Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

The Christian liturgical season of Lent is upon us. Centuries ago, this was a long and difficult period of fasting in Europe. Some Christians still abstained from all meat and animal products for the forty days of Lent, others undertook a less rigorous abstention of foods. It was an austere time with regards to food. It is fitting, and quite purposeful timing for the curators, that this year’s Lent marks the final weeks of the exhibition Feast & Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK. This exhibition explores food in early modern Europe including periods of excess and feasting as well as fasting and hunger. There is much to be found online about this exhibition, from the detailed website, related programming (including a recent conference about pineapples in the early modern world), a myriad of reviews and essays, an episode of The Feast featuring Laura Carlson’s interview with the curators, and a beautifully photographed exhibition catalogue. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa Calaresu, co-curator of the exhibition with Victoria (Vicky) Avery, about some other aspects of the exhibition you may not find in these other resources, such as the process of mounting such an undertaking and her excitement about bringing new audiences into the Fitzwilliam.

Still life with a lobster, Joris van Son (1623–67), Antwerp, Belgium, 1660. Oil on canvas. 64.1 x 89.2 cm. C.B. Marlay Bequest, 1912 (M.76). Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Melissa and Vicky began thinking about an exhibition featuring food when they partnered on the acclaimed 2015 Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment exhibition at the Fitzwilliam. Treasured Possessions featured beautifully crafted and engaging objects that were once treasured by their owners, included a number of food-related items. Melissa, especially, became intrigued with the idea of focusing on the range of artwork and material objects for depicting, storing, preparing, and serving foodstuffs. Melissa credits Vicky for allowing her the freedom to search through the Fitzwilliam collections to find art and artifacts to relay a cohesive narrative about food and eating practices over time.

Recreation of an English confectioner’s work space, c.1790, conceived and made by Ivan Day. Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Gradually, Melissa and Vicky curated an enviable exhibition collection from Fitzwilliam items, items on loan from other private and institutional collections, and food recreations crafted specifically for Feast & Fast by Ivan Day. Melissa wanted to include Ivan, a longtime friend, in the exhibition planning. Ivan developed ideas for food sculptures and recreations to compliment the artwork and objects planned for display. Inspired by paintings, culinary tools, recipes, and more, Ivan created three large installations. A few elements were initially created as part of installations at other museums, such as The Edible Monument exhibition at the Getty Research Institute, but a vast majority of the elements are completely new and breathtaking. There are few, if any, places one can see a table set with lavish pies made of exotic birds like swan and peacock, or a mock confectioner’s shop window display. And importantly, all of the exotic birds used in the displays were ethically sourced. The swan, for example, was retrieved upon its death in an overhead electrical line.

Recreation of a Baroque feasting table, c.1650, conceived and made by Ivan Day with taxidermy by David Astley and seafood and fruit models by Tony Barton. Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Several works on display in the exhibition first underwent conservation, some of which was extensive. The Hamilton Kerr Institute in Whittlesford, the art conservation department at the Fitzwilliam Museum, undertook the conservation. The cleaning of several paintings revealed more vibrancy and detail than the curators had hoped. Melissa described her excitement when she learned that after a thorough cleaning, a painting of Dives and Lazarus revealed a pertinent bit of information: forks were discovered in the image! This was a major departure from earlier versions of the image in which diners ate with their hands and knives. Deep cleaning of other paintings like the seventeenth-century kitchen still life by Floris Gerritsz van Schooten and contemporaneous still life with a lobster by Joris van Son revealed significantly brighter, richer, and intense color palates.

