Magnificent costumes from the Russian Empire: Siberia, Central Asia and the Far East

Russian Museum of Ethnography

Explore the collection of Emperor Nicholas II's art sculptures depicting the various ethnic groups living in the Russian Empire juxtaposed with the costume collection at the Russian Museum of Ethnography

The Peoples of Russia
In 1907, the Emperor Nicholas II commissioned the Imperial Porcelain Factory in Saint Petersburg to create state of the art figurines depicting the various ethnic groups living in the Russian Empire. He recognized the important role of documenting and celebrating the various ethnicities and costumes worn by approximately 200 ethnic groups living in the Russian Empire at the time. 

Who were the peoples of Russia depicted in the figurines?

The people depicted in the porcelain figurines were based on the First General Census of the Russian Empire carried out in 1897. The scientific achievements in the culture studies of the people in remote regions – Siberia, the Far East, and Central Asia, played an important role in the selection. The geopolitical interests of the imperial government also found their way to the approved list of people. As a result, the collection included sculptures of people living in territories adjacent to Russia.

The artistic principle

The basic artistic principle applied when creating the figurines was to accurately reflect the anthropological characteristics and costumes of each of the people depicted.

In its fullness and reproduction accuracy of the types and costumes, it surpassed the previous works of similar nature. Nonetheless, some mistakes were made in the depiction of clothes in the project, though, most probably, it did not happen through the fault of the sculptor. The reason for these discrepancies was, perhaps, the lack of reliable ethnographic data at the time.

Who made the sculpture?

Pavel Pavlovich Kamensky (1858–1922), a famous sculptor, who had been the Head of the Property Shop for the Imperial Theatres for many years, was entrusted with the direction of creating the sculptures. The models were moulded by the craftsmen of the Imperial Factory: A. Lukin, P. Shmakov, I. Zotov, A. Dietrich, and others. The majority of the figurines were painted by M. Gertsak, an artist. The creation process for the entire collection of figurines lasted from 1907 to 1917.

Pavel Kamensky was born on April 16, 1858, in Saint Petersburg. Having completed his course at the Military Gymnasium, in 1874-1885 Pavel Kamensky studied at the Academy of Arts. In 1907, Pavel Kamensky was invited to join a large project for creating a series of figures The Peoples of Russia. Until his last days, the sculptor continued working on this project. Currently, Pavel Kamensky is known to have carved 74 sculptures.

The costumes from Siberian Russia 

Siberian Russia

Siberia is an extensive geographical region, and by the broadest definition is also known as North Asia. Siberia has historically been a part of Russia since the 17th century. The territory of Siberia extends eastwards from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between the Pacific and Arctic drainage basins. It stretches southwards from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and to the national borders of Mongolia and China. With an area of 13.1 million square kilometres (5,100,000 sq mi), Siberia accounts for about 75% of Russia's land area, but it is home to just 40 million people – 27% of the country's population. This is equivalent to an average population density of about 3 inhabitants per square kilometre (7.8/sq mi) (approximately equal to that of Australia), making Siberia one of the most sparsely populated regions on Earth.

Khori Buryat women’s costume
Zabaykalskaya Oblast, Chita Uyezd, Aginsk Vedomstvo. Late 19th/Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

Khori Buryat headwear features a conical crown covered with blue silk, a wide cap band encased with black velvet, and a red silk tassel at the top. The headwear depicted in the figurine is that of a Mongolian type and not characteristic of the Khori Buryat costume. Tuyba, L-shaped studs, were a must-have adornment for married women. The long ends of the studs were woven into the bases of the braids, the short ones sticking out somewhat like horns on each side of the head. The figurine does not show the ends of the studs, as they are wrapped around by thick green-coloured tufts of hair. The robe hem reaches the ankles, exposing gutul, footwear with curved pointed toes. The figurine, however, features a much longer robe.

The headwear depicted in the figurine is that of a Mongolian type and not characteristic of the Khori Buryat costume.

Ket women’s summer сlothing
Yenisei Gubernia (Governorate), Turukhansk Krai

Women of Ket people in summer wore woolen robes, trimmed with lacing on the shoulders and on the sides.

Vogul figurine (woman)

Vogul is an old name of Mansi - indigineous people of Western Siberia.

Mansi (Vogul) women’s winter clothing
Tobolsk Gubernia (Governorate), Beryozovsky Uyezd. Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

A kerchief was an indispensable article of women’s clothing; the figurine does not depict a kerchief. Mansi reindeer herding women wore Nenets type shoes, yern vay, with the narrow side ending in a triangle at the instep; this item was ornamented with cross stripes of fur and wool. The figurine features men-style footwear.

Nenets (Samoyed) women’s festive clothing
Arkhangelsk Gubernia (Governorate). Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

A belt was an indispensable element of panitsa, Nenets women’s outer clothing. There is no belt in the sculpture. Nenets women’s footwear was distinguished by a triangle at the instep being the end of the shoe’s narrow side and ornamented with cross stripes of fur and wool. The figurine features men-style footwear.

Tuvan (Soyot) women’s costume
The Empire of China, Northern Mongolia, Upper Yenisei River Basin. Late 19th/Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

Tuvan women typically used a bright woven waist belt in a contrasting colour. The costume depicted in the figurine does not feature a belt.

Khakas (Kachin) matchmaker and mother-by-proxy costume
Yenisei Gubernia (Governorate), Minusinsk Uyezd. Late 19th/Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

A sigedek, a long-skirted sleeveless shirt, was an indispensable item of clothing for a married woman. It was worn over a fur coat or a robe. The matchmaker costume in the sculpture does not feature a sleeveless shirt.

The Kachins are one of the ethnographic groups of the Khakas.

