Daily Archives: October 11, 2012

Contrasting Views in Moscow

In reading the eyewitness accounts of the occupation of Moscow, it is sometimes a study in contrast.  Compare the two paintings of peaceful scenes with well dressed soldiers to the description at the end by an author of a book published in 1914.  First, two paintings by Faber du Faur, both dated 11 October, with his accompanying descriptions:

In the Vicinity of Lafertovskaja Sloboda, Moscow, 11 October

In the Vicinity of
Lafertovskaja Sloboda
by Faber du Faur

“If you stand on the left bank of the Jausa, between the Military Academy and the Church of the Old Believers, with your back to the latter, you look out towards the Soltikov bridge and the road which runs between the German Quarter and the Vladimir Gate.  The banks of the river are tree-lined, and these trees partially obscure the Military Hospital and the Lafertovskaja suburb.  To the left can be seen a group of buildings occupied by Imperial Quarters and a number of the 25th Division’s officers.”

Moscow, 11 October

Moscow, 11 October
by Faber du Faur

“There was a particularly beautiful church, a little distance from the German Quarter, in the direction of the Kremlin.  It was remarkable chiefly on account of its multitude of bell-towers and had, by and large, escaped the flames, standing out from the desolation that surrounded it.  It took us some time to learn the name of the street, and the identity of the saint to whom this richly coloured church was consecrated.  There were too few inhabitants around to ask, and those that remained would flee as soon as they caught sight of us.  The street itself was so littered with debris that it was impossible to get from one end to the other.”

“Finally, by dint of persistence, I learned that the street was called Basmannaya and that the church was under the protection of Saint Nicetas.”

Here is a passage from Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia Anno 1812 by Dr. Achilles Rose:  “All eye-witnesses speak of the extreme destitution of the soldiers in regard to clothing after one month’s stay in Moscow.  Already at this time, even before the most terrible and final trials of the retreat which awaited them, one had to consider them lost.  When they first took to woman’s clothes or shoes or hats it was considered an amusement, a joke, but very soon a mantilla, a soutane, a veil became a precious object…”

“At first Napoleon reviewed the regiments near the ponds of the Kremlin, and at first reviews the troops marched proudly, briskly, with firm step, but soon they began to fail with astonishing rapidity.  They answered the roll of the drums calling them together, clad in dirty rags and with torn shoes, in fast diminishing numbers.  During the last weeks of their stay in Moscow many had reached the last stage of misery, after having wandered through the streets looking for a little bit of nourishment, dressed up as for a carnival, but without desire to dance, as one remarked in grim humor.”

With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, Edited and translated by Jonathan North

Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia Anno 1812, by Achilles Rose, p. 34