Established in 1918, the Museum of Oriental ArtRussian: Muzey Vostoka or Музей Востока is a major cultural and educational institution located in a 19th-century mansion on Nikitsky BoulevardRussian: Nikitskiy bulvar or Никитский бульвар. Its 1,600-square-metre area displays a unique collection of paintings, graphic art, sculpture, decorative and applied art, weapons and household items. It presents the cultures of over 100 countries. A surprisingly calm atmosphere prevails here, allowing visitors to leisurely examine objects more than a thousand years old.
The main building accommodating the museum is known as the Lunins’ HouseRussian: Dom Luninykh or Дом Луниных. In 1814, architect Gilardi began the construction of a city mansion for the family of general-lieutenant P. Lunin whose name is associated with the Decembrist movementthe movement of young noblemen who were prompted to release their motherland from the manacles of autocratic oppression. Despite the fact that the unfinished building was sold to a bank, it became a fine example of Russian Empire architecture of the first quarter of the 19th century. The simple, yet severe exterior of the outbuilding contrasts with the solemnity of the main building highlighted by a Corinthian colonnade, a shallow loggia with a cast laced balcony and smooth walls adorned with luxurious stuccowork. Decorations include images of the lyre pointing to the owners’ passion for music and those of the cornucopia, a symbol of commerce and wealth. In 1970, it was decided to hand this building over to the Museum of the Orient.
From the very first years of the museum’s existence, its staff have organized archaeological expeditions to Сеntral Asia, the Caucasus and, later, Chukotka. The ethnic art of peoples inhabiting these areas, located on the far outskirts of modern Russia or sharing a border with it, is nowhere near sufficiently represented in other museums around the world – here, it is done justice. Particularly fascinating are items displayed in the Chinese and the Japanese exhibit halls; these objects were made using artistic enamel and the finest bone carving techniques.
Nicholas and Svyatoslav Roerichs’ artworks hold a special place in the museum’s permanent exhibition, however there are other points of interest as well.
The museum holds ten permanent exhibitions presenting artwork from India, Iran, China, Japan, South-East Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Korea, Siberia and the Far North (northern Asia). Exhibits on display come from over 100 countries. Ceramics (late 2nd – early 1st millenium BC), miniatures by Balchand (16th-early 17th c.) entitled A Competition of Acrobats, illustrations of Babur’s memoirs Babur-Name, a dress helmet which belonged to a Tibetan military leader (18th c.) and 2,000-year-old Eskimo artefacts made of walrus tusk are just some of the museum’s treasures. It is no accident that this museum was listed among the most valuable cultural heritage sites in Russia by Decree of the President of the Russian Federation.
MUSEUM’S SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
The Museum of Oriental Art is not only an exhibition venue, but also a research institute employing over 30 scholars engaged in numerous awareness-raising activities. The museum holds academic conferences and seminars, lectures and creative classes for children. Creative programmes for young archaeologists, Orientalists and art experts make up for the lack of information about Oriental cultural heritage in the general education curriculum. Furthermore, Russian and foreign Roerich scholars organize frequent meetings here. Every visitor can sign up for yoga or ethnic percussion classes, master the Japanese art of flower arrangement, or ikebana, learn how to conduct oneself at a tea ceremony or pay a visit to the art studio. On the first floor there is a shop selling the museum’s exhibition and collection catalogues and guides, as well as special editions.
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