The Poetics and Aesthetics of Otherness

Orientalism and Identity at Abramtsevo

In: Experiment

Abstract

Although traditionally associated with the ascendance of National Romanticism, Slavic folklore, and the Neo-Russian style in painting, architecture, and the decorative arts, the Abramtsevo artistic circle was also privy to the inception and production of a number of manifestly Orientalist works, such as Vasilii Polenov’s Christ and the Adulteress (1888), Mikhail Vrubel’s ceramic sculptures of The Assyrian, The Egyptian Girl, The Pharaoh, and The Libyan Lion (1890s), and the costumes and set designs for the theatrical productions Judith (1878, 1898), Joseph (1880, 1881, 1887, 1889), The Black Turban (1884, 1887, 1889), King Saul (1890), and To the Caucasus (1891). In addition, a series of hybrid works that fused elements of the exotic with national thematic and stylistic content, such as Viktor Vasnetsov’s Underwater Kingdom (1884) and Mikhail Vrubel’s Princess Volkhova (1898), were likewise produced under the auspices of Savva Mamontov and the Abramtsevo community, thus blurring the boundaries between native and foreign, local and global, self and other, and Slavophilia and Orientalia. The present article posits that an understanding of the romanticized, Neo-Russian artistic and theatrical productions, and the nationalist polemics of the Abramtsevo artistic circle is necessarily incomplete without a detailed examination of the various Orientalist crosscurrents which informed and structured many of the group’s artworks throughout the 1880s and 1890s—a narrative that has been largely left out of scholarly accounts of the movement.

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