Costume of the Russian Empire, by C W Müller
Illustrated by a series of seventy-three colour engravings, with descriptions in English and French
William Miller, London 1804
A pictorial history of costume in the Russian Empire as it was at the beginning of the 19th century. An empire
“of an extent unknown to other modern nations…it touches the Frozen Ocean and borders upon the warm climates of Persia, Japan and China on the south.”
Not surprisingly, these costumes range from furs and ‘the skin of their rein-deer’ (Yakouti) complete with hair, to the skins of fish (Ostiaks), and – as in the case of the Tschutski of Siberia – ‘Men and women puncture their arms and faces in a regular manner’. Eat your heart out Lady Gaga.
The elegant engravings are accompanied by hilarious descriptions, obviously from a more urbane explorer viewpoint, of the lifestyle of these people, long gone and long forgotten;
“The most part are satisfied with one wife” (Samoyed)
“Their manner of living, with respect to their food, is disgusting to the greatest degree. They use no salt, and all their food is simply boiled”
“Their dances are pantomimical, and are not free from indelicacy” (Kamtshatka).
My favourite descriptions are of the Tungoosi, from the Lake Baikal region:
“ignorant of falsehood, treachery and robbery of any descriptions; they possess a gaiety of temper and openness of heart to the greatest degree; They will, with pleasure, divide their last morsel with their almost unknown guest; They fish and hunt with great skill; embroider in a very neat manner and – last but not least – they are generally supplied with brandy, of which they are very fond.”
A priceless and utterly fascinating insight into primitive ethnicity and cultures that have pretty much disappeared from the face of the earth.