Back in Saint Petersburg – visiting the Russian Museum Folk Art department – found the burial of the cat once more

The Russian Museum (Государственный Русский музей) is located in the neoclassical Mikhailovsky Palace. It opened in March 1898. The 400’000 exhibits are primarily based on the collections of Alexander III, the Russian artifacts of the Hermitage and the nationalization of private collections after the revolution of 1917. The museum gives an overview of Russian paintings and sculptures from the 11th to the 19th century and of Russian Folk Art. In addition the Benois Wing displays works of the early Russian avant-garde and its leading artists (i.e. late 19th and 20th century up to present).

I have been in the Russian Museum before, once in 2002 with Ernst and then alone in 2013. Now, when visiting Sankt Petersburg with Ursula in June 2017, we went twice and we bought the book “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer”, Palace Editions, Sankt Petersburg 2014. It gives an excellent overview of the museum and the history of Russian art.

Let us first go to the Folk Art department where we found a surprise – the mice burying the cat.


Burial of the cat in Russia – the same theme as in Tarragona

This small sculpture shows, how the mice buried the cat.

F.D. Yeroshkin: How the mice buried the cat, late 19th/early 20th century

This seems to be an important topic in Russia, as this second representation of the mice burying the cat shows.

Lubok: How the mice buried the cat, early 20th century copy (Lubok: popular print from literature, religious stories and popular tales)

The related Russian tale is: The cat was sleeping. The mice thought that the cat was dead and put it onto a sledge attaching its paws (just in case). They celebrated the death of the cat joyfully pulling the sledge to bury the cat. After some time the cat woke up, freed itself and ate the mice.

We found the same theme in the cloister of the Cathedral in Tarragona (Spain), except that there they say it  is rats (and not mice) that are trying to bury the cat.

The procession of the rats (my blog about our excursion to Tarragona).

A blog  on “Tarragona Experience” explains it well: The cat only pretends to be dead, then “wakes up” and eats the rats. This alludes to temptation: “Never think that you are in full control of a situation, it might change rapidly.” Thank you, Ivan Rodon, for clarifying this. Same theme, same story and – I assume – same morale in catholic Spain and in orthodox Russia.


Now I understand, what a “полотенце с петухом” or “a towel with the cock” looks like

This towel with the cock amidst the hens opened my eyes.

Part of a towel, 1880

The towel opened my eyes, because it reminded me of “the towel with the cock” or “полотенце с петухом”. This is a very touching story that Bulgakow wrote about the time, when he was a young country doctor. By amputating one leg of a beautiful young lady, he saved her life (she had fallen into the brake). As a thank you she gave him a white towel with a red cock embroidered onto it. I had read Bulgakow’s short story many years ago, but only now I understand that the red cock must have looked like this cock standing amidst the hens.


Good eyes needed to see all the details of these small lackerware boxes

The lackerware boxes are tiny and you need good eyes to see the miniature paintings. There are many of them. This is a lady sewing…

and this is a box for cigars showing a troika in the Russian winter.


Russians in the villages are also masters in woodwork

These instruments are called прялка in Russian and the English equivalent is distaff . The spinner sat on the board and took the unspun material from the top of the vertical piece. The decoration shows  much care and skill…

… as does this wonderfully carved gable.

There are many more exhibits from the daily life in Russian villages in the Folk Art department. I was here in 2002, in 2013, in 2017, and I would love to visit it again – there is always something new to discover.


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