Supported by The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation
Supported by The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation

Decorative and applied art



Objects of worship


Art Object from the Collection of the Roerich Family in the State Museum of Oriental art

The basis for the arts and crafts collection of the Roerich family was laid by N.K. Roerich himself in his early youth. As a rule, an artist cannot do without works of art that should surround him. N.K. Roerich was not an exception. It is known that during his Saint Petersburg period, Nikolay Konstantinovich began to create a collection of paintings of European "old masters". However, these interests of the artist were not destined to be continued. After the coup that the Bolsheviks made in Russia in October 1917, the Roerich family stayed in Finland, where the artist was recovering after a disease that had happened in April 1917. The aggravation of relationship between the Russian Soviet Republic and Finland, which became an independent state, resulted in the closure of the border between these countries. The collection of N.K. Roerich remained in his Petrograd apartment, and it was transferred to the State Hermitage. In 1918, the family left Finland and began many years of wandering around the world. Collecting art objects fell into the shade for some time. However, during his stay in the United States in 1921–1923, N.K. Roerich returned to this hobby. At this time, his interests have noticeably shifted towards the East.

In 1923 the family of N.K. Roerich moved to India, and in 1924 his multi-year Central Asian expedition was launched, as a result of which an extensive artistic and scientific material was obtained. In 1929, the artist with his wife and their elder son settled in the Nagar estate in the Kulu Valley in the north of India, where they continued their collecting activities.

The State Museum of the East holds a part of the Roerich collection, which in 1977 was presented to the Museum by an American citizen – Katherine Campbell-Stibbe, a close friend and collaborator of the Roerich family.

Currently, the collection, stored in the SME, includes more than two hundred different items:

– European and American paintings – 16 works;

– a Japanese scroll;

– Russian and Bulgarian icons – 10 items;

– an Indian miniature – 18 sheets;

– thangkas (Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese ones) – 28 items;

– a Buddhist altar with a thangka;

– religious bronze sculptures (India, China, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Southeast Asia) – 37 items;

– Buddhist icons in metal cases (gau) – 3 items;

– fragments of stone sculptures – 10 items;

– wooden sculptures – 13 items;

– ivories – 4 items;

– ceramics – 17 items;

– Ancient Egyptian objects (ushabti, amulets, etc.);

– a fragment of an ancient Roman stone sculpture;

– a jar made of Syrian glass;

– various objects of arts and crafts, made of metal – 40 items;

– objects made of semiprecious stones – 22 items;

– fabrics, embroidery (India, China, Russia, Iran, Central Asia, Japan) – 12 items;

– carpets – 4 items;

– a tapestry.

In 2014, this part of the Roerich family collection was published in the book by O.V. Rumyantseva "A Splendid Gift" (thereinafter, the item IDs corresponds to those in the book). However, a systematic scientific description and study of this collection is to be completed.

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The preliminary analysis of the entire collection allows us to make several observations.

First, the collection is very heterogeneous both in terms of composition – from ancient Egyptian archaeological objects to American paintings of the middle of the 20th century – and material – from semiprecious stones to textiles.

Secondly, the collection includes items that are very different in their value. These are obvious museum objects (such as No. 166 – a Buddha head from Gandhara of the 2nd or 3rd century), and mass material – works of oriental arts and crafts, up to modern souvenir items (such as No. 297 – a chased image of Ganesha, India, beginning of the 20th century.), as well as purely memorial objects (such as the memorial medal for the opening of the Master Building in New York in 1929).

Meanwhile, the part of the collection that is stored in the SME quite accurately reflects the life of the Roerichs, and some predilections both of the artist himself and his family members, as well as some close collaborators who participated in creating this collection.

So, the passion for and engagement in archaeology since his youth influenced the N.K. Roerich's interest in archaeological objects. It is no surprise that the collection contains several ancient Egyptian objects (scarabs, ushabti, etc.), which were widely sold both in antique shops, and at auctions until recently. Several antique ceramic objects (a kanfar, a lamp, etc.) can be also classified as mass material having no great artistic or historical value.

