Historical & Art Museum, Uglich

Uglich: Tuesday 21 May

I’ve already posted an account of our arrival in Uglich, the first stop on the river journey after Moscow. Whilst in Uglich we visited the Historical and Art Museum, housed in the late-15th-century Prince’s Palace.

We were taken into the Museum to listen to a recital of Russian male voices (quite a common occurrence on this trip). The music was certainly lovely but we had almost no time to look at the exhibits around us, which was a bit frustrating.  There was a fine collection of rather naive portraits, mostly from the early- to mid-19th-century, giving an interesting indication of urban merchant-class dress of the period. There were some textile items on display, such as purses decorated with beadwork, and two great examples of the dushegreya. This garment – a front-fastening bodice, usually sleeveless – was part of ancient Russian dress as worn by all classes of society, the aristocratic and the wealthy using, of course, much more sumptuous fabrics and decoration than did less prosperous merchants’ wives or peasants.

Aristocratic dress underwent a complete transformation after Peter the Great’s reforms of 1700, when he decreed that the nobility and those at court, both men and women, must wear fashionable western European styles. The dushegreya, the sarafan and other traditional items of dress were retained by town-dwelling women of the merchant-class for another century or so, and these garments remained in use in peasant festive dress, in some parts of Russia, up until the early 20th century. The dushegreya was typically made of silk brocade, velvet or similar luxurious fabric, heavily padded and sometimes embroidered in metal thread, and fell in tube-like folds at the back. It was very weighty and caused the wearer to straighten her back, thus giving her a careful, gliding and rather graceful way of walking. At least, that was the aim. The ideal of Russian beauty was to move like a swan, an image often occurring in poetry.

The portraits included one of an older woman, Agrippina Surina, showing her wearing the dushegreya, while younger women of the same class from a few years later are much more fashionably dressed.

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