In the second half of the 1850s the Russian archeologist and collector of Christian relics Peter Ivanovich Sevastianov organized several scientific expeditions to Mount Athos. There he made photographic copies of the old frescoes and systematized them, and took panoramic pictures of the monasteries; the first known photographs of Athos were taken by him. Sevastianov established a photo lab in Svyato-Andreyevsky Skete (St. Andrew Monastery), where the local monks could study photography too. Later he donated the photographic equipment to the monks, thus contributing to the foundation of the first photographic studio on the Holy Mountain. He and his colleagues had created several thousands of pictures, some of which were later displayed at the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1861. Today the photographs by Sevastianov belong to the collections of Moscow and Saint Petersburg-based museums, including the State Historical Museum, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, the National Library of Russia, the State Hermitage, etc.).

In 1898 the expedition to the Holy Mountain was led by the Academician N.P. Kondakov, a historian and expert of Byzantine and Old Russian art. The expedition’s photographer Ivan Fedorovich Barshchevsky took over two hundred pictures of eighteen monasteries and sketes of Athos. In the 19th century in the photo studios on Athos the monks used to create photo portraits, landscape pictures and views of the monasteries, churches and sketes, photographs covering formal visits and church services. Many of such pictures were brought to Russia by the pilgrims as souvenirs of their trip to the ‘Abode of the Holy Mother,’ as Athos is also referred to.

The landscape photographs and panoramic pictures by Father Leonty and Father Gennady, the photographers of Svyato-Panteleimonov Monastery (St. Panteleimon Monastery), dated from the late 1860s are of great artistic and historical importance. These photographs adorned the albums presented to the members of the Romanov Family to commemorate their visit to the Holy Mountain. At least nine similar photo albums created by Father Leonty and Father Gennady in the studio of St. Panteleimon Monastery have been preserved up to now. Each of the albums features exactly the same landscape photographs. The known copies are now kept in many state-owned and private collections including the Library of St. Panteleimon Monastery on Athos, the Science Library of the State Hermitage and the Engraving Department of the National Library of Russia. The album presented to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov in August 1881 is kept in the photo archive of the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The current exhibition features the album given to Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich as souvenir of his stay at St. Panteleimon Monastery in 1867 and a pair album of Empress Maria Alexandrovna with a presentation inscription. The pieces have come from the Science Library of the Russian Academy of Arts and from the State Russian Museum, respectively. Besides, one will be able to see the original photo prints brought from scientific expeditions to Athos and the photographs lent by various museums and libraries of Saint Petersburg.

The project’s modern section consists of the photographs taken from 1996 to 2011 by the renowned Saint Petersburg-based artists Alexander Kitayev and Mikhail Nikitin. Each of them has his own image of Athos which offers us an opportunity to feel the atmosphere of the holy place and to learn about the unique way of life of its people.

Nowadays the landscape photographs and views of the Holy Mountain as well as the portraits of monks are kept on Athos and in the archives and museums of many countries. Some selected collections of pictures have been displayed at the exhibitions in the previous years, but there has been no opportunity to bring these scattered collections together. The unique exhibition which has been prepared by ROSPHOTO for the first time ever makes it possible to explore and compare the works from the collections of the State Russian Museum, the Science Library of the Russian Academy of Arts, the National Library of Russia, the State Museum of the History of Religion and the State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSPHOTO.

The idea of the exhibition has been developed by Galina Dluzhnevskaya (1946–2014), Doctor of Historical Sciences, the Head of the Research Archive of the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. We dedicate the display to her.