Silver mitre, decorated with precious and semi-precious stones. Ukraine, 17th century.

The Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine, which is a branch of the National Museum of History of Ukraine, possesses marvellous collections of exhibits of decorative and applied art of the 16th-20th centuries. These collections were put together in the course of the past hundred years.

The Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine was opened in one of the buildings of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery in January 1969 (at that time the Monastery itself was a museum). It was set up as a branch of the Museum of History of Ukraine which transferred a lot of its own exhibits to the newly created museum. In fact, most of the exhibits dating to the 16th-19th centuries were taken from the History Museum. Since then, a great many visitors have been coming to see the collections of the Museum of Treasures, among which those of Scythian and antique applied and decorative art and of Kyivan-Rus-Ukraine have enjoyed a particularly great attention. The works of Ukrainian silver- and goldsmiths of the 16th-18th centuries designed to be used in church impress by their refined taste, rich ornamentation, harmonious proportions and excellent quality of execution. The process of putting together the collections of all these marvels was a long and by far not an easy one. At the end of the 19th century, many Kyiv intellectuals believed there was an urgent need in having a museum of local history, similar to the ones that existed in many cities of Europe. With this purpose in mind, Bohdan Khanenko, a prominent archaeologist, set up an organizing committee which put itself to a difficult task of creating a history museum. Thanks to the untiring efforts of Khanenko and of the Kyiv Society of Arts and Antiquities the first museum of such kind was established in 1899. Five years later, the numerous exhibits of this museum were transferred to a new one, the Arts, Technology and Sciences Museum.
Silver tabernacle.

Gold mitre decorated with enamel medallions and precious stones, Ukraine, early 18th century.
A great contribution to the creation of this new museum was made by several patrons of art of Kyiv: Tereshchenko, Brodsky, Fedorov and members of their families. In addition to money, valuable and rare things were donated to the museum to be put on public display as exhibits. According to the archival records, the vice-governor of Kyiv, Dmytro Fedorov, after his retirement gave the museum over 40 art objects dating from the 16th-18th centuries as gifts. Among them were excellent pieces of silverware made in Russia and in Western Europe: pitchers, goblets, all kinds of cups and plates, richly decorated with ornaments and representations. Several pieces from Fedorov’s collection are to be found in the Museum of Historical Treasures now. Superb craftsmanship is characteristic of masters from Germany. An eight-sided silver cup with Old Testament scenes portrayed on it is of a special interest. Among the gifts received by the Museum there are some that have never failed to fascinate both the art historians and laymen. One of them is a gold chain for a timepiece in the shape of a human skeleton. It was created by goldsmith I. Rakhumovsky from the city of Odesa in 1893 specially for an international exhibition in Chicago, at which goldsmiths from many countries of the world showed their creations.
They were of unusual shapes, having exceptional decorations and revealing supreme mastery in handing precious metals and stones. The skeleton was made up of 167 movable parts, executed in the technique of casting. It is known from written sources that later Rakhumovsky made another miniature gold skeleton and gold sarcophagus to match. The sides of the sarcophagus were decorated with masterfully executed scenes illustrating the most important stages in the life of man from birth to death. In 1905, Rakhumovsky was awarded the top prize for his extraordinary creation at the Paris world exhibition. As far as the skeleton-chain is concerned it has been discovered that in 1901 it was donated to a Kyiv museum by Yosyp Marshak, a highly talented goldsmith and owner of the then biggest jewellery business in Ukraine. In addition to very valuable objects made of precious metals donated to the museum, its collections kept growing thanks to gifts of not so expensive but extremely interesting pieces. For example, in 1917, an inhabitant of Kyiv named Zaytsev presented to the museum a tiny silver vodka noggin made in the 18th century by Demyan Lubetsky, a remarkable silversmith from Kyiv. Early in the twentieth century, in the period before the First World War, the collections of the museum grew thanks to the purchases made following a purposeful search which was conducted in many parts of Ukraine.
A gospel in a silver case. Kyiv, 17th century.

