The French revolution of 1789 was one of the key events of world history which noticeably influenced all European states.
The exhibits of case 1 reflect Russia’s attitude to the events of the French revolution of which Russian society learned from newspapers and magazines. One of the latter, “Politichesky zhurnal” (“Political Journal”), published in Moscow is presented in a manuscript copy. The letter of the Russian Ambassador in France I. Simolin to Count P. Skavronsky, the Russian Ambassador to Naples, is of special interest. In it he described the abortive attempt of King Louis XVI to flee from revolutionary Paris, an action organized and helped by Simolin on the instruction of Catherine the Great and his capture at Varenie in 1791.
In case 1 one can see two plates — rare samples of French revolutionary glazed pottery (Nevers, the 1790s). On one of them is the slogan of the first stage of the revolution — “Le Roi. Le Loi. La Nation”, on the other a picture of a balloon flight (similar picture was on an enamel decoration of the English pocket-watch and in the decoration of a French fan with a stamp of St. Petersburg’s customs office), a kind of a symbol of freedom in pre-revolutionary France.
There are also china sculptural portraits of some key figures of the epoch of the French revolution who were very popular in Russia — Queen Marie-Antoinette, the inspirer of counter-revolutionary plots, and the young general of the French revolutionary army, Napoleon Bonaparte. They show a change of the political course of the Russian emperors toward France: from supporting the royalist emigration and breaking the diplomatic relations to striving to conclude an alliance with the First Consul of the republic.
There are items in the room connected with the five year-long reign of Catherine’s son, Paul I. The main task of the new emperor was to preserve the existing regime and oppose the spreading of revolution in Russia and Europe. Above the gilded wooden throne with the state emblem of Russia embroidered on its back are portraits of Paul I, the vice chancellor and friend of his, Prince A. Kurakin, and the general-procurator of the Senate, P. Lopukhin, the father of the emperor’s mistress, whom he gave the title of Grand Prince. However, neither of them kept their posts for a long time, having fallen into disgrace due to the unruly and unpredictable character of the emperor.
In case 2 there is a small goblet of red glass with a gilded emblem and the inscription of the motto “Loyal without flattering”. It belonged to the emperor’s favourite Count A. Arakcheyev, who introduced the rules of strict discipline in the Russian army of Prussian type, which was to the liking of Paul I. Beside the goblet is a copy of the magazine “Politichesky zhurnal” for 1797 published by Moscow University. It printed the announcement on the abolition of the administrative- territorial units introduced by Catherine the Great, and the restoration of the traditional management bodies in the Baltic gubernias. One of the characteristic features of the reign of Paul I was his desire to abolish everything created by his mother.
Case 2 contains important decrees aimed at guaranteeing stability and continuity of power — “Act on the order of succession to the throne in the Russian Empire”, which legalized the male line of succession, and “Establishment of the Imperial Family”, which determined the composition, status and the property rights of the members of the imperial family. Above them is the allegorical picture showing the exhumation of the remains of Paul’s father, Emperor Peter III, to transfer them from the Alexander-Nevsky Monastery to the imperial sepulcher of the Peter-and-Paul Cathedral.
There is another picture made by the artist K. Osokin in 1835 on the original of I. Lampi Jr., which shows a cavalcade of horsemen: Grand Prince Alexander Pavlovich (the future Emperor Alexander I), the ruler of Hungary Stephan-Joseph, Emperor Paul I, Prince A. Bezborodko, Count P. Zubov, A. Naryshkin, Grand Prince Konstantin Pavlovich, Prince A. Kurakin, counts P. Palen, I. Kutaisov, A. Suvorov, A. Kologrivov, and Prince P. Lopukhin. It’s interesting to note that they had never been together, but, evidently, such was the will of the customer to bring together well-known figures during the reign of Paul I. Subsequently, some of the men on the picture took part in the conspiracy against the emperor.
The materials contained in case 3 tell about the policy of Paul I with regard to the serf peasantry and nobility. The imperial decrees on the introduction of serfdom on the territory of the Don Cossack Army, the Crimea, Caucasus and the Kuban area, the exile of serf peasants belonging to the landowner Rodkova to Nerchinsk, the deed given to Major-General P. Obolyaninov, granting him two thousand male serfs in Saratov gubernia, characterized Paul’s policy aimed at spreading and strengthening serfdom.
His policy toward the nobility was largely determined by his interest in and respect for the early medieval chivalry. There are exhibits in the room connected with Paul’s patronage of the Malta Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the ancient order of warriors who defended the Catholic faith; the sign of the commodore and the star of the order of St. John of Jerusalem, the drawing by Quarenghi showing the Maltese capella in St. Petersburg, as well as candlesticks from there.
However, the loft y chivalrous ideals of Paul I turned into the restriction of the rights and freedoms of the nobility and petty control and regimentation. The fate of the emperor was predetermined. On the night of March 11, 1801, Paul I was murdered in the Mikhailovsky Castle.