The Art of 18th and 19th Century Tula Arms.
The State Hermitage Collection.
The exhibition in the Menshikov Palace includes more than 100 examples of Tula arms production from the Arsenal collection within the State Hermitage, which is considered one of the largest of its kind in the world.
The Hermitage is presenting its collection of Tula arms on this grand scale for the first time. The exhibition enables visitors to appreciate the specific artistic features of Russian arms and to become acquainted with the history of their creation
Literary sources tell us that arms were manufactured in Tula as early as the late 16th century. One of the first examples of the activity of the Tula arms masters is a rare exhibit item - a large cast-iron cannon dating from 1694 and bearing the following inscription: "In the year 7202 (1694), in December, this cannon was made by resident of Tula, state blacksmith Mikhail Afanasiev."
The Great Northern War served as the stimulus to the development of arms production. Peter the Great's military reforms were designed to create several new centers of arms manufacture. Tula became one of the most important.
A significant part of the production in the city's arms factories and ateliers consisted of military equipment which was executed with flawless technique but with almost no decoration. One example of this is the massive gun dating from 1700.
The main part of the exhibition displays hunting and parade arms from the 18th century. The hunting arms of such outstanding masters as Ilya Salishchev, Alexei Leontiev and Ivan Polin deserve special attention. The Tula masters took as their models the achievements of the best arms producers of Europe at the time, principally France and in part Germany. The Tula craftsmen not only knew how to reach their level but in many instances outdid them. This also is true of the outward appearance of the arms. The work of Ilya Salishchev can serve as an illustration. Salishchev skillfully decorated the barrels of guns with complex compositions incorporating subjects and Baroque ornamental elements that drew on the traditions of Russian applied art, such as Sirin birds, for example.
If we look at swords and cold arms, then here too the Tula masters matched and in many respects exceeded the European achievements in choice of shapes and configuration of daggers, knives, officers' parade knives, and half-sabers. The Tula arms producers demonstrated extraordinary inventiveness in the means and methods of decoration.
A special dominant note of the exhibition may be said to be the so-called "sets," most commonly of hunters' equipment consisting of several objects made in the same style. Looking at the set of flintlock gun and two pistols which Empress Elizaveta Petrovna commissioned the Tula arms makers to produce in 1751 for her favorite Count Alexei Razumovsky, we are amazed by the wealth and refinement of the finishing, including chasing, carving and gilding.
In terms of decoration, another set created by the outstanding Tula master Ivan Lyalin circa 1790 and belonging to Empress Catherine the Great is no less impressive. This consists of a gun and two pistols and it is unusually decorated. All three objects are framed in ivory and the steel elements, beginning with the barrel, are skillfully inlaid with gold and silver.
The exhibition includes a large group of toy and miniature arms for children that were made by the Tula arms manufacturers. These are reduced-size models of firearms which are noteworthy for their extreme precision of execution. Many of them were ordered by Empress Catherine the Great for her grandchildren, the Grand Princes Alexander, Constantine and Nicholas.
The next section of the exhibition is devoted to Tula arms production in the 19th century. The intensive development of arms manufacture in Europe during this period and the widespread use of mechanized production also may be seen in the products made in Tula at this time. The production of the Goltyakovy's, N. Zakhava and others are in this sense fairly representative: they are based on revolver systems developed by Colt, Smith and Wesson and are decorated in the style of the age, with carving on a background of niello. The nature of the changes taking place is illustrated by works of the well known masters of that time Mikhail Burdykin and Alexei Babyakin. The items from Babyakin on display in the exhibition are a dueling set made circa 1840 and a gun made in 1866.
Tula's 19th century arms producers came under the influence of Historicism. Here we see examples of swords, firearms and weapons used to deal blows which reproduce the master works of Moscow's 17th century Armoury.
The State Hermitage Publishing House has issued a scholarly illustrated catalogue to the exhibition. Yuri Aleksandrovich Miller, the director of the Arsenal and doctor of history, is the author of the catalogue and also the curator of this exhibition.