Skip to Content
Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, August 1, 1935

Tallinn, Estonia


I have just emerged, with a loud “ouf” of relief, from the USSR, dearest Mildred, and once again you will have to bear with the half-digested ideas that came surging up when some new and strange experience has befallen me.

Two main impressions:

a) Things are improving there; as compared with the famine years ‘32 and ‘33The famine of 1932–1933 affected the major grain-producing areas of the Soviet Union, leading to the deaths of millions in those areas and severe food insecurity throughout the USSR. there is a great advance, and this year’s crop being a pretty good one, the advance will be maintained, at any rate for a time.

This fact is generally known outside, but what I wasn’t at all prepared for is the apallingly low level, compared with any other country, at which the Union now stands. I doubt if they will be out of danger of collapse from a dozen accidents for many years to come: at the very best it will be generations before they can attain anything which the masses in most European countries, let alone the USA, would at present call a tolerable standard of living, either as to housing, clothing or food. If they get into a European war, all the ground they have painfully gained in the last few years would be lost in a few months, and they’d be back where they were in the worst years of the last decade.

b) The Communist regime is being modified, and an official and military caste is being evolved, whose members enjoy a far better life than does the ordinary worker, whose lot they are supposed to share. So far, the privileges granted to them are not supposed to benefit their children, who are held to start from scratch, like the children of any worker, and only to rise if they show outstanding ability. But it is clear that, brought up in homes that are spacious and comfortable, with servants, and associating with people in prominent positions, they have far greater opportunities than any worker’s son can possess. And I suspect that it is the unavowed object of the regime, now, to breed a caste fit to serve the state in positions of trust, and that the regime is prepared to reward the members of that caste at least as well as their opposite numbers are rewarded in capitalist countries.

So far, there is not the slightest sign of any relaxation of the attitude of uncompromising hostility towards private trading, or private initiative in any kind of business. That may come, but the time is not yet.

I think the foregoing sums up my impressions after a very short stay: 15 days, of which 2 1/2 at Kieff, 7 at Moscow staying with the Brit. Ambassador, Ld. Chilston,Aretas Akers-Douglas, 2nd Viscount Chilston (1876–1947), a British diplomat who was the ambassador to the Soviet Union between 1933 and 1938. and the rest at Leningrad. I met a few soviet officials, the head of the State Export Bank (who is now my colleague on the Fin. CteeFinancial Committee of the League of Nations. of the League), and quantities of museum people—of whom more later. LitvinoffMaxim Maximovich Litvinov (1876–1951), a Russian revolutionary and prominent Soviet diplomat. was away, and of course I didn’t meet Stalin.Joseph Stalin (1878–1953), leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Few people do, nowadays. He is said to be in terror of his life since the Kyroff assassination,Sergei Mironovich Kirov (1886–1934), a prominent early Bolshevik leader in the Soviet Union. Kirov was shot and killed at his offices at the Smolny Institute on December 1, 1934. and his whereabouts are kept as secret as possible. It appears that he doesn’t sleep 2 consecutive nights in the same place.

He and the other big shots of the regime (first among whom is the head of the army, VoroschiloffKliment Yefremovich Voroshilov (1881–1969), a Soviet military officer, politician, and statesman.) live in great luxury. They have modest little flats in Moscow for show purposes, but superb country places at a convenient distance from town. The diplomats rarely see these places, but one of them, just transferred to another post, was entertained the other day at Voroschiloff’s datcha (country house), and told me that there are few if any European monarchs who live in such splendour. This was music to my ears. Isn’t it marvellous to find a new Genghis KhanGenghis Khan (1162?– 1227), the founder and Great Khan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire. or Timur LerekTimur (1336–1405), historically known as Tamerlane, a Turkic ruler who conquered much of Asia and founded the Timurid dynasty. lording it over Russia?

