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Kunstkamera

The Kunstkamera or Kunstkammer was the first museum in Russia. It was established by Peter the Great on the Neva Riverfront (now Universitetskaya Embankment) facing the Winter Palace. The turreted Petrine Baroque building of the Kunstkamera, designed by Georg Johann Mattarnovy, was completed by 1727. The foundation stone for the Kunstkammer was layed in 1719. Peter's museum was dedicated to preserving "natural and human curiosities and rarities". The tsar's personal collection, originally stored in the Summer Palace, features a large assortment of human and animal fetuses with anatomical deficiencies, which Peter had seen in 1697 visiting Frederick Ruysch and Levinus Vincent. The underlying idea of their kunstkammers was to acquire full knowledge of the world. The dutch word "konst-kamer" seems to be introduced by the surgeon Stephanus Blankaart in 1680. The Kunstkamera of Peter the Great is often seen as a haphazard collection of incoherent rarities, but it seems they were collected systematically subject to a well defined plan. Peter's main interest was in "naturalia", rather than the so-called "artificialia". Peter encouraged research of deformities, all along trying to debunk the superstitious fear of monsters. He issued an ukase ordering malformed, still-born infants to be sent from all over the country to the imperial collection. He subsequently had them put on show in the Kunstkamera as examples of acciddents of nature.[1] In 1716 Peter established the mineral cabinet of Kunstkamera, depositing there a collection of 1195 minerals which he had bought from Gotvald, a Danzig doctor. The collection was enriched with Russian minerals. It was a predecessor of the Fersman Mineralogical Museum, now based in Moscow. Many items were bought in Amsterdam from pharmacologist Albertus Seba (1716) and anatomist Frederik Ruysch (1717) and formed the basis for the Academy of Sciences. The Kunstkamera was specially built to house these two extensive collections. A third acquistion came from Jacob de Wilde, a collector of gems and scientific instruments. Head-physician to the czar, Robert Arskine, and his secretary Johann Daniel Schumacher were responsible for the acquisition.[2] One of the most gruesome exhibits is the head of Willem Mons, brother of Anna Mons. In 1747 wome objects got lost in a fire. In the 1830s, the Kunstkamera collections were dispersed to newly established imperial museums, the most important being the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, established in 1879, with a collection approaching 2,000,000 items. The museum is still housed in the Kunstkamera and bears the name of Peter the Great since 1903.

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