The Dutch in Moscow

The Dutch in Moscow


  • The Netherlands took on a considerable significance in Russia mostly during Peter the Great’s reforms.
  • Peter the Great thought up a national flag for Russia with an eye to the Holland one.
  • In the second half of the 17th century, many Dutch resided in their houses in the German Quarter.
  • In the 17th and 18th centuries, Russian noblemen would have the so-called ‘Dutch houses’ built in their country estates trying to keep up with fashion for all things Dutch. Some of these houses can still be seen in Kuskovo and Kolomenskoye Country Estates.
  • A Protestant community has been active for almost a century in the Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Starosadsky Lane.
  • Moscow museums boast a wide array of Dutch paintings, the richest collection being that of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age in the Pushkin Museum.

The history of the Dutch colony in Moscow is several centuries old. The first Dutch merchants settled in the city as far back as the 16th century, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. You could come across them in the merchants’ rows, at the Tsar’s receptions in the Kremlin, or in Inozemnaya slobodaRussian: Иноземная слобода, a foreign free settlement. Trade and political relations with the Netherlands have played an important role in Russia since then. Their impact was especially noticeable in the era of Peter the Greatruled from 1689 to 1725 ’s reforms. It is known that the Russian flag was designed by Peter the Great to resemble the Dutch one. It was the Dutch expertise in shipbuilding that Peter the Great chose to adopt, paying frequent visits to William of Orange during his stay in the country. Having borrowed the colours and the shape of the flag stripes, Peter the Great moved the blue stripe into the middle. That is the way the Russian tricolor flag appeared. Moscow museums host interesting collections of Dutch art (including paintings by the great Rembrandt) as well as jewellery exhibits.


It is known that the first Dutch nationals arrived in Russia through the East Country, now known as the Baltic states. In the late 16th century, Dutch merchants opened up the Northern Sea Route which had previously been discovered by English navigators. Olivier Brunel was the first Dutchman to get to Russia using this route in 1578. The Dutch, just like other European merchants, bought large amounts of Russian staples like fur, linen, wheat, oat, hemp, wood, saloRussian: сало, cured slabs of fatback, caviar, etc.

A house known as Jan van de Walle’s house used to exist in Nikolskaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Nikol’skaya or улица Никольская in Moscow in the late 16th century. De Walle managed to ingratiate himself with the Tsar and supplied expensive fabrics, precious stones and jewellery to the Tsar’s court and Russian aristocrats. He was one of the most successful foreign entrepreneurs in Russia at the time. The house has not survived; the Sla vic Bazaar Hotel occupies the site (17 Nikolskaya street) today.

Merchant Isaac Massa (1586–1643) was the first envoy of the Netherlands in Russia and made some interesting historical notes about the Time of Troublesperiod from 1598 to 1613 (there are other versions of the periodization), marked by civil war, Russian-Polish and Russian-Swedish wars, the most severe state-political and socio-economic crisis. He supplemented his notes with a plan of the city.

A large Dutch embassy headed by Konrad van Klenk arrived in Russia in 1675 and was received by Tsar Alexis Ithe tsar of Russia from1645 until 1676 in the Kremlin. At 1161_image3_sthe reception, the Dutchmen presented numerous gifts that are still kept in the Armoury ChamberRussian: Oruzheynaya palata or Оружейная палата of the Kremlin. Johan van Keller, one of the embassy members, was appointed the first Resident Ambassador of the Netherlands in Russia. Some descendants from the Netherlands took a prominent part in the development of Russian industrial production. For example, industrialist and merchant Andrew Vinius discovered ironstone in the Tulaa city located 193 kilometers south of Moscow area and started processing it in the second half of the 17th century. Dutchman Fran Akin launched a gun manufacturing plant in Moscow in 1648, which is also a well-known fact. The Armoury Chamber in the Kremlin houses an extensive collection of Dutch ambassadors’ gifts dating back to the 16th–17th centuries. Many items have no equivalents even in the Netherlands. These are the products made by silversmiths from Amsterdam, Utrecht, and the Hague. As a rule, they were manufactured especially for a specific embassy; many of them bear the Russian coat of arms—the double-headed eagle. The Baroque style manifests itself in the forms of most items: jars, glasses and plates with images of birds, flowers, and animals on them.