I thought the people looked, on the whole, least badly dressed and fed at Kieff, most miserable at Leningrad, Moscow coming somewhere between the two. At Kieff one did see a few girls with properly washed and ironed summer dresses. At Moscow hardly any, at Leningrad none. Most of the people look as if their clothes had been worn without interruption for 5 or 6 years—indeed I’m told that very few people have more than one suit, and that that suit has to last on an average 6 years. I didn’t see a neat looking pair of shoes or stockings on a single Russian the whole time I was there. Most of them wear a sort of bedraggled tennis-shoe in summer. If the shoes are leather, they look as if they hadn’t been cleaned for months.

The people, at any rate in summer, are not very dirty—surprisingly not, considering the conditions in which they live. I rode in trains constantly, which are always packed, and I took one journey of 3 hours 3 cl.“Third class.” (“hard”) in a train packed with peasants, on a rainy day. I was surprised by the absence of stench. But there is a sort of smell of poverty, like the old familiar refugee smell with a peculiar Russian quality to it that I can’t describe, all over the place; one never escapes it. And of course, with the exception of the Universities, Museums etc. all the houses are like slum-dwellings, and look fearfully out of repair. It is characteristic of the regime that it should have spent millions and millions on the Moscow Metro, which puts all other similar affairs in the shade, with marble stations each one designed by a different architect, before it has made the slightest dent on the housing question in a town which had 1 million people before 1918 and now has close on 4, lodged in the same space as once lodged the 1 million. The regime says it is going to rebuild Moscow altogether, but with the resources at its disposal, it can’t do more than rebuild one small street a year, and it will take, not 10 years as planned, but at least 100 before Moscow is transformed. In Kieff the buildings look rather better, and less crowded—largely because the capital of the Ukraine has been shifted to Kharkoff, which has dégagéd“Opened up.” Kieff. In Leningrad they look worse than in Moscow, even, and the streets also.

Their rolling stock is in frightful condition, I didn’t see a post-war carriage or truck the whole time I was there, and the permanent way is in desperate need of rebuilding. Railway accidents are of constant occurrence. My hosts begged me not to take the “Red Star”, the fastest train Moscow-Leningrad, because it runs at a pace which every engineer knows means a fearful risk on such a track. The old W-L“Wagon lit (sleeping car).” carriages are roomy and fairly clean, but unless it is raining, travelling is agony because of the dust. The track isn’t tarred, as it is in every other country, and the train in its course raises a very fine dust that gets into one’s nose and throat and gave me violent hay-fever. If one opens a window, one is lost. If one doesn’t, one stifles.

The people themselves I found kindly, and above all supremely indifferent, passive. On that trip I took 3d class, I with my hat (no Russian wears a hat, only caps) my luggage etc evoked not the faintest surprise or interest. No one looked at me or spoke to me or about me. It was pelting outside. In any ether country, the peasants as they get into the train would have showed some satisfaction in escaping from the rain, or cursed the weather, or joked about it. Those people never said a word to each other. They sat like animals, staring in front of them, utterly blank. Are they miserable? Any other people would rebel under their conditions. I don’t believe that on the whole they are materially better off than they were before the war, but the human animal (to say nothing of the Russki) being what he is, it is doubtless an immense alleviation to them to know (or to believe, for it isn’t true) that all their fellow Russkis are equally miserable. And, if I read the look in their eyes right, it won’t revolt them when they learn that some of their leaders are living like Nabobs. They are far too fatalistic, too indolent and helpless and inept to face such a situation with any will to change it. It took them centuries to work up enough indignation to get rid of Czardom. It will doubtless be centuries before they upset the present tyranny. In a few words, I feel that what signifies about the Russians is, not that they had Czars and now are led by Communists, but that they were, are and will be Russians. Probably the vast mass, 99.9% or more, are living on a bare margin, now as then. Plus ça change . . .“The more that changes . . . ” The complete expression is “plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose” (The more that changes, the more it remains the same).