Dives and Lazarus, Flemish School, Antwerp, Belgium, adapted from a 1554 engraving by Heinrich Aldegrever (c.1502–1555/61), early 17th century. Oil on panel. 17.8 x 23.2 cm. Daniel Mesman Bequest, 1834 (274). Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Melissa enthusiastically spoke to me about how she wanted the exhibition to be useful for educators and the broader public, not just regular museum-goers and academics. The exhibition is signaled, for example, by a giant pineapple sculpture designed by Bompas & Parr on the grounds of the Fitzwilliam. This hard-to-miss fruit is showy enough to attract attention from passersbys with no intention of visiting the museum and entice them to enter. Melissa also noted that the Fitzwilliam, especially the Education Department, has been doing an outstanding job of drawing in new audiences to Feast & Fast. Several community groups, like the North Cambridge Academy Museum Ambassadors, the Rowan Art Centre, and Dancing with the Museum, had the opportunity to interact with exhibition objects in truly unique ways (a video about this initiative is available here). Participants who had the opportunity to touch and work with select objects made some moving connections to the pieces and related to these early modern objects in a very personal way. The museum has worked to incorporate Feast & Fast into major event planning, like the most recent “Twilight at the Museums,” aimed at children, and “Love Art after Dark,” an annual event for University of Cambridge students. Local businesses have also partnered with the Fitzwilliam and the exhibition: the Cambridge restaurant Vanderlyle created a five-course tasting menu inspired by the exhibit, artwork, and early modern philosophies about food.

One-handled pipkin with pouring lip, unidentified Harlow pottery, Essex, England, 1650 Lead-glazed red earthenware with cream slip-trailed decoration, inscribed: ‘FAST AND PRAY 1650 W’ Dr J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest (GL.C.35-1928). Feast and Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

A few of the Feast & Fast objects will be familiar to those who previously visited the Treasured Possessions exhibition, like the pineapple teapot and the honeypot. Items like these were crowd favorites and have been pleasing visitors again. Melissa has many other favorite objects on display. While she was hard pressed to select a favorite, her love of ceramics shines through as she mentions the exhibit’s seventeenth-century pomegranate charger and a seventeenth-century burnished pipkin declaring “Fast and Pray.” Beyond what visitors might first see in these and other exhibition objects, Melissa encourages all to consider the anonymous consumption, labor, and stories behind each object, like the women who created sugared confections, men who collected shells, and slaves toiling in the Caribbean.

Feast & Fast is sure to delight and inspire contemplation of the origins of many modern food concerns. The objects and installations of this exhibition invite visitors to consider premodern fasting, vegetarianism, the conspicuous consumption of exotic victuals, and the labors of all who grow, sell, cook, and create our food.

Feast & Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800 is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, until 26 April 2020.

If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

This holiday season, many museums internationally are highlighting the histories of food, medicine, and science in special exhibitions. If your travel plans take you to any of the cities below in December or January, consider stopping by an exhibit. Be sure to check the websites for full exhibit descriptions, as well as visitor information such as hours, fees, and directions. We also welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

What Why How We Eat

Anchorage Museum (Anchorage, AK, USA)

Through 12 January 2020

What Why How We Eat tells the changing story of food culture in Alaska—from the subsistence whale hunt in Point Hope to the Halal market in Anchorage—through filmed interviews, art installations, utensils, tools, recipes and food. The exhibition highlights multiple cultures and food traditions within Alaska communities, providing an interactive space for learning about how food is produced, preserved and shared within Alaska’s diverse communities in both rural and urban areas. Food-oriented public programming and a book of food essays with companion cookbook of Alaskana recipes for dishes commonly made in Alaska’s kitchens are among the ways the What Why How We Eat project connects Alaska food culture with other cultures around the world.

The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous Bush Medicine (International Tour)

The Berlin Museum of Medical History, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Berlin, Germany)

Through 2 February 2020

The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous Bush Medicine, an exhibition developed by the Melbourne Medical History Museum, is on its last stop on an international tour after first on display in 2018-2019. Prints and paintings by Indigenous Australian artists are juxtaposed with historic specimens from the Berlin Museum of Medical History’s permanent display. The contemporary works of art depict healing practices and medicines from the artists’ own Indigenous communities and cultures. Through their depictions of medicinal flora, the artists celebrate a long tradition of healing which predates Western medicine by tens of thousands of years. This exhibition was curated by Jacqueline Healy, University of Melbourne Medical History Museum and Henry Forman Atkinson Dental Museum Senior Curator.

