The photographs capture views of major urban centers of the Russian Empire: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Novgorod, Arkhangelsk, and Rostov, as well as the authentic life of the farther regions. Landscape, ethnographic, and portrait images reflect the cultural and social diversity of a multinational country. Views of historical and architectural monuments, including the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod, the Church of the Saviour on Nereditsa, the Cathedral of St. George in Nizhny Novgorod; photographic records of the construction of highways, national costumes and ceremonies compose a diverse panorama of Russia and its many faces.

The works of famous masters of photographic art of the latter half of the 19th century: Ivan Barshchevsky, the Boissonas & Eggler  studio, Maxim Dmitriev, Dmitry Ermakov, William Carrick, Alfred Lorens, Count Nostitz, Jacob Leizinger and many others — being historically accurate and artistically expressive, convey the lifestyle diversity of the population of the Russian state.

For many centuries, the capital of the Russian state was Moscow, with the ancient Moscow Kremlin lying in its center. Iconic views of the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Sukharev Tower, Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower were captured by photographers Pyotr Pavlov and Count Ivan Nostitz, who conducted a large-scale photographic survey of Moscow’s landmarks and architectural monuments. 

It was at the Assumption Cathedral of the Kremlin where the Coronation of the Russian monarch was held for many centuries. This tradition survived even after 1703 when Emperor Peter I, by his decree, moved the capital to St. Petersburg. In 1896, the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II was crowned in Moscow.

The residence of the reigning House Romanov was the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The Peter and Paul Cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress housed the tomb of Russian tsars, starting with Peter the Great. St. Petersburg was home to the Governing Senate, the supreme judicial and administrative body of pre-revolutionary Russia, and the Holy Synod — the supreme governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church.

 Apart from the well-known sights, the life of the big city in the middle of the 19th and early 20th century is presented through portraits of common people, such as street sweepers, coachmen, salespeople. Some photographs depict peasant types, captured brilliantly by prominent master of photography William Carrick. He also created landmark and genre shots of the Russian countryside.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian Empire had a vast territory, inhabited by numerous peoples who practiced different religions and preserved their customs and way of life. It was then that photography was called upon to record ethnographic and geographical diversity, to broaden the knowledge of remote and inaccessible territories, and to introduce the capital to the life and peoples of the empire’s outskirts.

The history of photographic expansion and development of ethnographic photography in the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th and early 20th century is inseparably connected with the name of Russian photographer, traveler and entrepreneur Dmitry Ivanovich Yermakov. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of his legacy for the history and culture of Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Persia, and Turkey. Working in these countries as part of archaeological, topographic, and geographical expeditions from the mid-1860s to 1910s, Yermakov produced more than 40,000 glass negatives and more than 120 photographic albums. The current exhibition project presents some of his works created in the Caucasus and Georgia. 

Diverse in scope and genre, the project “The Many Faces of Russia” introduces the viewer to original photographic prints from the museum’s collection, providing insight into the history and life of Russia in the 19th century.

The exhibition “The Many Faces of Russia” marks the 180th anniversary of the invention of photography.