All the foreigners I saw there, diplomatists, consuls and others, said much the same thing: the worst of it is that it’s impossible to have any ordinary human relations with the Russians. In Moscow, there are a hundred or so officials who have leave to accept invitations at the Embassies and Legations, and the theatrical managers etc. are among them, but there it stops. The foreigner knows that if he makes an overture, he may be doing the Russian a terrible disservice, may cause him to be sent to Siberia for 10 years. This severance of relations between Russians and foreigners is a point of deliberate policy, of course, like the absolute interdiction of all foreign newspapers. The only foreigners who are given some freedom in this respect (seeing Russians privately) are known Communists or sympathisers. The rest are banned, doubtless because it is feared that they might give an account of affairs in other countries at variance with the official version, which is that conditions are far better in Russia than in Central and Western Europe, or even in the USA.

Now for the things I went to see:

Kieff. I saw the mosaics in St. Sophia.Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kiev, 1037–1299, which has eleventh-century Byzantine mosaics. They are very lovely, very accomplished, between St. Luke in PhocisHosios Loukas, a walled monastery in Boeotia, Greece. The Katholikon (Cathedral church) is decorated with early eleventh-century mosaics. and Serres in Macedonia.Probably a twelfth-century mosaic of Saint Andrew the Apostle from the Old Cathedral, now in the Archaeological Museum of Serres. About 1030. Pure Byzantine, and quite unrestored, except for some plaster and paint here and there.

The church is closed, and I had very great difficulty in getting in. I made friends with the architect in charge, who is a good Byzantinist, named Morgiliewsky.Morgiliewsky (Morgilievsky) has not been identified. I learned afterwards at Moscow that the military wish to demolish the Church, as it’s on a strategical spot which they want to use for their purposes. There seems to be an outcry about it from the Museum people, and perhaps the Church may be saved, but I shouldn’t be surprised if it shared the fate of St. Michael’s,Royall Tyler does not seem to be aware that, although Saint Michael’s Monastery was demolished in the spring of 1935, the cathedral church was not demolished until 1936. The church was reconstructed and opened in 1999 following Ukrainian independence. See Titus D. Hewryk, “The Monastery of St. Michael of the Golden Domes,” in The Lost Architecture of Kyiv (New York: The Ukranian Museum, 1982). Kieff, which has been demolished. Some of St. Michael’s mosaics,Although the removal of the mosaics and frescoes began on June 26, 1934, the work was not completed by the time of demolition in 1936. The mosaics were divided between the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, the State Tretyakov Gallery and Russian Museum in Moscow, and the Pechersk Lavra Museum in Kiev. Those that remained in Kiev were taken to Germany by the Nazis during the Second World War. After the war ended, they were returned to Moscow. Some of the mosaics and frescoes were reinstalled in the reconstructed church by 2000. which are XIe C. Russian imitating Byz., have been preserved and are now in the Lavra Museum.The Kiev Pechersk Lavra Museum, one of the largest Ukrainian museums in Kiev.

Kieff, on the whole, looks like a Polish town—Cracow. All the other churches were done over in the XVII cent. in Polish baroque of Italian derivation. The Lavra contains a lot of icons (I never wish to see another Russian icon again, not even of the best, early ones), and a very few Byz. objects, including 3 Coptic paintings on wood (fr. Sinai).The three early icons are of John the Baptist, Sergius and Bacchus, and the Virgin and Child. Today they are kept in the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Arts in Kiev.

