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“The Spirit of Old Aksakov … Added to the Charm”

Early Extracts from “The Chronicle of the Abramtsevo Estate”

Savva Mamontov and Selected and introduced by Elena Mokhova


This text is an extract from the “Chronicle of the Abramtsevo Estate,” a collective diary that details the daily functioning of the estate, as well as the special events, projects, and artistic activities that were held there by Savva Mamontov and his associates from 1870 until 1893. It thus provides a unique glimpse into both the personal and professional lives of one of Russia’s most important and influential artistic colonies.

Stacking National Identity

The Lucrative Legacy of the Matreshka

Helena Goscilo


The matreshka designed by Sergei Maliutin and turned by Vasilii Zvezdochkin has fulfilled a precisely defined function from its inception in the late 1890s until today. Conceived as a material embodiment of national identity amid Abramtsevo’s revival of endemic Russian traditions, the stacking doll symbolized robust national fecundity. Produced and sold in the workshop Detskoe vospitanie [Children’s Upbringing] established by the Mamontov family, it promoted Russianness in a range of stacked dolls garbed in the ethnic dress of the country’s various regions. During the Soviet era the matreshka became standardized and promoted as the quintessential emblem of a vital Russia, above all to foreigners.

The demise of the Soviet Union witnessed the spectacular rise of the author’s matreshka, one indelibly stamped with the creative imagination of its individual creator under new economic and cultural conditions. Political figures, American sports heroes, British rock groups, TV characters, and Hollywood stars all appeared as increasingly decorative stacked dolls. In short, the fate and the appearance of the matreshka accurately reflect Russia’s ideological biases and shifts. If early twentieth-century exploration of diverse national images yielded to a monochromatic defensiveness materialized as the unyielding, stoic child-bearer of Cold War Sovietism, then the post-Soviet matreshka conveys the chameleon-like, cosmetic veneers adopted and discarded by the consumerist society of the 1990s and subsequent decades. My article analyzes the vagaries of the matreshka’s legacy under Soviet and post-Soviet rule, during which the stacked doll has never lost its status as a unique symbol of national identity, though the terms of that symbolism have evolved.

Vasilii Polenov’s Architectural Projects

Between the Neo-Russian Style and National Romanticism

Elena Kashtanova


Vasilii Polenov can be described as one of the most “architectural” Russian artists of the late nineteenth century. In his sketches and paintings of the Gospel cycle, his historical works, theatrical scenery, and landscape paintings, the artist could not imagine realizing the main themes of his work without reference to architecture. Polenov’s architectural work can be divided into three types: church projects—such as those at Abramtsevo, the school at the Kologriv monastery in Kostroma province, and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Bekhovo in Tula province; manor architecture in the style of Scandinavian Art Nouveau at the estate he founded on the banks of the Oka River near Tula; and his only urban project—the House of Theatrical Education in Moscow. Polenov pursued the Neo-Russian style with particular alacrity in the sphere of church architecture, which is the focus of this essay, for it was here that the artist offered his own original interpretation of the national theme.

Karina Pronitcheva


The article is dedicated to objects in precious metal made after Viktor Vasnetsov’s designs at the turn of the twentieth century. It discusses several creations known to be by Vasnetsov, and others which are likely to be attributable to him. The collaboration between Vasnetsov and Russian silversmiths such as Postnikov, Ovchinnikov, and Fabergé is analyzed on the basis of letters preserved in the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Viktor Vasnetsov Museum in Moscow, and newspaper reports of the period. The following artworks are discussed in detail, with special attention paid to the history of their creation: two presentational dishes of 1896, one for the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II and one for the “All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition” of Nizhnii Novgorod, the khorugv (religious banner) for the coffin of Emperor Alexander III, the presentational dish of 1902 for French President Emile Loubet, the bronze and enamel iconostasis for the Cathedral of St. George in the town of Gus-Khrustalnyi, and the so-called “Ivan Kalita” bowl.

Viktor Vasnetsov’s New Icons

From Abramtsevo to the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900

Wendy Salmond


This essay examines Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov’s search for a new kind of prayer icon in the closing decades of the nineteenth century: a hybrid of icon and painting that would reconcile Russia’s historic contradictions and launch a renaissance of national culture and faith. Beginning with his icons for the Spas nerukotvornyi [Savior Not Made by Human Hands] Church at Abramtsevo in 1880-81, for two decades Vasnetsov was hailed as an innovator, the four icons he sent to the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900 marking the culmination of his vision. After 1900, his religious painting polarized elite Russian society and was bitterly attacked in advanced art circles. Yet Vasnetsov’s new icons were increasingly linked with popular culture and the many copies made of them in the late Imperial period suggest that his hybrid image spoke to a generation seeking a resolution to the dilemma of how modern Orthodox worshippers should pray.

Bradley Hald


Thucydides’ History is deeply committed to the conventional correlation in Greek thought between sight and knowledge. In the Methodology chapters (1.20-3), the histo- rian grounds his investigative project in visual metaphor: it is a work that has been construc- ted ‘out of the most manifest evidence’, which promises to reveal the ‘least visible’ but ‘truest cause’ of this war. In contrast, Thucydides is suspicious of the epistemological value of hearing, repeatedly denigrating the ‘alluring’ sounds of poetic and hearsay accounts of Greek history. In this paper, I argue that this critique extends also to other sounds in the History, and that Thucydides’ anxieties over audition are directly related to the prob- lematic relation he sees between sound, knowledge, and emotion. While visual perception provides the normative pathway to cognitive evaluation and rational emotional response, sounds have the capacity to short-circuit the evaluative process by circumventing cognition and eliciting unmediated affective responses in hearing subjects.

Eleonora Rocconi

Martem Accendere Cantu: The Meaning of Music on the Battlefield

(on Phld. Mus. 4.LXVIII.33-40, LXIX.7-12 Delattres = P.Herc. 1578/17 N, 1575/18 N)

Spencer A. Klavan


This paper examines in detail an under-appreciated passage from Philodemus of Gadara’s On Music in order to elucidate several important controversies in Hellenistic musical philosophy. The Stoic Diogenes of Babylon claimed that the emotional impact of trumpet tunes can inspire soldiers to fight. But the Epicurean Philodemus believed that the meaningful words (λόγοι) which stimulate our actions are utterly distinct from meaningless musical sound (µουσική). Philodemus therefore framed an alternative theory in which trumpet calls on the battlefield function not as music but as a kind of makeshift language, using conventional signifiers to communicate instructions. I show how both philosophers’ views arise logically out of doctrines from their respective schools. I then argue that the trumpet’s dual status as both performance instrument and communications device makes it a natural philosophical flashpoint: it raises central questions about what music is, how it affects listeners, and whether it can convey meaning.