The decoration of the female attire was a plastron, a pogo. It was worn on the chest on top of coats. It was made from a semi-oval piece of tanned leather and decorated with pearl buttons, coral, beads, and other materials sewn symmetrically.

The edges were trimmed with a fringe of beads. Pogo symbolizes happiness and prosperity of the family.

Even women’s festive costume
Yakutsk Oblast. Late 19th/Early 20th century

One of the common ways to decorate clothing among Evens is an embroidery of fabrics of contrasting colors and beadwork.

Evenk shaman ritual costume
Eastern Siberia, Yenisei gubernia (Governorate), Turukhansky Krai
Late 19th/Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its fidurine depiction:

Among the Evenks, a headwear item was an indispensable part of a shaman ritual costume. Shamans put on a deerskin or elkskin cap with a fringe covering the eyes; powerful shamans wore iron crowns in the form of a headband with the images of deer antlers. The sculpture depicts the shaman without a headwear item.

Evenk Shaman always wears a hat with a fringe covering the eyes. Powerful shamans wear an iron crown in the form of a hoop symbolizing deer antlers.

Costumes from Central Asia

Central Asia

Central Asia is the core region of the Asian continent and stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. It is within the scope of the wider Eurasian continent. In modern contexts, all definitions of Central Asia include these five republics of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan is also sometimes included.

Turkmen men’s costume
Akhal-Teke Oasis. Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

Telpek seamingly haevy but really light headwear that creates a special microclimate. This ancient hat saves from overheating in the summer sun and serves as protection from the cold in winter.

Tajik, Uzbek women’s costume
The Emirate of Bukhara. Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

The most common form of headwear in the Bukhara oasis was a set consisting of a frontlet and one or two kerchiefs fully covering the hair. A tubeteika is the headwear in the sculpture, which was a novelty for the Bukhara women’s costume in the early 20th century. A robe was the everyday outer clothing. When going outside, women always put on a faranji (paranja), a head cloak. The sculpture does not feature these items.

When the Uzbek and the Tajik Soviet Republics were formed, Uzbek (for Turkic speaking people) and Tajik (for Iranian speaking people) generalising ethnonyms were introduced, though basic cultural features of these people remained common.

A tubeteika, the headwear in the sculpture, was a novelty for the Bukhara women’s costume in the early 20th century.

Uzbek men’s robe
The Emirate of Bukhara. Late 19th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

In the men’s costume showcased, the top robe and belt are typical of a man with a high social status. The robe and belt that are depicted in the sculpture, imitate the clothing of the members of the Qalandariyyah, a mendicant spiritual order. These elements are not typical of a laic person costume.

Uzbek men’s costume
The Emirate of Bukhara. Late 19th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

In the men’s costume showcased, the top robe and belt are typical of a man with a high social status. The robe and belt that are depicted in the sculpture, imitate the clothing of the members of the Qalandariyyah, a mendicant spiritual order. These elements are not typical of a laic person costume.

The belt depicted in the sculpture, imitates the clothing of the members of the Qalandariyyah, a mendicant spiritual order.

Costumes from the Russian Far East

The Russian Far East

The Russian Far East is the Russian part of the Far East, i.e. the extreme east parts of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean. The Far Eastern Federal District, which covers this area, borders with the Siberian Federal District to the west. The Far Eastern Federal District has land borders with the People's Republic of China and North Korea to the south west and maritime borders with Japan and the American state of Alaska. Although traditionally considered part of Siberia, the Russian Far East is categorized separately from Siberia in Russian regional schemes.

Ainu men’s ceremonial (festive) costume
Sakhalin Island. Early 20th century.

The costume is a robe and a hip belt. Men wore a shirt of thin fabric under the robe.

Aleut women’s festive сostume
Aleutian Islands. Early 20th century

Kamleika is a long non-slashed clothe made from the intestines of sea animals with a closed collar. The edges of the sleeves are tightened with laces to not let the sea water in.

Korean Man suit
Korean Peninsula. Early 20th century

The costume consists of a white robe made of nettle cloth and wide pants. At the end of the XIX century a black hat with a high crown and wide straight fields, woven from thin bamboo torches or horsehair became popular.

Koryak women’s costume
Eastern Siberia, Kamchatka Peninsula, Korfa Bay. Early 20th century.

Women wore a long shirt and a twinset from the fur of a young deer. Women's clothing differed from men mainly by adornment like beaded embroidery, fur mosaic, etc.

Khalkha Mongol women’s costume
Mongolia. Early 20th century

The difference between the costume and its figurine depiction:

A headwear item was obligatory for a married woman; the Mongolian woman in the figurine is depicted without one.

The figurine is missing a headwear item that was obligatory for a married Mongolian woman.

Chukcha women’s winter overall
Eastern Siberia, Chukotka Peninsula, Anadyr Okrug. Mid 20th century

Many northern peoples had a fur twinset, but only chukchas wore it as an independent piece. In winter chukcha women put on a double-sided twinset - with furry side in and out. When migrating during the winter season, they put on a fur kukhlyanka (men's and women's wear of peoples in the northeasten Siberia)

Chukcha men’s winter costume
Eastern Siberia, Chukotka Peninsula, Anadyr Okrug. Mid 20th century

Chukchas sewed clothes from the fur of young seals. Men wore double fur shirt and trousers next to the skin. Chukchas rarely wore headwear, mainly on the road.

Yakuts women’s festive costume
Yakutsk Oblast, Yakutsk Okrug. Late 19th/Early 20th century

Headwear of this costume is a pointed fur hat trimmed with another fur. The top of this hat is of a cloth with a flat front and rear. A decoration of a silver hammered circle is stitched to it.

Silver pectoral adornment was an obligatory element of a festive costume.

Credits: Story

The Russian Museum of Ethnography
http://eng.ethnomuseum.ru

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