Silver case for the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles. Kyiv, 18th century.
Objects of decorative and applied arts included those made of ceramics, glass, porcelain, silver and gold. They were household items and ritual objects used in churches, dating from the 17th-18th centuries: crosses, frames for icons, Gospel covers. One of the most valuable items thus acquired was a cross appertaining to the communion table. It was bought in a small town in the vicinity of the town of Poltava. Thanks to the wonderful Gospel scenes represented on its surface, the cross is considered to be one of the best works created by Fedir Levytsky, a silversmith of Kyiv, in the fifties or seventies of the 18th century. It hardly needs mentioning that during the world war, revolutions and civil strife there were no additions to the museum collections. The museum survived the turbulent times, with more than 10,000 exhibits being moved away from Kyiv to safer places. They were returned to Kyiv only in 1921. In the twenties, the Bolsheviks launched their atheistic campaigns which led to the destruction of many churches and monasteries.
A great many others were stripped of anything that could be considered valuable: old icons, icon frames, candle sticks, church vessels or anything else that was made of silver, gold or other precious metals. It could be considered good luck if they were given to museums for safe keeping. Many such objects were sent to Moscow, Russia, where they were turned into “scrap metal” to be sold by weight abroad in order to get so much needed foreign currency, dollars in particular. Ukrainian intellectuals resented such practices and turned to the Ukrainian authorities with a demand to put a stop to them. A special commission to investigate the matter was set up. Among the commission members were D. Shcherbakivsky, curator of the History Museum, A. Sereda, curator of the III State Kyiv Museum. They discovered in Moscow’s Central Depository about 60 tons of silver and gold objects that had been brought from Ukraine. Most of them were either broken or taken apart. The commission members worked hard for many days in a row and thanks to their efforts about thirty two hundred ritual church objects and those of applied and decorative art were saved from destruction. These objects were then taken back to Kyiv where they were temporarily placed in the Shevchenko Museum. Each object was then thoroughly examined by scholars and art historians. The objects’ provenance, about a hundred names of masters who had created them, time of creation were established.
Silver case for a gospel. Master I. Ravych, Kyiv, 18th century.

Silver chalice decorated with enamel medallions. 18th century.
Thanks to this work the main centres of silver- and goldsmithery were revealed, the course of the development of the art of jewellery in Ukraine was traced. For some reason, this collection was, by a government decree, moved for safe keeping to the vaults of the State Bank where it was kept out of reach of scholars till the end of the forties. A lot of objects of this collection in later years were transferred to the Museum of Historical Treasures. A number of ritual church objects from this collection are a special pride of the Museum: gorgeous gold and silver mitres, decorated with precious stones; silver crowns for icons studded with precious stones; panagias (sacred images worn round the neck by Orthodox bishops). In the twenties quite a few objects of the art of goldsmithery came to museums from the Vydubetsky and Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monasteries. Monks hid valuable ritual objects in an attempt to prevent their confiscation. It is in one of caches that silver candlesticks, dishes, chalices and crosses of great artistic quality were later discovered. They were created by Ivan Ravych, an eighteenth-century master from Kyiv. A plate with the Miracle of St Michael represented on it merits a special mention. In 1924, the Museum received a number of valuable objects from the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery.
They had been kept in a secret cache and thus avoided earlier seizure by the Bolshevik authorities. Among 171 objects, which enriched the museum’s collections, a gold panagia with an enamel medallion portraying the Virgin with Child, studded along the edges with rubies and emeralds, stands out as a creation of superb taste and beauty. In the early thirties, the Soviet authorities, in their frantic search for money needed to continue their industrialization policies, decided to sell to foreign buyers valuable objects made of precious metals and stones. These objects were to be taken from the museum collections. As has become known recently, among things planned to be sold were unique gold objects of Scythian toreutic art of the 4th century BC, gold decorations created in Kyivan-Rus-Ukraine in the 11th-12th centuries, and other things. Fortunately, the head of the archaeology department V. Kozlovska managed to persuade the authorities not to do it and thus many exhibits were saved for the museum. Regrettably, the museum collections were seriously depleted in later years. Museum pieces were sold in jewellery stores.
A special commission was set up to determine whether this or that exhibit was “good enough” to be displayed in the museum and quite a few valuable museum pieces were demoted to “items to be put on sale.
” Among such exhibits of the late 19th-early 20th century was a miniature gold skeleton made at the end of the 19th century by Rakhumovsky, a master from Odesa. It was put on sale in a store but either the price was too high or the look of this piece of jewellery scared potential buyers off, but after some time it was returned back to the museum.
All through the thirties valuable exhibits, particularly those with precious stones, were removed from the museum to be sold to rich customers, most of whom were foreigners. Silverware, made in the 18th-19th centuries was in a particularly high demand. As a result, the museum collections were reduced to having mostly church ritual objects: crosses, chalices, icon frames, etc. The years of the Second World War were the time of a severe trial for the museum. Back in the thirties, the most valuable items had been moved to the vaults of the State Bank and when the war broke out everything was evacuated to the Russian city of Ufa, a long way from the frontline.


