bast. It [the costume] also includes a chemise with narrow sleeves reaching out to the wrists, and another one put on above, with long sleeves, and decollete..." And this is how he describes the akshon, the woman's headgear: "They [the Udmurt women] wear a top headdress, a foot tall, and just as broad, put upon a bonnet; this headdress is of bast bedecked with white fabric of nettle, and embroidered above the forehead with particolored wool-and-silk, and ornate with many glass beads or multicolored enamel, and four or five horizontal rows of leaden kopeck coins. Placed on top is a white quadrangular kerchief of nettle or hemp reaching down to the neck; at will, it could be brought down to the face just like the French capelines [hoods]..."


Messerschmidt's collectables were hauled to St. Petersburg in six crates, packed full, and in sundry bales; all that was said to be four tons heavy. The Academy's chiefs wanted all the items to be put at the disposal of H. M. Kunstkammer right away. But Messerschmidt wanted to keep them at home for a while so as to put them into an orderly system, complete the catalog he had begun still in the field, and then put his objects on display. While still in Siberia, he advised the Academy of his plans. Although he had no aid workers, he wrote, he was trying to do everything with his own hands by relying on the succor of the Most High... He assured he would do his utmost to complete his mission and draw up an easy-to-use catalog. He wanted to keep only his personal belongings and place the collection at Kunstkammer. But Blumentrost and his aides wanted to get immediately whatever was brought in. Hence the conflict. He received a

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letter from the Academy that other professors would take care of the collection. And its officials, unauthorized, broke in and started taking trunks and crates out of his apartment.


A bitter-ender in the positive sense, Messerschmidt did not give up: in September of 1727 he wrote a letter to Her Majesty Empress Catherine I. He said he had been sent to Siberia to look for sundry rarities and pharmaceutical things by Peter I's mandate. He had dispatched twenty-two reports to the president of the Medical Chancellery Ivan (Johann) Blumentrost and to the President of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences Laurentius Blumentrost. At present, Messerschmidt went on, he was busy cataloguing the collectables. He received no salary for 1727. In March of the same year his apartment had been sealed up with all the things kept there, and he had to move to other lodgings. Messerschmidt asked to let him complete the inventory of the items collected during his eight-year-long expedition, and then he would hand all that to the Academy.


The reply came in November 1727: Messerschmidt received a H.M. ukase mandating him to present authentic documents on his money expenses (on carts and other transportation facilities), reports on the mileage covered, and such kind of particulars. And in December Ivan (Johann) Blumentrost issued two memos in which he said that back in April Professors Schumacher, de Lisle, Baer and Buks had been appointed to itemize the "curios" brought in by Dr. Messerschmidt, but they were unable to do that since the objects were in the medical office.


Gerhardt Miller's testimony (who was taking the minutes) sheds more light on the matter. He testifies that the objects were within many crates, big and small, and packages. All of them sealed up by the local gubernatorial office. Of these, Herr Messerschmidt picked out six crates filled with every kind of natural objects for sale. He furnished them with adequate identification tags. Yet the other objects, he deemed, belonged to him and should be given back as his property, no matter whether they were natural objects or not. The Academy's ad hoc acceptance commission decreed that all the antiquities and rarities (including articles related to the apparel of Siberian peoples) as well as books should be kept at the Science Academy for Kunstkammer's collections. In another letter to Catherine I on December 21, 1727, Daniel Messerschmidt complains he is unable to keep up his work on collections he had gathered in eight years, in 1719 through 1727, and that together with his collections "his belongings were seized, too, bag and baggage". In January of 1728 came another mandate: If Dr. Messerschmidt is let out to his homeland, he should make no publications about his books, descriptions and curiosities. Such was the injunction. Professors De Lisle, Baer and Buks were the first to see the value of his collection. De Lisle praised the maps on geography as being quite up to the mark; Baer was amazed at wondrous antiquities, and Buks burned to get hold of botanic specimens. But since none of them was able to furnish an exact description of the collection, Messerschmidt was informed he should show up at the Academy at short notice, when called, to meet the three professors and interpret some of the rarities. The academic acceptance commission continued the work in January through August of 1728.


In August of 1728 Messerschmidt decided to pull up stakes and go home. "No reason to detain me here..." He said, he had no original objects on his hands--absolutely nothing in his upkeep. Messerschmidt was soliciting for a passport and pay still in arrears. He was eager to leave before the onset of winter, while the waterways were still free for passage. Since the Academy was loath to help him out, he pledged to leave off at that, and turn directly to the Supreme Privy Council. But he was held captive in Russia until his death on March 25th, 1735, in St. Petersburg. Messerschmidt died in misery, supported by a few friends only.


A sorry lot, a miserable end... In 1928 Leo Sternberg, a Soviet ethnographer, made this evaluation of Daniel Messerschmidt and his contribution (in the handbook Russian Anthropology):


"The rich collections on various nationalities of Siberia gathered together by the naturalist Messerschmidt should be considered the first real ethnographic installation to Kunstkammer in 1727..."


In fact Messerschmidt was the actual founder of Kunstkammer's ethnographic collections, the first explorer of the ethnography of the Volga-Kama peoples.


Illustrations supplied by the authors

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