Kunstkamera – Peter the Great’s Museum of Malformation and Anthropology
13 February, 2017
If you ask locals from Saint Petersburg, what comes them to mind with the Kunstkamera, they will usually tell you: “Embryos, malformations, deformity of animals” as associations. But the Kunstkamera in Saint Petersburg is more than a collection of malformed beings. Moreover it is one of the world’s largest collection of anthropological and ethnographical exhibits.
Peter the Great and his interest in sciences
Peter I. was the tsar in Russia at the end of the 17th and at the beginning of the 18th century. He didn’t receive his title “the Great” just because of his actually body height but rather for his reforms in military, economy and sciences. As an intellectual monarch and lover of sciences he aspired to familiarize his citizen with modern insights of the knowledge of European academics.
Following his idea, he initiated the construction of the building, in which you can find the today’s Kunstkamera. It is located in the opposite direction of the Neva, standing at the Hermitage and it was the first massive stone building at that time created for public.
The tsar disposed in this splendid building a library, a museum, an anatomic theatre and an observatory. Since Peter the Great thought that every person who is willing to educate himself should be honoured, he didn’t ask for an entry fee. Instead, he offered every visitor a coffee and a sweetmeat. Too bad that nowadays it is not the case anymore.
Exhibitions of malformations
In former Russia people thought that malformations were the result of unnatural forces. Corresponding to the common opinion, they occur because of sorcery and as work of the devil. Peter I. try to prove and show the opposite. That is why he was looking for abnormal embryos and acquired the collections of the European scholars Frederik Ruysch und Albert Seba. In addition to the collections of malformations, “living exhibits”, actually residents, enriched the Kunstkamera at that time.
The exhibitions today contain for example Embryos with cyclop’s eyes, three extremities or two heads. All are conserved in alcohol to maintain their state for hundreds of years.
In huge contrast to the scary figures many historical objects tell about the life of different cultures. The first part of the museum is dedicated to Eskimos and Indians. You can see for instance an Pueblo Indian having a snake in his mouth as part of a ritual during the rainy season. An other Indian wears the skin of a deer as camouflage, showing the established method of hunting. By means of coat, Indians tried to approach wildlife unremarkable. They thought that wild animals will consider them as like-minded animals and therefore will stay calm and not run away.
In addition to Eskimos and Indians, the museum is devoted to China, Early Japan, Mongolia, Korea, India, Indonesia, Indochina and Middle East.
Academy of Science and the Globe of Gottdorf
The third floor presents the work of the polymath Lomonssow, contemporary scientist and their instruments. The fourth floor harbours the first Russian academic observatory.
Another highlight of the museum is the huge Globe of Gottdorf. In order to visit it, you have to book separately a guided tour. The globe has a diameter of three meters. Almost three hundred years ago the Globe was being transported four years to get from from his original place, the Gottdorf castle, to its destination Saint Petersburg.
The museum, spread on five floors and having a cafe and a snack-bar as well, is very spaciously. For an attentive, intensive walk through the Kunstkamera in Saint Petersburg, I recommend to start the visit during noon or in the early afternoon in order to avoid being in a hurry at the end.
Take your time and enjoy your visit!