Artemy Lebedev

§ 174. The White Kremlin

April 27, 2012

The Moscow Kremlin walls and towers were built in 1484–1495 by Italians using bricks to replace the old white stone construction. The famous merlons are not exclusive to Moscow, just go to Milan and look at the Sforza Castle.

Milan, 2008

For a while, the Kremlin’s look remained red-brick, but in the XVIIIth century it was coated white like any other construction of its sort (see kremlins in Kazan, Zaraysk, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov Veliky, and others). The white Kremlin looks more beautiful than the red.

G. Delabart. Moscow, view from the Kremlin Palace balcony on Moskvoretsky bridge. 1797

In 1826, in his diary Jacques-François Ancelot wrote on the Kremlin after the war and fire: “We shall leave the Kremlin at this, my dear Xavier; but, looking back at this ancient citadel, we shall feel sorry, for the builders, while trying to mend the damage caused by explosion, removed from the walls a centuries-old patina that was making it look so magnificent. As it camouflages the cracks, the white paint gives the Kremlin a youthful air, which is not suitable for the shape and denies its past.”

J. Ancelot. Six mois en Russie // M.: New Literary Observer, 2001.

Unknown artist. 1820s

N. P. Lerebours. Moscow Kremlin View. 1842. Painted daguerreotype. From the collection of the Library of Congress, USA

S. M. Shukhvostov. Red Square View. 1855 (?)

The Kremlin’s fresh and youthful look made the French traveler unsure, but it would not strike us as wrong. Moscow of the day was dirt roads, knee-deep mud, and horrible river banks. Today it’s different.

P. Vereshchagin. Moscow Kremlin View. 1879

Evidently, the Kremlin was getting a fresh coat of white paint only in anticipation of some grand events and looked quite normal—with stains and chipped paint—in-between. Sometimes only the towers would be refreshed. Here’s a beautiful witness circa early 1900s: “After its present stark-white paint fades and a usual city patina settles, the ancient Kitay Gorod wall will become a great backdrop for a monument, around which a small park might be built.”

P. Ettingert. On memorial to Ivan Fyodorov, the printing pioneer. Russkie Vedomosti, M.: 1909, № 225, October 2, pp. 3-4

Moscow. Kremlin. ~1890-1900. Chromolithograph. From the collection of the Library of Congress, USA

Later, the Russian Revolution took place and Moscow was taken over by bolsheviks who got settled in Kremlin. Obviously, the Red Kremlin both sounds and looks true to the ideology.

Moscow Kremlin panorama. Wikipedia. Photo: Yuliya Mineyeva

Thus, painting the Kremlin white—one of our most beautiful traditions—was lost. Today, when the communists and the red-movement supporters are taken as a joke, the Kremlin walls continue to be painted to resemble red brick.

The author is certain that our country is only two things away from happiness and balance: burying Lenin and painting the Kremlin white. Reasonableness and beauty, hand in hand, should build the future.

Moscow Kremlin panorama. Illustration by Valentin Novosyolov

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