Food Fit for Kings County: The Culinary History of Brooklyn

Brooklyn Public Library (Brooklyn, NY, USA)

Through 3 January 2020

This exhibition at the Brooklyn Public Library examines the borough’s social and cultural history through food and drink. The exhibition displays a variety of sources, including menus, images, books, and other material objects. Visitors can see a range of cultures, cuisines, and exhibited objects across Brooklyn’s history, including 1896 letterhead from the India Wharf Brewing Company, images from picket lines at Ebinger’s Bakery in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, and menus displaying the juxtaposition of immigrant food cultures, such as one advertising “Sheesh Kabab” alongside spaghetti and meatballs. For a preview of Food Fit for Kings County, be sure to visit the exhibit’s website before your visit.

Resetting the Table: Food and Our Changing Tastes

Peabody Museum of Archeology & Ethnography at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, USA)

Through 28 November 2021

The Peabody Museum’s new exhibition, Resetting the Table, explores food choices and eating habits in the United States, including the sometimes hidden but always important ways in which our tables are shaped by cultural, historical, political, and technological influences. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 1910 dinner for Harvard freshmen featuring Cotuit Cocktail, beef, imported champagne, an elaborate Eastern European cake called “Mocca Tree,” and cigarettes. Visitors not only encounter this meal set on a great oak dining table, but also explore the historical and cultural roots of each set of foods on the menu, and the privileged context of their presentation. The exhibition objects, culled from nine institutions, reveal the long history of many iconic American foods, across multiple cultures and thousands of years. These objects will include prehistoric oyster shells, turkey bones, Budweiser cans excavated from Harvard Yard, and an intricately fashioned nineteenth-century eel pot from New England. Stunning Central American tools and ceramics will signal the New World origins of corn and chocolate. The foodstuffs introduced to North America from other parts of the world include sugar, coffee, rice, and grape wine. Visitors also encounter a life-sized diorama of an early twentieth-century kitchen showcasing the preparation of foods before it is consumed and introduces objects of food preparation from around the world. This exhibition was guest curated by Joyce Chaplin, Harvard University James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History.

Brewing Up Chicago: How Beer Transformed a City

Exhibition organized by the Chicago Brewseum, hosted by the Field Museum (Chicago, IL, USA)

Through 5 July 2020

Brewing Up Chicago traces the growth of the city in the nineteenth century through the lens of its brewing industry and the immigrant community who built it. The German-American community in Chicago, initially regarded as ethnic outsiders, gradually came to be viewed as respected citizens, due in no small part to their contributions in brewing. The exhibition consists of four sections: The Raw Ingredients (1833-1850); The Mash (1851-1870); Fermentation (1871-1885); and Maturation (1885-1893). Each section details Chicago’s development, the German-American brewers’ experiences, and the stages of the brewing process. Brewing Up Chicago illustrates how beer is more than just a beverage; it is a strong cultural force capable of building community and making change.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Vertumnus, a portrait depicting Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590-1. Skokloster Castle, Sweden. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Revisiting Arcimboldo

La Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie (Lyon, France)

Through 31 May 2020

This immersive visual and auditory experience celebrates the paintings of the Italian Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. His portraits play a visual game with the viewer, merging food and portraiture. This exhibition features Arcimboldo’s works revisited by contemporary artists in a surreal and surprising experience. Revisiting Arcimboldo is displayed in the newly-opened La Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie in Lyon. This space, housed in the restored Grand Hôtel-Dieu, a former hospital, is devoted to the theme of gastronomy at the crossroads of food and health. The space houses permanent exhibitions on the history of Lyon’s gastronomy, a digital space presenting the gastronomic meal of the French, terroirs and the making of meals, temporary exhibitions, workshops, conferences, and more.

Making Marvels: Science & Splendor at the Courts of Europe

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, USA)

