One would think that the people's revolution of 1917 would have destroyed the Kremlin's precious collection of icons, jewels and artifacts. After all, these priceless objects are prime examples of the excesses of the elite: gold pieces encrusted with diamonds and emeralds. Yet Irina Polianina, one of the curators of the "Kremlin Gold" exhibit that opens Saturday at the Museum of Natural Science, insists the rebellion had no effect. "The curators were working inside on their inventions, and three days later they opened the doors, and there were new revolutionary soldiers outside, not the guards from the past, and they said, 'Okay, it's a new time,' and went back inside."
In fact, the revolution may have helped preserve these artifacts. "All the things that were taken away from the Russian czar were simply put in storehouses," the Russian curator explains. The result is an astonishing collection of pieces spanning 1,000 years of Russian history, many of which had never before left the Kremlin walls. "Everything here is something Russia's proud of," says chief curator Emma Chernukha. "Everything here is a masterpiece. Most of these objects were originally commissioned by the grand dukes and went on to the czars, and eventually into the possession of the government."
For example, the czar and the clergy, forever competing with each other in a sort of ceremonial one-upmanship, produced many extravagant headpieces; two of the ornate crowns are on display here. Also on view is one of only three existing Russian sarcophagus covers, this one with the image of the eight-year-old son of Ivan the Terrible; perhaps more impressive is a Fabergé egg containing a tiny imperial yacht, complete with microscopic cannons that swivel. Two rooms with large columns and photographs of Moscow were specifically built for the exhibit, one with items from the fourth through 17th centuries, the other with objects from the 17th century to the present, each selected for its connection to a significant event in Russian history.
What's more, this event, three years in the making, can be found only here. "This is a very exclusive exhibit," Chernukha says, "specific for the Houston museum." Very exclusive? Hmm. Sounds dangerously close to czarlike behavior. "Kremlin Gold" opens Saturday, April 15, at 11 a.m., at the Museum of Natural Science. One Hermann Circle Drive. $10. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (713)639-4629.