Gatchina Arsenal

Five-barrell flint-lock gun. Germany. About 1730s. By Johann Herman
Five-barrell flint-lock gun.
Germany. About 1730s.
By Johann Herman
The Gatchina Palace is famous, besides its large art collections, with a large and interesting collection of old arms. It numbers more than 1,000 items of fire-arms and cold steel of the 16th-19th centuries many of which are of artistic and historical value and give an idea of the development of gunsmithery both in European and Asian countries as well.

Count Grigory Orlov, the first owner of the palace, was the first who started to amass a collection of arms in the Palace. In 1766 he commissioned the architect Antonio Rinaldi to build a palace on the plot of land presented to him by Catherine II for his participation in the coup d'etat that resulted in her accession to the Russian throne. Count Orlov had in mind to organize hunting festivals in the palace which could accommodate up to some hundred guests. Following the fashion of West-European nobility who used to have so-called 'armour cabinets' in their palaces, Grigory Orlov began to amass a collection of arms and armour which could be used both for hunting and decoration of palace's rooms as well. The pieces of gunsmithery he acquired were distinguished with their artistic value as they were richly ornamented and made at the highest technical level. He brought arms from his numerous voyages through Russia and abroad, many pieces were presented to him by Russian and foreign aristocrats and famous gunsmiths.

After his death in 1783 the Gatchina Palace, with Orlov's collection of arms and armour, passed into the ownership of Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (future Emperor Paul I) and the imperial family. In 1823 the fire-arms were hanged on the walls of the Crimson Gallery, with, in the centre, a monogram of Paul I under the imperial crown composed of pistols. The gallery received the name of the Armour Gallery and remained intact up to 1941 when the Palace's treasures had to be evacuated because of the approaching enemy's army.

All Russian monarchs continued to enlarge the arms collection in Gatchina. In 1917 it numbered about 1,300 items of fire-arms and cold steel, not counting numerous uniforms, cuirasses, helmets, pieces of harness and horse gear. In the 1920s the collection of the Gatchina Arsenal diminished after a considerable number of arms and armour had been withdrawn and, later, when many items were sold abroad. After the World War I the Gatchina collection was housed for a while in Tsarskoye Selo and returned to the Gatchina Palace as late as 1988, where a permanent exhibition of arms and armour was opened.

Pair of wheel-lock pistols. Germany. Dresden. 1580
Pair of wheel-lock pistols. Germany. Dresden. 1580
Wheel-lock gun (tschinke). Silesia, Teschen. 1640-50
Wheel-lock gun (tschinke). Silesia, Teschen. 1640-50
1.Wheel-lock gun. Germany, Dresden (?). About 1560-70. 2. Wheel-lock gun.
Germany, barrel: Aahen; lock: Dresden, stock: Soth Germany (Nurmberg?). 1600-70. 3. Wheel-lock gun. Germany, Dresden. 1720-30. By Johann Andreas Ertel
1. Wheel-lock gun. Germany, Dresden (?)
About 1560-70.

2. Wheel-lock gun. Germany, barrel: Aahen; lock: Dresden,
stock: Soth Germany (Nurmberg?). 1600-70.

3. Wheel-lock gun. Germany, Dresden. 1720-30.
By Johann Andreas Ertel
Most part of the exhibits in the Arsenal is works of German gunsmiths of the 16th-18th centuries. Gunsmiths, foundry men, smiths, chasers and engravers from Dresden, Nuremberg and Suhl raised their craft to the level of art and created works that served as models for other masters for a long time.

In the early 16th century, in order to make a shot one had to put in action a rather-'complicated mechanism—a so-called 'wheel lock', where fire was struck from a piece of flint by means of a quickly rotating wheel. Some decades later, a new, more simple and cheap flint lock was invented. Fire was struck by a stroke of a piece of flint against a steel plate. This kind of igniter was most spread up to the early 19th century.

Flint-lock gun. Germany, Suhl. 1740s. By Johann Ch. Stockmar
Flint-lock gun. Germany, Suhl. 1740s. By Johann Ch. Stockmar
The development of gunsmithery introduced not only technical novelties but new means and methods of decoration, especially of fowling pieces and sporting guns which constitute the most part of the collection in the Gatchina Arsenal. Gunsmiths used to decorate their works in accordance with the tastes and fashions of their times and their national traditions. They made use of various materials and technical methods for this purpose.
© State museum «Gatchina»,   © Y. Efimov,   © I. Stukalina

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