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1162_image4_sMany Dutchmen lived in their own houses in the German QuarterRussian: Nemetskaya sloboda or Немецкая слобода in the second half of the 17th century. They worked in the field of medicine, commerce, and craftsmanship. Dutch merchants imported broadcloth, metals, fire weapons, gunpowder, spices, wines, and luxury items into Russia. At that time, the German Quarter was a settlement of foreigners situated a few kilometres away from the Kremlin, where Baumanskaya streetRussian: Baumanskaya ulitsa or Бауманская улица runs today. Russians were suspicious towards foreigners back then, so the latter had to live a secluded life. The German Quarter had two Protestant churches, an old one and a new one, for English and German people, and one Calvinist (Dutch) church. Nowadays, only the names of two lanes remind us of those times: Starokirochny and NovokirochnyRussian: Starokirochny pereulok or Старокирочный переулок; Novokirochny pereulok or Новокирочный переулок. In addition, one of the lanes preserved the name of Gollandskymeaning ‘Dutch’ in Russian.


1164_image6_sThe house near Baumanskaya street (6 Starokirpichny LaneStarokirpichny pereulok or Старокирпичный переулок), where Dutch doctors the Van der Hulsts used to live, has survived to this day. Moscow legend refers to this house as that of Anna Mons, Peter the Great’s favourite. In fact, the Van der Hulsts (i.e father and son) were famous doctors in Russia at the end of the 17th century, while Sacharias Van der Hulst Junior was the personal physician to Tsar Peter the Great. Today, the house is unavailable for visits, being located in an off-limits industrial site area.


The arrival of foreigners in Moscow only became a common thing under the rule of Peter the Great. One of the Dutchmen who exerted considerable influence on the face of Moscow was Nicholaas Bidloo, a doctor, an anatomist, and the personal physician to Peter the Great. At the Tsar’s request, he opened the first military hospital in Moscow, in Lefortovo DistrictRussian: rayon Lefortovo or район Лефортово, and became its first director. That was the first European-standard healthcare institution in Russia. A big medicinal plant garden was laid out close by. Bidloo accompanied Peter the Great on his journeys around the country from 1703 to 1705. After that, he managed the hospital until his death in 1735. The remains of the vast garden have been preserved until today around the River YauzaRussian: reka Yauza or река Яуза in Moscow. One of the streets in the neighbourhood is named GospitalnayaRussian: ulitsa Gospital’naya or улица Госпитальная, meaning hospital. A monument to Tsar Peter the Great and Nicholaas Bidloo was erected in the square beside the hospital (3 Gospitalnaya square).

1166_image8_sIn the 17th–18th centuries, everything Dutch was considered immensely fashionable, which was prompted by Peter the Great’s reforms. The Russian nobility began to wear clothes of foreign design and learn and adopt Western expertise and technology. It is at that period of time that numerous Dutch words related to shipbuilding, warfare, and trades are believed to have been borrowed, such as бухта (cove), кнехт (bollard), яхта (yacht), and others.

Many noblemen built the so-called “Dutch houses” in their estates to honour Peter the Great’s devotion to the Netherlands. One such house can be found today in the Kuskovo Museum and ReserveRussian: muzey-zapovednik “Kuskovo” or музей-заповедник «Кусково». The house was built in 1749. The building designed to look like a 17th-century Dutch construction sits beside a small pond, where carps were bred at that time. The house in Kuskovo is ornate; the multi-paned windows add vivacity to its smooth brick walls. The refined building is topped with a stepped gable typical of Dutch architecture. Curiously, the building is not only made of brick but also faux brick painted. This trend was also introduced by Peter the Great to make buildings look even more like Dutch constructions he liked so much. Naturally, you can see tulips and other flowers in the garden by the house and get a sense of the atmosphere of the Netherlands. The house layout and interiors have been preserved since the 18th century. There is a kitchen, a senia kind of outer entrance hall in Russian houses of the past, a drawing room, and a dessert room. The interiors recreate Dutch everyday life of the 17th–18th centuries, being rich in ceramics: there are numerous authentic light blue Delftware and Rotterdam tiles, and a whole collection of oriental and European porcelain.

1165_image7_sAnother relic related to the Netherlands of the Petrine era appeared in Moscow in 2013. The Wooden Dutch House of Peter the Great was restored in the Kolomenskoe Museum and ReserveRussian: muzey-zapovednik “Kolomenskoe” or музей-заповедник «Коломенское». The original house, where the Tsar lived while visiting the Netherlands in 1697, was in Zaandam. Many high-ranking noblemen including Napoleon visited it both in Peter the Great’s lifetime and later. The house was presented by the Dutch government within the framework of The Year of Russia in the Netherlands and The Year of the Netherlands in Russia. A duplicate of that house was brought to Moscow and erected by soldiers of the 101st engineer combat battalion of the Dutch army.

