In 1995 the Russian Museum of Ethnography celebrated its centenary. One hundred years ago, Nicholas II issued His Highest Edict calling for the establishment of the Russian Museum, the main department of which was planned as a memorial to Alexander III. A special building was erected for the Memorial and Ethnographic sections. The Museum’s collection was assembled from different sources, but the artistic and ethnographic collections of the Russian Royal family formed a significant part of the early collections. Altogether, the Royal family contributed 2.000 items to the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography. These items vary in their origins, dates, and sources of acquisition; they can be divided into four groups distinguished by their sources:
1. Articles presented to Alexander III, Nicholas II and other members of the Royal family by the representatives of the peoples who lived both within and beyond the territory of the Russian Empire. The gifts were presented personally by their owners while the Memorial and Ethnographic Departments of the Russian Museum were being organized in the early twentieth century.
2. Museum pieces acquired using private means specifically set aside for their purchase by members of the Royal family.
3. Items transferred from the palace-museums (the Winter Palace and the Anichkov, Gatchina and Peterhof palaces) in 1920s. Among these are articles collected by the tsars themselves: in particular, Turkmen carpets from the collection of Alexander III and some of the gifts presented to Nicholas II by the Japanese Mikado (1890), by Iranian Shahs (second half of the nineteenth century), and by Bukhara Emirs (second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries).
The Imperial collections at the disposal of the museum are quite diverse. They include pieces of jewelry; parade arms and horse trappings, including gold-embroidered horse cloths; silk fabrics and wall embroideries, including those from the wardrobe of Empress Maria Fyodorovna; bronze and silver utensils; a large number of articles of clothing and ethnographic costumes from various regions of the country and Buddhist (Lamaist) cult articles, including a unique mandala in the shape of a Buddhist palace, presented to Nicholas II in 1908 by M. Barmanzhinov, the Baksha of the Kalmyks of the Don Region. The mandala is crafted in silver and weighs twelve kilograms. It is exceptional for the delicacy of its detail work and for its exquisite gilded, chased, engraved and enameled ornamentation.
A distinguishing feature of the Imperial collections is the high artistic and technical level of their workmanship, though they were made by folk craftsmen, and therefore display specific ethnic codes.