Through 1 March 2020

Joachim Friess, “Automaton in the Form of Diana and the Stag,” ca. 1620, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In early modern Europe, lavish spending, displays of precious metals, and the possession of artistic, scientific, and technological innovations conveyed power and status. These innovations were often highlighted in elaborate court entertainments. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition, Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe explores the complex ways in which the objects collected and displayed by early modern European monarchs expressed these rulers’ ability to govern. The exhibition features approximately 170 objects, including clocks, automata, furniture, scientific instruments, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, print media, and more, from The Met collection and over fifty lenders. Some of the objects on display include the largest flawless natural green diamond in the world (weighing 41 carats and in its original 18th-century setting), the alchemistic table bell of Emperor Rudolf II, and a fountain bearing the coat of arms of the Madruzzo family of Trento to be used to spurt wine or water during court festivities. The exhibition will be divided into four sections dedicated to the main object types featured in these displays: precious metalwork, Kunstkammer objects, princely tools, and self-moving clockworks or automata. The exhibition site includes links to videos showing the movement and functionality of several Making Marvels objects. Making Marvels is organized by Wolfram Koeppe, the Marina Kellen French Curator in The Met’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts

A Delight for the Senses: The Still Life

Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, PA, USA)

Through 15 March 2020

Albert Francis King, Late Night Snack, ca. 1900, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of the R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

Emerging in the seventeenth century in the Netherlands, the still life genre documented the objects and symbols of wealth and status among the flourishing merchant class. This exhibition, A Delight for the Senses: The Still Life, celebrates this genre, exploring nearly 250 years of the tradition from the seventeenth century to America’s Gilded Age. Featuring items as diverse as foods, flowers, animals, scientific instruments, books, and more, the arrangements were not only aesthetically pleasing, but also symbolic of the moral, religious, and social structures of the time. The exhibition features the museum’s first seventeenth-century still life painting, a recent bequest from the late Drue Heinz, as well as loans from the Detroit Institute of Arts and several local collectors. A Delight for the Senses is curated by Akemi May, Assistant Curator, Fine Arts, Carnegie Museum of Art.

If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Around the Table: Museum Exhibitions

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Museums have increasingly been highlighting food, culinary, and dining history in their exhibition schedules. The upcoming months prove to be very exciting for those of us interested in such topics, as museums internationally have planned a wonderful array of exhibits. If your conference, research, or personal travel plans take you to any of the cities below, consider stopping by an exhibit. Be sure to check the websites for full exhibit descriptions, as well as visitor information such as hours, fees, and directions. We also welcome readers to share your trips to any museums and exhibits of interest to the Recipes Project community on Twitter or Facebook!

Current Exhibitions

Feeding History: The Politics of Food

British Museum (London, UK), through 27 May 2019

Wooden model group of a butcher’s shop, Deir el-Bersha, Egypt, Middle Kingdom period. (London, British Museum)

The exhibition “Feeding History” at the British Museum focuses on five objects, exploring the relationship between food, power, and control. The display juxtaposes ancient and contemporary objects to explore issues surrounding food production and control of food resources. The focus of the display is a contemporary sculpture, Anti Social Wild West Weaving (c. 2000), by Native American artist Pat Courtney Gold. Her work represents the barbed-wire fences used on the North American prairies, simultaneously allowing settlers to claim the land for ranching and farming and restricting Native Americans from accessing their ancestral land. The four ancient objects include an Egyptian wooden plough handle (1550–1069 BC), an Egyptian model of butchers preparing meat (c. 1850 BC), a gilded silver vase with a grape harvesting scene (possibly from Iran, 500–700), and a Ming dynasty porcelain serving dish decorated with grapes (1403–1424). Through this combination of works, the exhibition explores the origins of farming and the inequality between the wealthy landowning minority and the impoverished working majority. Furthermore, the exhibition stresses that feeding the world is closely connected to issues of power, politics, and economics.

Feasting and Fasting: The Great Kitchen at Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral (Durham, UK), through 1 June 2019

Durham Cathedral’s museum experience, Open Treasure, currently features an exhibition, “Feasting and Fasting,” exploring the history of the Cathedral’s fourteenth-century Great Kitchen. The octagonal kitchen, completed in 1370, was active for over 570 years. It was the site of food preparations for everyone who lived and worked at the Cathedral; daily meals and grand feasts alike were prepared here. Visitors can learn about the food consumed by Benedictine monks of Durham Priory and discover what was eaten at the Cathedral’s lavish banquets. The highlights of “Feasting and Fasting” are the recipe collections on display, including the The Art of Cookery by John Thacker, cook to the Dean and Chapter from 1739–1758. After exploring the exhibit, visitors can continue through the museum into the Great Kitchen, which now houses the Anglo-Saxon Treasures of St. Cuthbert.

