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Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine Church of the Holy Trinity of the Pechersk
The Museum of Historical Treasures is probably among the better-known museums of Ukraine, not only of Kyiv. It was founded back in 1963 for the purpose of “preserving, studying and displaying historical and artistic artefacts made of precious metals and stones,” to quote from the official decree of that time.
Olena STARCHENKO, chief curator of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, explains why this museum bears such a name.
The museum which is a branch of the National Museum of History of Ukraine, is situated in the territory of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery, in the section which is open for general public, and which has a status of a state cultural preserve. The building that houses the museum dates from the 17th–18th century and is an example of the architectural style known as “Ukrainian Baroque.” Kovnirovsky korpus, as the building is called, went through an overhaul in 2004. New climate-control, alarm and anti-fire equipment was installed.
The museum’s collections keep expanding. When the museum just opened, it had about 14,000 museum items, and now their number grew to 55,000, most of them made of precious metals and stones.
The greater portion of the exhibits are archaeological finds, with the Scythian gold being a particularly valuable part of it. The gold pectoral decoration of the 4th century BC is the star of the collection.
A considerable number of archaeological finds have been given to the museum by the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine; a great many were purchased for the museum by a special commission from jewellery companies and private individuals; a certain number of items were given to the museum by the customs service, and some items were presented to the museum.
Among the new additions to the museum collections are four artefacts that were unearthed by the Brovary archaeological expedition in a burial that dates from the forth or third millennium BC. Several finds came from the Cimmerian burials of the tenth-seventh centuries BC. The Cimmerians who are mentioned by some ancient historians were known to have been roaming the Ukrainian steppes before the Scythians came over.
The Museum of Archaeology passed on to the museum over 30,000 items in the years from 1964 to 1986; the Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk universities gave some of their archaeological finds to the museum as well. In fact, the museum’s Scythian collection is probably the best and biggest in the world.
The pectoral decoration stands out among the rest of the exhibits thanks to its great artistic merits. It was discovered in the Tovsta Mohyla Scythian burial in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and it is considered to be one of the major archaeological finds of the twentieth century. According to Borys Mozolevsky, the historian and archaeologist who unearthed it, the representations that can be seen on the pectoral have symbolic meanings.
Also among the exhibits one can see decorations of the Sarmatians, the nomadic tribes of the times of the Scythians. They are done in bright, cheerful colours.
The Huns that invaded the territory of the present-day Ukraine in the fourth and fifth centuries AD came from the east. Their movement west started massive migrations of people in Europe. Later, the Avars, the Khozars, the Pechenegs and Polovtsy made their own contributions to the rich history of Ukraine. The museum has an ample collection of artefacts that belong to these ethnic groups that left their mark in the Ukrainian lands. Archaeological finds include artefacts originally made in various parts of the world — Central Asia, Europe, Byzantium, and the Arab world.
Of probably the greatest interest for the people of Ukraine today are archaeological finds that are related to the Slavic people who lived in the territory of Ukraine in ancient times. Their pre-Christian jewellery and decorative items reflect their pagan beliefs. The ancient Slavs worshipped the Sun, Earth, Water and other elements.
Later, during the period known as Kyivan Rus (11th–13th centuries), the art of jewellery was developed to reach a high level of perfection. Enamels in decorations for the head, chest and arms were particularly popular. The two main techniques were used — cloisonne and champleve. In the cloisonne technique, thin strips of metal are bent and curved to follow the outline of a decorative pattern; they are then attached, usually soldered, to the surface of the metal object, forming miniature walls that meet and create little cells between them. Into these cells, the powdered enamel is laid and fused. After it has cooled, the surface can be polished to remove imperfections and to add to the brilliance. The cloisonne technique is particularly suited to objects made of gold, such as jewellery. The champleve process is the opposite of the cloisonn technique: instead of building up on the surface of the metal object, the surface is gouged away, creating troughs and channels separated by thin ridges of metal that form the outline of the design. The troughs are filled with powdered enamel and fused. The champlev technique requires a thick metal base and therefore is used on copper and other base metals.
Kyivan Rus enamels are rich in colour; the objects made of them were in secular and sacral use.
Ukrainian jewellery of the 16th–20th century generally followed the European trends with motifs provided by the specific features of the Ukrainian culture. The museum’s collection of Ukrainian jewellery and decorations of these centuries include many church items.
A certain number of exhibits represent the major jewellery centres of the past in Western Europe. They reflect the tastes and styles of various epochs. The collection of Jewish ritual silver items to be used in the religious services is of a great interest too.
More than 40 different kinds of precious and semi-precious stones are to be found in the mineral deposits of Ukraine. These stones are used by Ukrainian jewellers, designers and artists in creating their works which combine tradition and modern trends.
The Museum of Historical Treasures lends some of its exhibits to be displayed at exhibitions in many countries of the world. It also organizes all kinds of guided tours for the visitors.
The museum is open daily, except Monday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The building, Kovnirovsky korpus that houses it can be easily found in the territory of the Upper Lavra Monastery (see more details about Lavra in this issue of the magazine).
Photos by Mykhailo ANDREYEV
The slides have been kindly provided
by the museum and are reproduced
Cross. Gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, sapphires,
Reconstructions of Scythian dresses
Earring. Gold, enamel. 12th century AD.
Panagia (or ecolpion — medallion worn
Crosier. Gilt silver, turquoise, garnet, enamel.
Reliquary. Gilt silver. Made by jeweller
Jewish ritual item (bsamim). Gilt silver.
Fibula. Gold, rock crystal.
Icon frame. Gilt silver. Made in Ukraine