Olsufyev Collection

Afanasy Trukhmensky.The Apostle Peter. Burin engraving. Mid-17th century
Afanasy Trukhmensky.The Apostle Peter. Burin engraving. Mid-17th century
The largest collection of Russian seventeenth-and eighteenth-century engravings, numbering  2,624 sheets, was acquired from the Princes Beloselsky-Belozersky in 1815. They had once been part of the immense collection of prints assembled by Adam Olsufyev (1721-1784), a senior official under Catherine II. One of the most highly educated men of his day, Olsufyev was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Arts for his knowledge of art. The prints which were taken on his orders from all surviving woodcuts and copper plates filled thirteen volumes. The majority of prints from seventeenth-century plates now belong to the Olsufyev collection in the library. They give an especially full picture of the work of the engravers Afanasy Trukhmensky, Vasily Andreyev and Leonty Bunin who worked in the Armoury in the Moscow Kremlin and from the 1660s produced engraved metal plates from the drawings of icon-painters.

Lubok prints form a large section of the Olsufyev collection. The covers of some of the albums still retain the inscription Moscow Pictures. The woodcuts which Olsufyev collected give us an idea of eighteenth-century tastes in non-religious pictures. Here we find the characters of knightly romances and fairy tales, genre scenes and depictions of animals. Current events, the reforms instituted by Peter the Great, are echoed in the picture of the bearded dissenter and the barber.

The dominant part of the collection is made up of copper engravings from the 1730s-70s. They were mainly produced in the Moscow printshop of Ilya Akhmetyev which had twenty presses. The range of secular subjects was very wide: folk tales, fables, historical events, curiosities of various kinds and humorous prints.

The collection is especially rich in religious pictures. Separate volumes are devoted to images of the Virgin Mary, the Saviour and the saints.