Feast of Fools: Bruegel Rediscovered

Gaasbeek Castle (Lennik, Belgium), through 28 July 2019

Feast of Fools: Bruegel Rediscovered

Nestled in the idyllic Belgian countryside, Gaasbeek Castle is home to a museum, park, and gardens. The Museum Garden alone may be of interest to Recipes Project readers: it contains many traditional and rare fruit and vegetable varietals, featuring espaliered fruits. The museum inside Gaasbeek Castle, however, is currently hosting an exhibition rooted in the work of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel. In “Feast of Fools,” visitors experience a series of contemporary and modern inspired by Bruegel. Among many other works, the exhibition presents a virtual reality installation by the Berlin-based theatre company, Rimini Protokoll, focused on the contemporary food industry titled “Feast of Food.” In his works, Bruegel depicted the farmers who fed local consumers. In the twenty-first century, Bruegel’s farmers have been replaced by high-tech agro-industries and most consumers now ignore the origins of their food. Rimini Protokoll helps visitors explore what farming and food production look like today. Through virtual reality, visitors are immersed in modern sites of food production, including Rungis, the biggest food market in the world, located near Paris, a gigantic slaughterhouse in Bavaria, and plantations in Almería.

Future Exhibitions

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate

Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK), 19 May–20 October 2019

FOOD: Bigger than the Plate is poised to be a significant exhibition at the V&A on a variety of food topics (including food history). It will feature over seventy contemporary projects, new commissions and creative collaborations by artists, designers, chefs, farmers, scientists and local communities. The exhibition will explore how individuals, communities and organizations are re-inventing how we experience food. FOOD leads visitors through the food cycle, from “Compost” to “Farming” to “Trading” to “Eating.” Visitors will even experience several installations physically growing in the gallery space. These projects will sit alongside thirty objects from the V&A collections, including early food advertisements, illustrations, and ceramics, providing historical context to the contemporary exhibits. The V&A has also released information about a number of early events related to the exhibit, including a Curators’ Talk and a Food Styling and Photography Workshop. Readers can receive an early bird offer of 40% off individual advance tickets using promo code FOOD40 at check out. Note that this offer is available for a limited time only and please review the terms and conditions.

Last Supper in Pompeii

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology (Oxford, UK), 25 July 2019–12 January 2020

The Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford has scheduled an exhibition delving into a story of the foods loved and consumed by the people of the ancient Roman town of Pompeii. This southern Italian resort town was located between vineyards, orchards, and the Bay of Naples; its people produced wine, olive oil, and garum (a fish sauce) for consumers around the Mediterranean. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in the first century, people in Pompeii were eating, drinking, and producing food, like any other day. Much evidence has been preserved about the food in this town, such as mosaics in villas and the remains found in kitchen drains. The exhibition will feature many objects on loan from Naples and Pompeii which have never left Italy. The items range from the luxury furnishings of Roman dining rooms to the carbonized food that was on the table when the volcano erupted. Accompanying the exhibition is the forthcoming publication of Last Supper in Pompeii (Ashmolean Museum, 2019) by Paul Roberts, the Sackler Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean. Included in the book is new research based on the excavation of drains and rubbish pits and the excavation of a Roman vineyard between Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Café Europe: Food Ties

Museum of European Cultures (Berlin, Germany), 1 August–1 September 2019

The Museum of European Cultures, one of the Berlin State Museums, hosts a permanent exhibition “Cultural Contacts: Living in Europe” which examines discussions on social movements and boundaries. Tied to the permanent exhibition, “Café Europe: Food Ties,” is a temporary exhibition with accompanying special events exploring trans-regional and international influences on the culinary arts. As mobility has continued to increase across Europe, so too has culinary migration. Diets have both assimilated many influences and changed significantly in recent decades. Be sure to check the website as “Café Europe” approaches for more information about cooperating partners and scheduled special events.