The N.K. Roerich's staying in the United States was an important stage in his life and creative biography. Here he formed a circle of devoted followers, with whose help he managed to create a number of remarkable cultural institutions and organizations. It is known that N.K. Roerich dealt with a wide circle of American art figures, so it is not surprising that the collection includes paintings created by a number of American artists of the time (No. 437, 422–450 – O. Pushmanyan, Ch. Ryder, W. Lee, F. Frieseke, M. Buhl, etc.). To biographers N.K. Roerich still has to answer the question how the collection was replenished with the works of Italian artists (E.C. Fute, C. Giorni, No. 438–441). A French engraving and drawing by J. Bellange (No. 434, 436; 17th century) indicate a strong interest in European art tradition. However, we should first take into account the fact that part of the works was a personal collection of K. Campbell, and in spite of the fact that she often relied on the recommendations of the Roerichs (mostly those of Svyatoslav Nikolaevich), she, of course, often acquired works in her own discretion.

Several oriental costumes in the collection were used to create portraits of family members or closest friends (see, for example: No. 386 (Caftan. India, 19th century) and a photo of S.N. Roerich wearing this caftan; No. 388 (Kurma. China, 18th century) and the "Portrait of K. Campbell in a Chinese Kurma", painted by S.N. Roerich in 1926. Textile could be used as draperies in picturesque compositions.

Baptized in infancy, N.K. Roerich was an Orthodox Christian and worked hard on objects for church buildings. As an art theorist, he became one of those who affirmed the artistic value of medieval Russian iconography in the history of world painting. Therefore, it is not surprising that his collection included Russian icons (No. 365–370). At the same time, the presence of Bulgarian icons may be due to the fact that, in the Orthodox icon-painting tradition, a special place is given to the Balkan school, in which Bulgarian iconography stands out (No. 371–373). It is known that in the late 1920s – early 1930s, these icons were on the walls in the chapel room of Sergius of Radonezh in the building of the Museum of Nikolay Roerich in New York. It is possible that these objects had come a long way around the world with the Roerichs before they found themselves in the Moscow museum collection. It is obvious that the destiny of Orthodox icons was shared by two Russian silver vessels of the 18th century (No. 247, 248).

During the European travels of the Roerichs, their collection was actively replenished with new items. Thus, a silver tableware for 12 persons in a wooden case of the firm Hancock, England, dating from the 19th century, was most likely acquired by the family during their stay in London in 1920 and was used in everyday life. In addition, the museum collection contains other utilitarian European things – scissors (No. 279), vases (No. 159, 160), as well as objects from other parts of the world – a Chinese smoking set (No. 275), a tube with filter for drinking mate (No. 273), etc.

The collection of the museum includes an Order of the Rose and Cross, which is a traditional award of the Rosicrucians (No. 281). The question of who was awarded this order – N.K. Roerich himself or some of his ancestors – is still open.

The collection includes a variety of porcelain and ceramic vessels – from a cup for washing hands of medieval China to the European vases of the late 19th – early 20th century.

The main body of the collection stored in the SME consists of eastern works, primarily associated with Buddhism. They appeared in this collection after the Central Asian expedition, whose route passed in the north of India, China, Mongolia and Tibet. During the journey, extensive material was collected, including ritual objects (various bronze sculptures, thangkas et al.), jewelry, works of arts and crafts and other. There is a fragment of sculpture that stands apart: a head of Buddha, referring to the so-called "Gandhara art" and dating from the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. This fragment is a classic iconography specimen of the Buddha image, which became widespread in the first centuries A.D. in the territory of the Kushan Empire. Gandhara (a historical and cultural region of India) was one of the centers where the anthropomorphic image of the Buddha was formed. This head was purchased by K. Campbell, apparently, as usual, according to the expert advice of S.N. Roerich.

