The role played by monks in the wars that saw the principality of Muscovy become the nation of Russia have been discussed in our review of the sister set to this one, Russian War Monks, so we won’t repeat them here. Since some monasteries were virtually fortresses too, it made sense for them to be armed with some form of cannon. It would not be the monks that usually served these guns, but in an emergency any might be called to do so, particularly if they had previous experience before becoming monks. As with the sister set, this one clearly takes much inspiration from the paintings mentioned in our previous review, the main one of which seems to show monks assisting in the use of artillery, and so we have this set.
The top row shows the four men who are directly serving the gun. The first three are conventional but very natural poses, with one man carrying a ball, another holding a ramrod and a third applying the match. The fourth looks to be looking for a target, and holding out his hand ready to signal when to fire. While you would expect more than these four to properly operate a gun, four poses is something of a minimum often found in artillery sets and these are all good ones. The figure in the second row looks to be some sort of senior cleric holding an icon, presumably to encourage the defenders in their endeavours.
The artillery piece in the set is a small cannon of conventional design. The carriage is 30 mm in length and the wheels only 10 mm in diameter, while the barrel is about 16 mm in length. This is a pretty small piece of ordnance, but of course monasteries would hardly have the very best and latest artillery, and since the guns are primarily to clear people attacking the walls they perhaps do not need the range that a longer-barrelled weapon would provide. Also they have to fit and be operated on the walls, so this limits both size and weight. All told then we thought the diminutive size was probably reasonable.
The clothing of the men is mostly suitable as monks clothing, though this was little more than the poor peasantry would wear anyway. The man carrying the ball stands out by having some form of cap and a turban wrapped round it, which does not seem very monk-like to us, so perhaps he is one of the other men in the monastery helping to defend it. The man holding the ramrod has found a quilted over jacket and a cap, which would simply be another expedient in an emergency, and we thought the man with the icon might be wearing an analavos. Under the unusual circumstances that might find monks using artillery we had no complaint about the costume represented here.
The sculpting is very nice, and the fall of the long robes is realistic. The gun goes together quite easily, and makes a chunky and reasonably pleasing little model, but there is some flash on this, particularly on the quite solid carriage. The same goes for the men, who suffer from some flash on almost all of the seams.
While it was no part of a monk’s duties to man artillery, if the need arose they might do so to defend themselves. These figures would depict that moment, but such men would be no part of any regular force in the field. Like the musketeers this set is a realisation in three dimensions of the painting by Miloradovich, and while there is little information on the appearance of monks and what guns their monasteries might have, we found no reason to doubt anything here. The pieces are nicely sculpted, but suffer from too much flash, yet make a very interesting and unusual collection for anyone interested in this formative period in the history of Russia.