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David Douglas Duncan


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Follow link for an enlarged imageThe Kremlin (1960) / view images from this book

Duncan’s third published volume was a political as well as artistic triumph — a full color, visual essay of the treasures of one of the world’s most important and most obscure art houses — the Russian Kremlin. Starting with a direct appeal to Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev, Duncan was able to gain unprecedented access to the ancient Russian fortress and, over a period of three years, to document the primary masterpieces of its collections. The result was a massive and intricately printed volume — involving finely wrought, color photogravure plates that were tipped into the book itself — published by the illustrious New York Graphic Society and destined to once more garner critical acclaim and go through many editions in the years ahead.

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From the book jacket text:
Fortress, treasure house, and heart of an Empire, Moscow’s Kremlin is the national shrine of a mighty people — a symbol of the turbulent, dramatic, often tragic history which lies behind the present day reality of the Soviet Union.

Within its walls Soviet guards stand watch over incredible riches, the priceless heritage of Old Russia: Monomakh’s Cap of gold, used to crown every Russian sovereign, so ancient its origins are unknown; Ivan the Terrible’s jewel-encrusted Book of Gospels; The Diamond Crown of Peter the Great; the long-lost cloth of Christ; Catherine the Great’s off-the shoulder wedding dress; the Golden Easter Egg given to the last Romanov Emperor shortly before he was murdered.

In 1956 David Douglas Duncan, the internationally famous photographer, astonished art and political circles by winning sudden and unprecedented permission from the Soviets to use his color cameras without restriction within the Kremlin. No other photographer, before or since, has ever been granted such carte blanche authority to carry cameras into the Soviet citadel. Gaining the confidence and friendship of Kremlin guards and of his interpreters, Duncan visited Moscow five times over a period of three years to photograph painstakingly the color and incalculable treasures of church and state, the great cathedrals, the throne rooms and even the bedroom of the Tzars. His color transparencies have been transformed into The Kremlin, a photographic document which is unique in subject and execution. Every picture was made with 35mm cameras, then faithfully reproduced by the most advanced technical methods developed in Switzerland.

Duncan, a veteran journalist as well as an artist with a camera, knew that his work represented more than mere photographs of a fabulous collection of Russian art and architecture: the souls of Tzars, Emperors, serfs and revolutionaries were locked within these grimly towering walls. Each crown, each throne, every icon and gem-studded heirloom was witness to the passions of a particular epoch in Russia’s history — each should be permitted to tell its own romantic and often shocking story.

Thus with his exclusive photos as points of departure in a series of chapters on the tyrants, heroes and saints of Russian history, Duncan has written the text and documentary captions for the 83 color plates in this book, interweaving legend, anecdote, and fascinating detail to create a remarkable, composite portrait of a people and land which are little known in the west today.

The Kremlin offers a rare and startlingly beautiful view through the Iron Curtain. Completely non-political, with its combination of panoramic history and brilliant photography, it is an evocation of the spirit of the Russian past as the Russians themselves feel it — somber, mysterious and magnificent.

. . . Here, Duncan has caught the spirit of his monumental subject in the written word as well as in the color transparency; eight hundred years of Russian life and, frequently, violent death pass before the reader in these pages . . .

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“David Douglas Duncan, a man with the camera of an artist, the pen of a poet, and a genius for the impossible, has fashioned of these eight centuries and their relics a golden gem of a book.”
— Harrison Salisbury, The New York Times Book Review