The cultural split of society was one of the most important consequences of Peter’s policy of reforms. In contrast to the europeanized nobility, the overwhelming mass of the population — peasants, the lower sections of the urban dwellers and merchants — continued to live the old way, within the framework of traditional culture. The History Museum has the richest collection of popular life portraits two of which are on display. The picture “Wedding in Toropets” is a rare example of popular genre painting. It depicts one of the oldest wedding customs — bride show, or girls’ gathering which existed in the town of Toropets, Pskov gubernia.
Cases 1 and 2 contain items of spiritual culture: one of them is the rarest sample of cheap popular print of the 18th century — “Anika the Warrior and the Death” that illustrats a popular folk ballad: the hero boasts he does not fear death, but when it comes, he is frightened and asks for mercy.
A fragment of the composition “The Last Supper” is part of the decoration of the holy gates in church. A short Bible in pictures created especially for the illiterate acquainted them with the main tenets of the Christian teaching.
A typical feature of traditional culture was its applied character: it was created by unprofessional people. Folklore, music, drama performance were an inalienable part of people’s everyday life. Special features of national culture and world outlook were instilled in children at a very early age, which is shown by a set of toys and instruments of work — little sledge, distaff and horse (case 1).
Case 2 contains a wooden popular church calendar for peasants “Svyatsy”, on which week days were indicated by small nicks and religious holidays by bigger ones, and which served as landmarks in agricultural work. There is also a collection of songs which belonged to Mosyagin’s merchant family from the town of Ostashkov, Tver gubernia. Nearby is a dictionary of the local dialect of Veliky Ustyug, which shows the growing interest of the educated part of the nobility in collecting and studying folklore. This confirms the fact that traditional and new western cultures were closely connected, although they developed along parallel lines. This interconnection increased still more at the end of the 18th century, during the period of the formation of the Great Russian nation.
Case 3 demonstrates beautiful samples of popular decorative applied art. Each Russian region had its own characteristic forms of decoration, tableware and household utensils. Festive garments and especially female head-dresses differed considerably.
Old Believers’ religion played a no small role in the development of traditional culture in the 18th — first half of the 19th century. There are items in the room which originated from the important centre of Old Believers — the Vygoleksinsky centre of coast-dwellers’ community without priests, which came into being in the forests near Lake Onega in the Olonets gubernia in 1694. Case 4 contains copper folding icons and crosses, and wooden carved and painted icons made in local workshops. On a tempera drawing of “Family Tree of Andrei and Semyon Denisov” (the founders and spiritual heads of the Vygovsky Old Believers’ community) one can see the Vygovsky Monastery and Leksinsky Convent, which formed a single spiritual and economic complex. The artistically decorated hand-written book tells one about the developing traditions of ancient Russian written literature and the creation of original works on everyday subjects, controversial issues, as well as historical works.
Among the exhibits in the room are “spiritual sheets” made in an original genre which emerged in Vygu. It was the organic combination of ancient Russian book miniature and popular print. Having transformed the trends and achievements of ancient Russian and modern art, the Vygu masters created their own art school distinguished by novelty and stylist.