Olga's Gallery

Olga's Gallery

October 01, 2001

Dear Friends of Art,

During the past two weeks we have published the collections of several Dutch painters, among them, Frans Hals, his younger brother Dirck Hals, Gerard Terborch, Jan Steen and Judith Leyster. We would like to point out the Portrait of Isaak Abrahamsz Massa and Beatrix van der Lean, by Hals. Isaak Massa was a successful silk trader in Russia, where he lived from 1602 till 1609, he knew the Russian language and left an account of the events of 1598-1609 in Russia, which he called “A Short Report about Moskovia in the Beginning of the XVII century” and dedicated to Moritz, Prince of Orange.

The Time of Trouble

As Seen by Dutch Merchant Isaak Abrahamsz Massa

The period, described by Isaak Massa, is called the Time of Trouble in Russian history, a change of the ruling dynasty happened, which, as usual, was accompanied by war and blood. In this issue we are going to tell you about these historical events as seen by the Dutch merchant.

“Ivan Vasilyevich, the Grand Duke of Moskovia, called ‘the Terrible’ for his great cruelty, was born in the capital of the country, Moscow, in 1530, in August,” Massa started his report.  Ivan the Terrible was married seven times and had three sons by different wives, Ivan, Feodor, and Dmitry. The eldest, Ivan, who resembled his father, was already adult and married, when in a passionate quarrel the tsar struck him with his staff and killed him (1582). Thus, after the death of the tsar Ivan the Terrible (1584), there were 2 sons left, Feodor and a child, Dmitry, son of the tsar’s seventh wife, Maria (or Marfa) Nagaya.

“In the time of the tyrant Ivan Vasilievich, in Moscow, there lived the Godunovs, a family of tatar origin. They have been living in Moskovia for a long time, their ancestors entered the service of Vladimir’s dukes when Vladimir was the capital of the country. From that family Feodor Ioannovich took a wife… and she had a brother, Boris Godunov…”

After Feodor Ioannovich, the second son, became the tsar, he sent his step-mother, Maria Nagaya, and step-brother, Dmitry, out of Moscow to Uglich. “When the tsarina Marfa was in a convent, all other relatives of the Nagoys were sent into exile. All the nobles talked about this but were afraid to go against the Godunovs; but common people, merchants and others, gossiped among themselves secretly that the Godunovs were traitors and aimed for the throne… That is why Boris did everything to appeal to the people.” Many foreigners, who saw tsar Feodor during audiences, said that they thought him a complete fool. Isaak Massa put it more mildly, “the tsar resembled more an ignorant monk than a grand duke, more than that he was remarkable for his credulity and extreme gullibility – he believed everything Boris told him… Boris was more respected than the tsar, because the tsar did nothing but visit church and stand through all the divine services; while Boris ruled all the country as its leader, while Fedor Ioannovich only had the title.”

Though Massa sympathize with Boris Godunov, he had to admit that, “Meanwhile the country began to flourish, its population grew, as before then it had been almost depopulated and ruined by the great tyranny of the deceased Grand Duke and his military commanders… now thanks to the kindheartedness and gentleness of Grand Duke Fedor, and the great abilities of Boris, the country began to re-establish itself and become rich.”

On the 15th of May 1591, tsarevich Dmitry was found killed in the yard of his Uglich palace. The murderer was never found, but Godunov’s enemies gossiped that it was Boris Godunov; the rumor was spread among the people, and later many historians and authors shared that version, though there is still no proof and little evidence to that. Isaak Massa was among those who believed that Boris was the culprit.

In 1598, tsar Fedor died childless. “After the death of the pious tsar Fedor Ioannovich, the common folk, who are always ready to rebel in this country, rushed to the Kremlin and asked Fedor’s widow to be their ruler,” but she refused. Thus the Ryurik dynasty stopped. Then the nobility (boyars) chose tsarina’s brother, Boris Godunov, as the Russian Tsar.

A talented ruler, Boris, however failed to suppress his enemies. In 1601-1605, the country was struck by natural disasters: freezing, floods, droughts, which were fatal both for the country and for Tsar Boris. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people died of famine, many towns and villages were empty. Massa writes, “At that time, by God’s will, famine struck the country. Even the famine described by Albert, abbot of Stadten, could not be compared with this one; so great was the famine and poverty in Moskovia that even mothers ate their children… All roads were strewn with people who had died of famine, and their bodies were eaten by wolves, foxes, and other beasts…  this lasted for 4 years, almost till 1605.”

Boris’ enemies used the situation. They distributed the rumor that tsarevich Dmitry survived the attempted murder and would soon come to Moscow to recover the throne. As if to support the gossip, the miraculously resurrected tsarevich Dmitry appeared in Rech Pospolitaya (the kingdom that united Poland, Lithuania, part of Ukraine and Belorussia under the rule of a Polish king). He quickly obtained support from Polish magnates, the king, and representatives of the Catholic Church. They found him a noble bride – Marina Mnishek. Who was that adventurer? It is still difficult to say for sure. According to the most probable version, he was one Grigory Otrepyev, a monk from the Chudov convent. He received the support of some of the Russian boyars as well.

Massa wrote, “In Poland they knew everything what was going on in Moskovia; because many people moved there and entered the service of Polish nobles, e.g. pan Vishnevetsky, voevoda Sandomirsky and many others. Among those people was a lay brother of the Chudov convent; he had worked as a scribe and knew many secrets of the state; he knew much about Boris… In Poland he called himself Dmitry, the son of Ivan Vasilievich (the Terrible), whom Boris had ordered to kill but who had escaped.”

Using a comfortable excuse, the ruling classes and clerical power of Rech Pospolitaya, planned to capture Russia and state their power there. In Russia the sympathy for the impostor rose; people wanted to see in him a just and kind ruler, who would establish peace, public tranquillity and normal life in the country. In 1604, False Dmitry I with the support of the Polish troops crossed the Russian border. All dissatisfied with Godunov came to Dmitry, Russian cities one after another took his side. The unexpected death of Boris Godunov speeded to events. Godunov’s family was killed by the boyars and, in June 1605, False Dmitry I triumphantly entered Moscow. The tsarina, mother of Dmitry, Maria Nagaya, had to recognize False Dmitry as her son. On becoming the tsar he however made a number of mistakes, and the most serious was that he surrounded himself with Polish nobles and clergy who tried to insert Catholicism.

Meanwhile False Dmitry’s bride, Marina Mnishek came to Moscow. Massa, who witnessed the arrival of the bride and the wedding ceremony described it, “Marina was dressed according to French fashion, her dress was of white atlas, all in pearls and gems; opposite her sat two Polish countesses, her kin, they were followed by many carriages with ladies and noble maidens, these were magnificent carriages with gold poles, and each was pulled by six or eight horses…” Then Massa described the splendid wedding ceremony, which took place in one of the cathedrals, and which almost ended with tragedy, because “Moscovites were outraged that Poles entered their church armed and in hats, and if there was anyone to provoke them, they would have killed everyone, because their church was defiled by the pagans, they call pagans all people of the world, considering only themselves true Christians…. and in their blindness they are very sensitive about their faith…”

Though deprived of power, the local nobles still had real force and did not miss the chance to punish “treacherous” Dmitry. In June 1606, they started unrest. The rebels stormed the Kremlin and killed False Dmitry. There were Polish pogroms all over the city, and many foreigners suffered; they were robbed and many were killed. Massa gives a detailed account of the pogroms, which even 300 hundred years later is horrible to read.
     “Once, when it was not dangerous already I left the house to see the killed, especially the two corpses of False Dmitry and his friend Basmanov.”

To be continued...

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