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Architecture of knowledge: Peter the Great Kunstkamera



Tedeschi L.



The main topic of this study, founded by a grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation and directed by Cristiano Guarneri, is a building: the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg, built starting from 1718 by the Tzar Peter the Great. Inside it, besides the exhibition rooms, as the name suggests, also an anatomic theatre, a planetary, an astronomical observatory and the Tzar’s library were arranged, with in mind the idea making it the seat of the Academy of sciences, another Peter the Great’s creation. So not only a kunstkammer but also a scientific research center, not far in intents to a modern museum. This topic is developped into three steps, approaching it with different magnifing lenses: the context, or the city; the content, or the collections; the container, or the building. In the first chapter is analysed the Kunstkamera strategic position in the urban planning of the new capital, St. Petersburg, and the role, equally strategic, played by the Academy of sciences in the reforms plan promoted by Peter the Great. The second chapter, devoted to collections, focus on the figure of Peter the Great as collector. Through the study of the collections different arrangements, before in Moscow and then in St. Petersburg, it was possible to point out the role assigned to Kunstkamera in the Peter the Great’s collecting program, especially drawn in the years 1718-19. Infact, while the ancient and modern statues purchased in Italy were arranged in the Summer Garden and the pictures bought on the Netherlandish and Flamish market found a place in the Peterhof’s pavillions, the kunstkammer’s objects were moved from the Tzar’s residences to their first pubblic settlement, the Kikin Palace. That of the Kikin Palace was only a temporary arrangement, because again in 1718 – and this is the dissertation’s third chapter – the Kunstkamera’s first stone was laid down. The construction was very long and complex and the events are sharply shown through unissued archival documents and drawings. Three architects, the German Georg Johann Mattarnovy, the Swiss Nicolaus Friedrich Härbel, and the Italian Gaetano Chiaveri, one astronomer, the French Joseph-Nicolas Delisle, and many other workers, like masons, carpenters, carvers, painters and decorators, had a part in the project and construction of the Kunstkamera. But not only these were the personalities involved in this architectural and scientific project. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz gave the ideas for the Academy of sciences’ project, where kunstkammer, laboratories and libraries played a central role; and again the Peter the Great’s librarian, Johann Daniel Schumacher, was important: before he organised the collections purchase and the scientists enrolment, than he drove the building accomplishment and the exhibition display after the Tsar’s death. The parabola of this singular building experiment ended in 1747, when a fire burned out the Kunstkamera’s upper part and, with it, a part of its precious collections.

Additional information

Start date
End date
42 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Project Funding / Humanities and social sciences (Division I)