Moscow. What I chiefly wanted to see was the Chloudoff Psalter,The Chludow Psalter (State Historical Museum, Moscow, MS gr. 129d), an illuminated Byzantine manuscript of the mid-ninth century. Originally kept on Mount Athos, the manuscript was brought to Moscow in 1847 and acquired by the art collector Alexei Ivanovich Chludow (1818–1882). In 1917, the manuscript was transferred to the State Historical Museum, Moscow. and I saw it to my heart’s content, and several other superb Byz. MSS as well, all in the Library of the Historical Museum. Then, there are the icons in the Tretiakoff Gallery,The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. The nucleus of the collection was acquired by Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov (1832–1898) beginning in 1856 and was given to the Russian state in 1892. beginning with the celebrated Vladimirskaya Madonna,The Theotokos of Vladimir icon, tempera and gold leaf on panel, early twelfth century, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. The icon was brought to the city of Vladimir in 1155, whence its name. which is said to have been a present from Constantine MonomachosConstantine IX Monomachos (ca. 1000–1055), the Byzantine emperor from 1042 to 1055. (1046). Much more likely XII-XIII, I think. It’s a ruin and a palimpsest, with a vestige of beauty. Then the late XIV paintings by Theophanes the Greek,Theophanes the Greek (ca. 1340–ca. 1410), a Byzantine Greek artist and icon painter in Russia, was the mentor of the Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev (ca. 1360s–1427 or 1430). pretty good, and well preserved (cleverly cleaned from repaints), and the few greatly vaunted icons by Roubleff,Andrei Rublev (ca. 1360s–1427 or 1430), Russian icon and fresco painter. early XV, who followed Theophanes.

The great work by Roubleff is the Troïtskaya Troïtza,Trinity icon, ca. 1410, tempera and traces of gilding on panel, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. three angels representing the Trinity, and it is a very lovely thing, of indefinable shimmering colours. I went and gazed at it every day while I was in Moscow, and came to the conclusion that its charm is mainly of the nature of the charm of an iridesced glass or Persian pot—fortuitous. As one sees it now, the colours bear no relation to what Roubleff intended, and are commanded by a most lovely egg-shell white, which is really the sub-preparation of the panel and was not intended to show anywhere. The ground was gold, and is now white, with few traces of gold remaining.

The purple, blue, green robes of the angels now show chiefly the white sub-preparation, the other colours merely veiling the white. The effect is perfectly lovely, and Roubleff designed well, but where his colour is well preserved it is heavy and murky, and I’d be prepared to bet heavily that if we could see the panel in anything like its original condition we’d get a bad shock. As for the rest, the Donskaya MadonnaOur Lady of the Don (Donskaya Madonna), tempera and gilding on panel, fourteenth century, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Some believe the icon was painted by Theophanes the Greek (ca. 1340–ca. 1410) in ca. 1382–1395. Tradition holds that the icon was a gift from the Don Cossacks to Dmitry Donskoy (1350–1389), who reigned as Prince of Moscow from 1359 and Grand Prince of Vladimir from 1363 to his death in 1389. The icon later was housed in the Donskoy Monastery, Moscow, founded in 1591. etc., all I can say is that the process of cleaning off the repaints of ages recently applied has sometimes produced lovely and fortuitous effects of veiled colour—and much more rarely there’s a good design. But it’s pretty poor stuff, the Novgorod, Moscow, Vladimir schools—I never want to see another of them.

Then there’s the Museum of Western Art,After the Soviet appropriation of the art collections of Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin (1854–1936) and Ivan Morozov (1871–1921) in 1918, their mansions in Moscow became the State Museum of New Western Art (Государственный Музей нового западного искусствa), sections I and II. In 1928, the two sections were merged and exhibited in the former Morozov mansion. In 1948, the State Museum of New Western Art was closed down by Stalin for ideological reasons. The two collections were randomly divided between the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, and the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. the old MorosoffIvan Morozov (1871–1921), Russian textile manufacturer and art collector. and SchtschukinSergei Ivanovich Shchukin (1854–1936), Russian cloth merchant and art collector. Colls., with wonderful Matisses, Cézannes, Van Goghs, Monets, Derains etc etc, and the Fine Arts Museum,The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Музей изобразительных искусств им. А.С. Пушкина), a museum of European art in Moscow. with a very few Byz. things—one extremely fine ivory.Christ Crowing the Emperor Constantine VII, tenth century, ivory, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