If you’d like to feature a museum exhibition or collection on the Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

Introduction: “Russian Recipes” at the July Recipes Project

By Clare Griffin

Dear Readers of the Recipes Project Blog,

Earlier this year I was asked to put together a series of posts on Russian Recipes. But how to introduce the posts to help non-Russianists grasp them? Through all the organising and writing of this ‘special edition’ of the Recipes Project, this has remained the hardest thing to pin down. What, fundamentally, were the central aspects of early modern Russia, and how to do them justice in one introduction?

My solution is the following brief travel guide for the curious visitor to Russia c. 1690. Hopefully this will provide a useful introduction as you peruse our featured posts on “Russian Recipes” this month.

L0004274 Map of Russia lent by Dr. Schuster.
Russia in the Early Modern Period
(Wellcome Images)

Location:                                         

Although having its roots in the early Medieval princedom of Kiev, by the early modern period Russia meant a tsardom centred on the more northerly Moscow, hence its other early modern name, Muscovy, although there was a large and growing empire far to the east of that city. Travellers arriving after 1703 would be more likely to head to the new capital of St Petersburg, modestly named after the reforming Tsar Peter the Great.

800px-Russian_Empire_1745_General_Map_(HQ)
The Russian Empire, 1745
(Wiki Images)

Laws:

Staying within the bounds of local law is key to any successful journey, and early modern visitors to Muscovy had to bear some important points in mind. Movement across the borders and within the country was strictly controlled, and documentation was necessary to avoid arrest. If you were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, you had to take care not to have roots or herbs on your person, as those could be cause for accusations of witchcraft.  Although there were many foreigners in Muscovy, interaction between them was not always encouraged; if you were a foreign visitor, Russian servants would not stay in your house overnight, as you were considered to be a heretic, and excessive contact with you was thought to be dangerous.

The Population:
The Russian population was distinguished in several ways. In terms of dress, Muscovites wore traditional clothes; as a visitor, you would have stood out!

Bojaren
Russian Noblemen
(Wiki Images)

Russians rarely knew foreign languages, although this was changing throughout the early modern period, as increasing numbers of “boyars” – as Russian nobles are called – kept collections of foreign books alongside other exotic foreign objects such as clocks.

Russia was not as culturally homogenous as you might think. Several courtly families came from outside the Moscow lands, including from Kazan’ and from the Georgian royal family. Outside of the court, the atmosphere was even more mixed, as the empire encompassed various races, nations, languages and religions, who were mostly left to their own devices, provided they paid their taxes on time.

There was also a thriving foreign community in Moscow, with merchant strongholds in Kholmogory and Archangel, the most important port. These communities dated back to the 1550s, when English merchants accidently found the northern coast of Russia while searching for China. Although the English were dominant for some decades, the Dutch and the Germans also had a significant presence in Moscow, where they had their own churches and community activities. Some people even put on amateur performances of Western European plays in their own homes.

Sight-seeing:
There were many wonderful sights in early modern Russia.

Ushakov's Archangel Michael and the Devil
Ushakov’s Archangel Michael and the Devil, 1676
(Wiki Images)

Early modern Russia was a very religious society, and churches played a large role in Russian life.  Services could go on for several hours. Churches and monasteries were also used in religio-political ceremonies, such as when the Tsar paraded through the streets of Moscow. Icons were similarly important. If you were an early modern visitor to Russia, you might be lucky enough to see the work of the great seventeenth-century Russian icon painter, Semyon Ushakov.

If you ventured outside of Moscow, you could have visited many wonderful sights in the early modern Russian Empire. To the East and South, you could have travelled to the towns of Kazan’ and Astrakhan, both former khanates but a part of the empire since the sixteenth century. You might even have gone on to distant Siberia!  Although partly used to exile prisoners, Siberia was also valued for its wildlife.  Siberian furs fetched high prices in Western Europe.

We hope you enjoy your visit to early modern Russia!

Posts in the series: 

What to Feed the Servants in Sixteenth-Century Russiaby Carolyn Pouncey

A Medieval Russian Hangover Cure, by Darra Goldstein

How to Heal a Foreigner in Early Modern Russia, by Clare Griffin

A Modern Culinary Manuscript from Russia’s Ural Mountains, by Aleksandra Ippolitova

Love Magic in 18th century Russia: a Search for Passion in Russian History, by Elena Smilianskaia