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Pushkin House as seen across the Malaya Neva and Exchange Bridge. The pediment is crowned with the bronze statues of Neptune, Mercury, and Ceres.
Pushkin House as seen across the Malaya Neva and Exchange Bridge. The pediment is crowned with the bronze statues of Neptune, Mercury, and Ceres.

The Pushkin House (Russian: Пушкинский дом, Pushkinsky Dom) is the familiar name of the Institute of Russian Literature in St. Petersburg. It is part of a network of institutions affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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In the mid-1990s, I made a big exhibition in the Tretyakov Gallery, named “Primitive in Russia”. The exhibition covered the period from the 18th to the early 20th century. I had a plan to continue this work (in the chronological sense), i. e. to make another exhibition about the 20th century. But I left the Tretyakov Gallery and went to work for a research institute, so this plan wasn’t implemented. Then I decided that what I had done in real life could be continued in a virtual space. This was one aspect. Another aspect was the fact that in many countries of the world, there were real museums of primitive painting. However, Russia didn’t have any museum of this kind, and, as far as I know, it still doesn’t. So the first idea was to make a prank, as if there was a museum of primitive in Russia, as if it had a building, employees… To play such a joke. However, when we started working, it became clear that it was far more interesting not to make a museum that pretends to exist, but to create a museum that doesn’t and couldn’t possibly exist. If you take a careful look at the website, you will see that a number of things there are impossible in real life. For example, look at the floor plans, at 3D, at the staircases between the floors. Everything is designed so that it can’t be true. This way, we started developing the second possibility: to play a museum that can only exist in a computer form. Then the story became even more amusing. An all-Russian website award was announced — this was very popular in the 1990s. The rules provided that websites were nominated for the awards not by the authors, but by regular Internet users. Authors only had to give their formal consent. And I received a letter saying, “You are nominated, unless you object”. Thousands of websites competed in the awards. And we ended up in the top five. This was all very funny. Why? Because both the jury and the awards organizers fell for the prank the website scenario was based on. Because they put us not in the “Art” or “Media art” category, but in the “Museums” category. We ended up in the category where we were to compete with the Hermitage, the Kunstkamera, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. With the four largest museums. The Hermitage became the rightfully deserved winner. So, there we are — all the three authors of this website — sitting in the state chamber, and the Hermitage representative comes on the stage to get the award and says, “We, the whole staff of the Hermitage, who took part in the creation of this website in one way or another, would like to thank also the hundreds of the IBM Company employees who have developed it”. So there were three of us against them. At that moment, I understood a very important thing: if we three can compete in complete earnest with the entire Hermitage and IBM to boot, this means that we are in the area where the result is determined not by the amount of resources, but by the brain. There is an interesting problem all projects face, including web projects. When the project is completed — what do we do with it? I presented my project to the State Russian House of Folk Arts, so that they could cover all their ongoing exhibition activities. A “Club” section appeared at the website. It is managed by the SRHFA employees. They also maintain the website. It mainly features information about their ongoing activities and exhibitions related to contemporary naïve art. That is, I just gave the website to those for whom it could be a work tool. Virtual museums are often designed under the principle “We will show you a museum you can’t see in real life”. This refers to different things, including technological tricks — for example, how this room would look through the eyes of a fly crawling across the ceiling lamp. However, this also refers to far deeper things, to the contents. For instance, what happens behind the “Staff only” doors? Moreover, real museums have another problem that can be solved by modern technological means. It is the problem of demonstrating objects that cannot be placed in an exhibition. For example, an operating blast furnace, an erupting volcano, and so on.




The Russian Literature Institute began its life in December 1905 as the main centre for Alexander Pushkin studies in Imperial Russia. A commission in charge of erecting a Pushkin monument in St. Petersburg, led by Sergei Oldenburg and Aleksey Shakhmatov, suggested a permanent institution be set up to preserve original Pushkin manuscripts:[1]

The idea won support from all sides and was welcomed by Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich. It was understood that the Pushkin House would be housed in a purpose-built Neoclassical edifice, or Odeon, but the idea failed to materialize owing to lack of funds.[1]

In 1907 Vladimir Kokovtsov, Minister of Finance, came up with the proposal to acquire a huge collection of Pushkin manuscripts and memorabilia amassed in Paris by Alexander Onegin from 1879 onwards. The negotiations dragged on until Onegin's death in 1925, but the bulk of his collection eventually ended up in Russia.[1] The most precious items had been presented to Onegin by Vasily Zhukovsky's son. The personal libraries and manuscripts of Ivan Krylov, Pyotr Pletnev, and Andrei Bolotov were acquired from their heirs soon afterward.

Soviet era

The Pushkin House was originally a non-governmental organization specializing in Pushkin studies, which have been recognized by Russian authorities as a separate branch of scholarly inquiry. The Russian Revolution led to the shutdown of all non-governmental institutions, but the Pushkin House was spared and put under the umbrella of the Russian Academy of Sciences (in 1918). Such "honorary" directors as Anatoly Lunacharsky, Lev Kamenev and Maksim Gorky ensured its safe passage through the hardships of the Revolution.[1]

This entailed the extension of its scope to encompass all Russian classical writers of the 19th century. In 1920 the Pushkin House was renamed the Institute of New Russian Literature to reflect its new purpose. Its main object was to prepare highly authoritative "academic" editions of works by Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Vissarion Belinsky, Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Nekrasov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and other luminaries of the previous century.

In 1927 Pushkin House moved from the crammed rooms in the Academy of Sciences building to the magnificent neo-Palladian Customs House, built after Giovanni Francesco Lucchini's designs in 1829–1832 and situated just around the Strelka.[2] It was to the original Kunstkamera rooms that Alexander Blok referred in his last poem To Pushkin House, celebrating Pushkin's heritage as a gleam of hope during the chaos and confusion of the post-revolutionary years:[3]

The Pushkin House remained open during the gruesome Siege of Leningrad, although most of the staff and manuscripts were evacuated to other cities. Following the war the institute continued as a prominent academic centre for Russian literature, employing such leading scholars as Boris Eikhenbaum and Dmitry Likhachov.


The collections of the Pushkin House, partly housed in a modern block hidden behind the Neoclassical facade, include numerous manuscripts from the 13th century onward, portraits and personal documents of leading Russian authors, as well as a galaxy of rare music recordings. The institution has a complex structure and is subdivided into several departments:

The Institute of Russian Literature, as seen from across the Malaya Neva.
The Institute of Russian Literature, as seen from across the Malaya Neva.
  • Department of Old Russian Literature
  • Department of Russian Folklore and Records Archive
  • Department of New Russian Literature
  • Department of Pushkin Studies
  • Department of Recent Russian Literature
  • Correlation of Russian and Foreign Literature Department
  • Bibliography and Sources Department
  • Manuscript Division and Archive of Ancient Relics
  • Literature Museum

The Pushkin memorial houses in Mikhailovskoye, Trigorskoye, Tsarskoe Selo, and on the Moyka River are also affiliated with the Pushkin House.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Historical outline from the official website
  2. ^ Its dome was actually intended to counterbalance that of the Kunstkamera and "to provide a look-out from which a signal was sounded when ships approached". Quoted from The Companion Guide to St Petersburg (2003), by Kyril FitzLyon, Kyril Zinovieff, Jenny Hughes, p. 331.
  3. ^ Reference Guide to Russian Literature, ed. by Neil Cornwell, Nicole Christian. Taylor & Francis, 1998. Page 175.
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia of St. Petersburg

External links

This page was last edited on 13 March 2018, at 21:16
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