Of course—the Kremlin!The Moscow Kremlin, a fortified complex that includes five palaces, four cathedrals, and the enclosing wall and towers of the Kremlin. The complex serves as the official residence of the president of Russia. It’s walls look like the Castello Sforzesco walls,Castello Sforzesco, Milan, the former seat and residence of the Duchy of Milan that now houses several museums and art collections. and were built by Italians. The churches in it are hideous XVII-XVIII Russian constructions, and I consider supremely hideous the Ch. of St. BasilSaint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow also known as the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, Pokrovsky Cathedral, and the Cathedral of Saint Vasily the Blessed. It was built between 1555 and 1561 on the order of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. built just outside the Kremlin by Ivan the Terrible.Ivan IV Vasilyevich (Ivan the Terrible) (1530–1584), the Grand Prince of Moscow (1533–1547) and tsar of all the Russias (1547–1584). Well, one’s negations are never of any value, so I’ll only dwell on things I do like. The Kremlin MuseumThe State Historical and Cultural Museum (Moscow Kremlin), a collection of some sixty thousand objects and art works from the third millennium BCE to the present. really is a marvel. It contains little Byz: a lovely relief of Christ carved in Lapis,Cameo with Christ, Byzantine, tenth–eleventh century, lapis, State Armoury Museum (Moscow Kremlin), Moscow. 2-3 good steatites,These include Saint Demetrius on Horseback, Byzantine, eleventh–twelfth century, steatite, State Armoury Museum (Moscow Kremlin), Moscow, inv. no. 16625. 5 small and not exceptional Byz. enamels,These include Anastasis, Byzantine, twelfth century, enamel and gold, State Armoury Museum (Moscow Kremlin), Moscow. some early Russian enamels imitating Byz. By the way, I saw the enamel pendants, barmes as they are called, which Gourko cited as evidence in favour of the authenticity of the Botkin enamelsEnamels acquired by the Russian Mikhail Petrovich Botkin (1839–1914) in the late nineteenth–early twentieth century and believed at the time to be Byzantine. They are now considered to be forgeries. See Constance Stromberg, “A Technical Study of Three Cloissoné Enamels from the Botkin Collection,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 46 (1988): 25–36. he had in hand. Well, there’s no sort of resemblance. The barmes, which are Russian, are in exclusively opaque, rather dusty colours, and the setting of the cloisons is timid and rather inexpert, but attractive. The Botkin enamels G. had have several translucent tones, garish colours, and the cloison setting is over-confident and vulgar. I can’t imagine what Gourko can see in the way of resemblance between the two groups.

Then, in the Kremlin Museum, there are the treasures of the Czars, their coronation robes, the gifts of plate they received from foreign princes etc. Incredible wealth of magnificent Persian and Anatolian XVI cent. silks and velvets, à l’état de neuf,“In mint condition.” also Venetian and Genoese, a stunning Polish carpet,Polish carpets, carpets woven in Persia in the first half of the seventeenth century. The name derives from the Exposition Universelle of 1878 in Paris, where a number of rugs of this type were exhibited by the Polish prince Wladyslaw Czartoryski (1828–1894). masses of English Tudor silver—far more than the British Isles can show, etc etc. State coaches, marvels. Perhaps the loveliest thing there is Catherine the Great’sCatherine II (Catherine the Great) (1729–1796), empress of Russia (1762–1796). Wedding dress (she was 14),Catherine was married on August 21, 1745, at the age of sixteen, to Peter, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and later tsar of all the Russias. Catherine’s silver-embroidered wedding dress is in the State Armoury Museum (Moscow Kremlin), Moscow. in cloth of silver, with silver embroideries on it. No colour, made in Paris. It’s like a white lily seen by moonlight, and it took my breath away—a marvel of marvels. Beside it, her coronation dress,Catherine’s coronation was on September 12, 1762. Her coronation dress is in the State Armoury Museum (Moscow Kremlin), Moscow. made in Russia, obvious and heavy.