Yu.N. Roerich, a famous orientalist and buddhologist, paid particular attention to the collection of Buddhist bronze sculptures. The part of the collection that is stored in the SME, includes over 30 different sculptural images. Mainly, these are common objects of the 18th – 19th centuries. At the same time, the Moscow collection features two bronze sculptures which are of scientific interest: an altar composition of Manjushri with Attendants, and a statue of Maitreya. Both objects were included in the collective monograph of E.V. Ganevskaya, A.F. Dubrovina and E.D. Ognevaya "The Five Families of the Buddha. Metal Sculpture of Northern Buddhism of the 9th – 19th in the collection of the SME" (Moscow, 2004. Pp. 196–197). The authors proposed the following dating and localization of these works: in their opinion, Manjushri with Attendants is dating from the 14th or 15th century; it could be done in Western Tibet (Nepal?); Maitreya is dating from the 15th century and came from Tibet (Nepal?).

An analysis of the range of bronze sculptures in the collection reveals that special attention was paid to the image of Tara – one of the most popular female characters of the Buddhist pantheon. According to one of the mythological versions, Tara was born from a tear of Avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of contemplation) and is the embodiment of infinite compassion.

Another significant part of the collection consists of thangkas in the amount of 28 items. Thangkas are often referred to as icons, whereas in the Buddhist ritual practice, these painted scrolls played only the role of a stimulant during the meditation. The collection includes thangkas of the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly Tibetan, in smaller numbers, Mongolian and Chinese ones. Thangka is a scroll of cotton fabric or silk, painted with mineral paints over a special primer made of a mixture of glue and chalk (kaolin). The artist was obliged to follow certain iconographic and iconographic canons. After the completion of the work on a thangka, the Buddhist lamas performed a ceremony of consecration of the image. On the reverse side of the scroll, the lama put the prints on his palms and wrote a mantra. Most often they used the formula "ohm – ah – hum". This rite is fixed on the back of the thangka "Tsogshin of the Buddha Shakyamuni" made in Tibet in the 19th century (No. 348). Usually, a thangka was framed with silk bands – red and yellow. They symbolized the iridescent radiance emanating from the image. If the thangka was made on special order, then brocade frame was used. Then a wider frame was sewn, which was made according to canonical proportions. Initially, the thangka was covered with a thin silk veil, which was supposed to protect the image from dust and soot.

Among the images that can be found on the thangkas in the Roerichs' collection, there the Buddha, Shakyamuni, Amitabha, Manjushri, Vajrapani, Padmapani, and others. There are two thangkas depicting the canonic scene of Tsogshin (literally: a meeting of those who give an abode). Such compositions feature a strict hierarchy in the arrangement of characters.

Of great interest in the collection is an illustration to the astrological treatise "Vaydurya Karpo" ("A Garland of Blue Beryl") from the "Kalachakra" series ("The Wheel of Time"). This treatise was written by the eminent scientist Desrida Sangyegyatso (1653–1705), who was the regent of the 5th Dalai Lama. "Kalachakra" is an an astrological calendar that was used to predict the future and determine the meaning of the past. This illustration table was made in the 19th century.

Along with Buddhist thangkas, the collection includes one painting on fabric, representing a nine-tired composition depicting Hindu gods (No. 363). Judging by the iconography, it was made in Nepal in the 16th century.

The collection was replenished with 18 Indian miniatures. Some of them belong to the so-called "Mogul" school. In our case, these are portraits of nobles and dignitaries of various ranks. The other part refers to the so-called "Pahari" (mountain) school. This school was developed in the north of India. The basis of the repertoire of this school is the scenes from the Shivaite and Vishnuite mythology. Several miniatures depict historical figures, legendary in India, such in the miniature "Guru Nanak with his Disciples".

The collection includes jewelry (beads, necklaces, cases for amulets, amulets, brooches, belt, rings et al.) from different regions of the East: Central Asia, India, Tibet, Nepal, China. There is a group of caskets from India, China, Iran, Central Asia.

This publication on the portal marks the beginning of a broad study of the Roerichs' collection both from the point of view of the history of art and in the aspect of the memorial significance of its objects.

With the functioning of the portal and carrying out research on both individual works and groups of objects, the information in this section will be supplemented and modified.