The Nicholas Roerich MuseumRussian: muzey Nikolaya Reriha or музей Николая Рериха is located in the centre of Moscow, at 3/5 Znamensky LaneRussian: Znamenskiy pereulok or Знаменский переулок. Originally, the ancient building of the museum served as the Lopukhin boyarsmembers of the highest rank of the feudal society in Russia’ chambers. It was also the site of the first Russian textile factory of the 18th century owned by Dutch merchant Johann Tames. Being in favour with the Tsar, he also opened a large factory in Yaroslavla city located 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow. There were almost 400 weaving machines in the Moscow factory, which produced all sorts of fabrics and even exported its products.


1159_image10_sThe story of the Romanov Dynastyrulers of Russia from 1613 until the Russian Revolution of February 1917 is also closely connected with the Dutch royal family. In 1816, Anna, the younger daughter of Emperor Paul Ireigned as Emperor of Russia between 1796 and 1801 (sister of Emperor Alexander I), married William of Orange, who later became King William II. The Netherlands took the Russian revolution of 1917 in their stride but broke diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia in 1918, after the execution of Emperor Nicholas IIthe last Emperor of Russia and his family, with whom the Orange dynasty had ties of kinship. It was only in 1942 that relations were reestablished.



The crown princess Beatrix, a fifth-generation descendant of Anna Pavlovna (daughter of Paul I), and her spouse Prince Claus von Amsberg visited the USSR in a private capacity in May 1973. They travelled about 17 thousand kilometres in total, visiting the Red Square in Moscow, going down to the Moscow metro, stopping by Leningrad and many other cities. Queen Beatrix made the first ever formal visit of the head of the Netherlands to Russia in June 2001.

Starosadsky Lane (7/10 Starosadsky LaneRussian: Starosadskiy pereulok or Старосадский переулок) has been home to the Protestant commune of St. Peter and Paul’s ChurchRussian: tserkov’ svyatykh Petra i Pavla or церковь святых Петра и Павла for nearly a century. It is one of the oldest Lutheran parishes in Russia. Its over six thousand parishioners have included representatives of business circles and noblemen of foreign origin.

The War of 1812 Museum in Moscow keeps an historic relic: the keys to the Dutch town of Utrecht. In November 1813, Russian CossacksRussian: казаки entered the Northern part of the Netherlands and released Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Breda from Napoleon’s troops. Emperor Alexander Ireigned as Emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825 was welcomed by the Dutch as a liberator during his visit to Amsterdam in July 1814.

The embassy (6 Kalashny LaneRussian: Kalashny pereulok or Калашный переулок) and the Dutch Cultural Centre (1 Nikoloyamskaya StreetRussian: Nikoloyamskaya ulitsa or Николоямская улица, the building of the Margarita Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature) attract the attention of Dutch people in Moscow. The Dutch embassy is situated in the very centre of Moscow, close to the ArbatRussian: Арбат (6 Kalashny Lane). The building was erected in 1887 using the design of Alexey Shcheglov.

Queen Beatrix in the wagon of the Moscow metroDuring World War I and the interiors of the house were finished by architect Vladimir Mayat in the style of eclecticism. The estate has been housing the mission of the Netherlands for the last 40 years. You can see the national coat of arms with the motto Je maintiendrai (‘I will withstand’) above the doors of the embassy.


Peter de Hooh Morning young man 1650-iesMuseums in Moscow possess numerous collections of Dutch paintings. The most remarkable ones include that of “the Lesser Dutchmen” in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (14 Volkhonka StreetRussian: ulitsa Volkhonka or улица Волхонка, consisting mostly of paintings purchased by Empress Catherine the Greatreigned from 1762 until 1796 in the 18th century. Moscow merchant Dmitry Shchukin was another famous collector of Dutch art. His collection was nationalised after the revolution of 1917. Hall No.11 of the museum displays paintings by Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Simon de Vlieger, Jan van Goyen, Pieter Claesz, and other Dutch artists. Six paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn are exhibited in the museum. Hall No.8 presents oeuvres of Dutch and German artists of the 15th–16th centuries, and Hall No.9 displays works of 17th-century Flemish artists Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens, Antoon van Dyck, and Frans Snyders. The paintings by Andre Derain and Henri Rousseau purchased by Moscow collector Sergey Shchukin in the early 20th century are kept in the Gallery of European and American Art of the 19th–20th centuries.
Netherlands Embassy

Dutch House-Interior

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