The Bolsheviks have taken down most of the walls of the Chinese city,Kitay-gorod (“Chinese City”), a business district in Moscow encircled by mostly reconstructed medieval walls. which were lovely (one bit remains), and the main gate of the same. “We had to, because of the traffic.” ??? “Oh, but next year there’ll be a motor-car to every five workers!” Tu parles.“Yeah, right!” That’s the system, destroy first and then wait and see, with the eye of Communist faith.

Incidentally, it’s almost impossible to get leave to see the Kremlin at present; ChilstonAretas Akers-Douglas, 2nd Viscount Chilston (1876–1947), a British diplomat who was the ambassador to the Soviet Union between 1933 and 1938. only succeeded in getting me in because he started trying a fortnight in advance. The thousands of USA tourists, who have come on the promise of Intourist blares: “Come to Moscow and see the Kremlin”, are dashed when they find they can only see it from outside. They go and expostulate to Bill Bullitt,William Christian Bullitt Jr. (1891–1967), an American diplomat, journalist, and novelist, was the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union (1933–1936). whom I saw pacifying droves of them with champagne. He can’t get them admitted.

Leningrad. The HermitageThe State Hermitage Museum, an art museum in Saint Petersburg, was founded as the Winter Palace by Catherine the Great in 1764 and opened as a museum in 1852. is the first, indeed only Museum of the world for Sassanian and Post-Sassanian, and with some qualifications in favour of Budapest, for Scythian. Then there’s the VIe and VIIe cent. Byz. silver, also unrivalled. Apart from that, very little Byz. Very good VIe Consular diptychs and pyxes, and some rather poor XII-XIII-XIV ivories. One lovely little miniature mosaic.Possibly Saint Theodore Stratelatos, Byzantine, early fourteenth century, miniature mosaic, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Very little in the way of textiles.

Orbelli [sic],Joseph Orbeli (1887–1961), a Soviet medievalist and academician of Armenian descent, specialized in the medieval history of the southern Caucasus and administered the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg between 1934 and 1951. who is now director (WaldhauerOskar Waldhauer (1883–1935), a German classical archaeologist who became head of the Department of Antiquities of the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, in 1918. died last winter, after 35 years of service, and his widow was sent to Siberia the day of the funeral, no one knows why)—Orbelli received me like a Prince, and he and MatzulevitchLeonid Antonovich Matzulevich (1886–1959), a Russian Byzantine art historian.—I only saw these people in the Museum, having been warned not to attempt to see them outside, or to mention any topic to them other than archaeology—and the girls (not lovely, but full of good will) allowed me to see and handle everything, including the Scythian gold. They closed the gold-room to the public, locked the door, opened the cases and let me go to it. The Sassanian and Byz. silver was all stored away in connexion with the preparations for the Iranian Art Congress and Exhibition,The Third International Congress and Exhibition of Iranian Art and Archaeology, Saint Petersburg and Moscow, September 1935. See D. Talbot Rice, “The Third International Congress and Exhibition of Iranian Art and Archaeology, Saint Petersburg, 1935” Ars Islamica 3, no. 1 (1936): 99–109, 111. but they had it all out for me to see and examine, likewise all their Byz. and Coptic stuff. The latter is pretty important—in fact, (in Coptic) I think they have the best collection after Lyon and the V and A. No very big important pieces, but a very good representative coll. for study, including some unica, and running to 3000 pieces.

Of course I needn’t say anything about the Scythian and Greco-Scyth. gold, or about the Sassanian, tho’ in spite of all one has read about it one is astounded by the wealth and variety of their collection. They’ve added lots of Sass. silver lately, and they pay big prices for it: £3-4000 for a silver plate. I kick myself for having sold mineRoyall Tyler’s Sasanian silver object has not been identified. for £1,800. Still, those were gold pounds, and anyway, what’s the good repining? They have one thing I was quite unprepared for: a big (about 1. X 0.40 m.) fragmentThis textile has not been identified. of a wool and linen tapestry, with a pheasant in a circle, much like the pheasants on the Aix-la-Chapelle silk fragments and quite Sassanian in style, found in N. Caucasus. This is the first wool tapestry, of the Coptic technique I’ve seen which convinces me as being really Sass., and now I’ve seen it I’m more than ever sure that the pieces found in Egypt, with designs—elements of which are imitated from Sass. models, are not Sass. but Coptic. The taste in colour and arrangement of this Caucasus piece are entirely different, and genuinely Sass., tho’ of course the technique is one which the Sassanians learned in Egypt from the Copto-Byzantines.