Silver cups. Kyiv, 18th century.


Set of gold tableware. St Petersburg, 18th century.


Silver coffee-pot and silver teapot. Master A. Shper. St Petersburg, 19th century


Gold pendant. Master I. Rakhumovsky, Odesa, 1893.

During the evacuation, documents dealing with the provenance of gold exhibits were irrevocably lost and even today in many cases, despite many years of research, it is impossible to say with finality where this or that exhibit comes from or when it was made. In the sixties, it was decided to create a separate museum that would house most of the historical treasures hitherto kept in other museums. In addition to the collections of the History Museum, the Museum of Historical Treasures received exhibits from other museums of Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Chernihiv, Poltava, Symferopol and other cities.
A worthy contribution was made by the Kyiv Pechersk Cultural Preserve which gave to the newly created museums a number of art objects created by Kyiv Baroque masters I. Ravych, M. Narunovych, K. Chyzhevsky. Since the museum lacked exhibits that would demonstrate the development of applied, decorative and jewellery art of the 19th century, the museum had to buy objects created at that time by Ukrainian and Russian silversmiths. In 1987, one of the companies of Kyiv donated to the museum 117 items of 19th-century high-quality silverware.

In 1993, another Kyiv company made a generous gift to the museum of 78 silver objects made at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century in Ukraine. In the early eighties, a section of present-day art of jewellery was opened in the museum.
The section possesses exhibits created by goldsmiths and jewellers from many parts of Ukraine. Their creations demonstrate novel techniques of execution, refined taste, superb sense of balance and harmony, romantic approach. The Museum of Historic Treasures was officially opened thirty years ago. It plans to continue not only to preserve and show what it already has but to acquire new exhibits in spite of shortage of funds available for purchasing new items. The National Commission dealing with the issue of returning cultural treasures to Ukraine at the Cabinet of Ministers works hard to bring back to Ukraine what was taken away in the Soviet and war times. Thanks to the Commission’s work, considerable additions were made to the collection of gold objects created by the leading jewellers of the 19th century. Ukrainian jewellers of today donate samples of their art to the museum thus enriching the present-day jewellery section. The Museum of Historical Treasures hopes that patrons of art and collectors of today will continue the noble tradition of the earlier times when donations laid the foundation of the unique museum collections of applied and decorative art of the 16th-20th centuries.

Silver cross. Master F. Levytsky, Kyiv, 1757.

Icon in a silver frame. Moscow, early 20th century.

Wooden cross in a silver case. Moscow, 1681.
Photographs by Mykhaylo Andreyev