The Yaroslavl Art Museum, the only specialized art museum in the Yaroslavl region, was founded in 1919. Today the museum collection contains more than 7 thousand exhibits and displays 9 centuries of art from the 13th to the 20th century. The pride of the collection are the works of the Yaroslavl icon painting school, provincial portraits and the canvases of the Russian avant-garde. About 150 thousand people visit the museum every year. The museum follows an active exhibition policy; its exhibition map embraces more than 50 cities in Russia, the United States of America, Spain, Great Britain, Italy and Germany.
The collection of Old Russian art is considered one of the best in Russia and contains more than 2000 icons originated mainly from the Yaroslavl churches destroyed in the Soviet period. The icons of the museum collection are published in the Old Russian art history basic editions and in numerous exhibition catalogues. They represent the development of the Yaroslavl icon painting style, its peculiarities and above all the moral and aesthetic ideals of the customers - the inhabitants of Yaroslavl. The icon exhibition is situated in the residence of the head of the Church, in a civil architectural monument of the 17 century, one of the first stone houses in the city.
The project of collaboration with the Yaroslavl Theological Seminary undertaken by the Old Russian art department was found to be the best in the competitive programme of the international museum festival Intermuseum 2013 in the nomination category Rare Guest. The museum got the ICOM award. The festival revealed that the Yaroslavl Art Museum is the only Russian museum that regards seminarians and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church as museum visitors. The nature of the competitive programme allowed our specialized museum to win this rare visitors' category.
The Yaroslavl Art Museum developed two courses Yaroslavl Eparchy History and Museology. Together with the Seminary the museum administration has carried out great work to include these courses in the curriculum. The head of the Old Russian art department Victoria Victorovna Gorshkova supervises students' work and carries out the main part of the lessons. First the students attend the museum when embarking on the course Yaroslavl Eparchy History; the course Museology has been in the curriculum since 2012. The audience consists of 50 students, and from 2011 to 2013 museum lessons were attended by 18 seminarians. The lessons are tailor-made for each and every student.
The museum lessons in the form of lectures about works of art take place in the exhibition. The lectures deal with the history of the formation of Russian museums and the clergy's part in the creation of archives : since the 19th century on the priests' initiative the most valuable cult objects were withdrawn from everyday use to preserve them for their descendants. Today these very objects are the most precious in the collections of the leading museums of the country. A great act of rescue by museum workers in 1920s-1930s who saved Old Russian art monuments from destruction is exemplified by the Yaroslavl Art Museum collection. Familiarity with the icon restoration process, exposure to history and the peculiariities of custodianship and also funding issues allow for an understanding of the important social role of the museum as a keeper of national culture and original works of art.
Educating the seminarians - the future priests - the museum cultivates respect for cultural values and the museum's part in their upkeep and promotion.
It is no mere chance that this important project came to be in Yaroslavl.
Yaroslavl is one of the most ancient Russian cities; it has a thousand-year-old history. From its foundation the city served as the centre of Christianity in the northeast of the country. The Church had an important part in people's life and was not only a religious, but a social and artistic centre of Yaroslavl as well. Economic, political and ideological development took place in the 17th century, a time of trade and commercial prosperity when Yaroslavl was in the thick of political events in Russia. The city's role in the events of the Time of Trouble and the Romanov tsars'' establishment of their dynasty favoured Yaroslavl occupying a special political position in the state and being an important ideological centre. In less than a century several dozen stone temples were built in Yaroslavl, hundreds of icons and objects of ecclesiastical applied art of the highest historical and artistic value were created. Today the 17th century monuments are the main attraction for tourists and comprise an historical region in the specially protected UNESCO zone. Since the 18th century the direction of society''s development has changed. The formation of a secular state influenced the fall of religion. The Church was deprived of the major part of its property in Soviet times. Only after the Soviet Union''s dissolution did the Church begin recovering its lost place in the ideology of the Russian state which acknowledged its responsibility for all the religious persecutions of the epoch of atheism . The return to the Church of all its religious property within an unspecified period of time was fixed by law. The transfer of the churches to the Eparchy, the icons to the temples and monasteries became an everyday practice. The question of religious heritage conservation has been discussed heatedly. Very often the Russian Orthodox Church representatives together with a part of Russsian contemporary society regard religious monuments as objects of worship, and museums as organisations holding them illegally. The icon must be in the church - it is an opinion both of the mass media and private conversations. It is almost forgotten that the museums not only saved the temples and church art works from destruction in the Soviet period, but restored a great number of them, returning their original look and giving them scientific comprehension - that's why they became an essential part of Russian culture. Obviously the museum and the Eparchy must create a collaboration programme to keep the collection intact. The Yaroslavl Art Museum has identified the priorities for the future- the education of new priests, stimulating their interest in the conservation of monuments, and upholding the conviction that Old Russian art works are the world''s cultural property and not merely belonging to those groups attending the confessional.
Accomplishing the project the museum in fact takes on the state's functions in the creation of a tolerant society, where all conflicts are resolved in a civilised way, taking into account the citizens' interests. The museum's mission is unchangeable - the monuments' conservation. Like in 1920s-1930s when the museum saved Old Russian masterpieces from the atheist authority, today it saves icon paintings from the radical part of Orthodox society considering them their own property.
The Russian Orthodox Church makes claims for the withdrawal of ancient icons from the museum collection to use them for religious purposes. A bitter conflict between the museum and the Kazan convent occurred in 2012: the monastery demanded a relic transfer to its museum. The museum offered to copy the icon for everyday use in church life. In 2013 the Yaroslavl Art Museum won the international festival Intermuseum with the project Seminarians in the Museum in the nomination category Rare Guest and used the reward to create a copy of the 17th century icon which is now in the Kazan convent. So the museum managed to keep the unique monument in its collection providing the required conservation environment and the convent got the opportunity to use the copy in its religious service.
Thanks to the work with the seminarians in the museum we have managed to reduce the tension between the museum and the church. As a result of educational work in 2013 the priests appealed to the museum for the examination and conservation of an icon in a working church. The museum aims to be an expert and an assistant of the Eparchy in the conservation of Russian historical and cultural monuments.
Following the perspective gained by Seminarians in the Museum a long-term programme of collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church is now being considered. The programme is raising interest in icons as monuments and creating a more tolerant attitude to museums as keepers of the national heritage.
The museum's experience of collaboration with the Seminary and the Yaroslavl Eparchy is extremely important for modern Russia because it points to success in the conservation of the world''s heritage for future generations.