The Pasirik findThe Pazyryk find consists of the contents of Iron Age, Scythian-type tombs (kurgans) found in the Pazyryk Valley in the Altai Mountains, Siberia; the pieces date between the sixth and third centuries BCE. A wide array of finds come from the Pazyryk tombs, including organic objects such as felt hangings, Chinese silk, one of the earliest known pile carpets, horses in elaborate trappings, wooden furniture, and other household goods. These finds were preserved when water entered the tombs in antiquity and froze, encasing the burial goods in ice, which remained frozen in the permafrost until they were excavated. is not yet exhibited, but it is in course of arrangement and I saw the most of it. You probably know about it. An expedition under Grieschnov [sic],Mikhail Petrovich Griaznov 1902–1984), Russian historian and archaeologist who excavated the Pazyryk kurgans in 1929. in 1929, found in the Altai a Scythian prince’s grave of the 4e cent. B.C. The prince’s own coffin—a hollowed out tree trunk—had been robbed—perhaps some of the old Siberian finds now in the Gold Room came from there. But the finders had neglected half a dozen bodies of horses that lay round about the prince’s coffin, on ice, literally, for it’s high up in the Altai and ice there is everlasting, so that the bodies were quite well preserved. And so were all their trappings, harnesses, saddles and saddle cloths with elaborate applications in the Scythian animal style, and above all the artificial antlers, of wood and leather and covered with gold, on their heads. The theory is that the Scyths had used stags as mounts before they used horses, and that the artificial antlers—and their love of the stag in art—are due to the ancient memory of the services the stag had rendered. Grieschnov brought back, in a refrigerator car, one complete horse, and the heads of several others, with all the trappings, and they have now been chemically treated and mounted, with the essential amount of straightening out and consolidation, as they were of course badly crushed in the tomb. The bits have side pieces of wood, carved in the form of stags, and there are quantities of other motives—antilopes, tigers etc etc., many of them covered with gold. The effect of the whole is overpowering, and I really had to steady myself on Matzulevitch’s arm when the vision first burst upon me. Fettich will go quite out of his mind when he sees it.

Feverish preparations are going on for the Iranian Art Exhibition and Congress. The Congress is to start on Sept. 10e. I detest Congresses, and don’t at all regret being unable to come to this one. Also, I suspect that the Exhibition won’t be anything like ready by Sept. 10. But it is intended to last till the end of the year, and it is going to be a wonder of wonders, and a unique opportunity for seeing stuff from the Museums all over Russia. Much of the stuff is already in Leningrad and I saw it, but more is coming, and also from Persia. The French are sending (so I was told in Leningrad) all the Sass. silver from the CDM—and the coupe de Chosroes!!!The Cup of Khosrow I (Cup of Salomon), Sasanian, sixth century, gold, rock crystal, garnet, and green glass, Cabinet des Médailles, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

I hope the foregoing will upset you as it has me, and make you determine to see that Exhibition, which you might do in Dec., if you come over to Europe in Nov. And perhaps I might go there with you! It’s a crazy idea of mine, and of course a dozen things might prevent me. But anyway, I can’t bear the idea of your not seeing those things, including Moscow.

I’ve passed over Codex Petropolitanus,Codex Petropolitanus, an incomplete, illuminated Byzantine uncial gospel book, ninth century, National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg, Gr. 34 (Gregory/Aland 041). which I examined thoroughly in the Leningrad Public Library,The National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, which was known as the Imperial Public Library from 1795 to 1917, the Russian Public Library from 1917 to 1925, and the State Public Library from 1925 to 1992. and the pictures in the Hermitage, which I saw rather hastily. The RembrandtsRembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606–1669), a Dutch Baroque painter. are I think the best single Collection of R. I’ve ever seen anywhere, and the DanaeRembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Danae, 1636, oil on canvas. Catherine the Great acquired the painting in 1772 from the Baron Crozat Collection. a marvel—quite early, (1636) and with some feeling of VermeerJohannes (Jan) Vermeer (1632–1675), a Dutch Baroque genre painter. about it in spite of its life size scale, but a pure wonder. RubensSir Peter Paul Rubens(1577–1640), a Flemish Baroque painter. also—the Perseus and AndromedaPeter Paul Rubens, Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1620–1621, oil on canvas, The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. perhaps the most brilliant achievement of his earlier manner—jewel like, fresh as dew. And there are half a dozen immortal sketches by him—esp. one for a big picture “James I directing the education of his son, Prince Charles”.Peter Paul Rubens, The Uniting of Great Britain, ca. 1632–1633, oil on panel, The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. And an exquisite portrait of a fair-headed girl,Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of the Lady-in-Waiting of the Infanta Isabella, 1620s, oil on panel, The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. a lady in waiting of the Archduchess Isabel. Rubens was in love with that girl, I’m sure.

Masses of delightful lesser Dutch Masters, incredibly good pictures by painters who are usually dull: Teniers,Either David Teniers the Elder (1582–1649) or David Teniers the Younger (1610–1690), Flemish Baroque painters. Wouwerman,Philips Wouwerman (also Wouwermans) (baptized 1619– 1668), a Dutch Baroque painter. PynackerAdam Christiaensz Pynacker (or Pijnacker) (1622–1673), a Dutch Baroque painter.—a landscapePossibly Adam Pynacker, Barges on a River, ca. 1654, oil on canvas, The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. by Pynacker that I think I shall never forget, so lovely it is. The Italian and Spanish pictures on the whole rather dull, but with notable exceptions, and lots of modern French, though less than in Moscow.

And now this capital of Estonia—a most charming little capital of 150,000 inhabitants, with its medieval walls and towers wonderfully preserved, lots of agreeable buildings of all periods, and its cleanly, cheerful, honest, self-respecting people, few of them rich and hardly any of them destitute. So comforting and reassuring, after that nightmare of the USSR.

I can well imagine how impressionable visitors to the USSR may be swept off their feet by enthusiasm: the Russians can pull off a stunt like the Moscow Metro, or their colossal communist demonstrations, or their new heavy industry. But the horrible conditions in which the whole population—except the soldiers and the big shots—is living is to me the main fact about the regime, and I see no prospect of there being any very great progress there for a long time to come. The housing problem alone is far beyond their resources to deal with, and practically nothing has been done about it for over 20 years.

Much love—

R. T.


Please, send me photos, of your Scythian objects, esp. the gold tigerBZ.1923.7. and the mule,BZ.1923.8. so that I may forward them to the Hermitage, and also photos, of your two great Coptic Tapestries.BZ.1929.1 and BZ.1934.1.

Or, better still, mail them direct to the

Director of the Hermitage Musaum


with a note saying they are being sent at my request.

They have a gold tigerPanther, late seventh–sixth century BCE, gold and enamel, inv. no. СИ.1727-1/88, The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. remarkably like yours, with its bronze core intact.

Hayford is on the ocean, to spend a fortnight at Antigny, and I’ve got to rush there as fast as I can and try to settle the outstanding Vol. IIIL’art byzantin. problems with him. His old father is quite capable of cabling for him to start back before the fortnight is up. Hayford will have to sail back on the 24e Aug. in any case.

Associated People: Hayford Peirce
Associated Things: L'art byzantin
Associated Artworks: BZ.1923.7; BZ.1923.8; BZ.1929.1; BZ.1934.1