Origins (E)

Ivan was the first Russian ruler to declare himself Czar. The rule of absolutism propagated from him via his descendants to the Communists and the strong man of today. This constant in Russia, a man with the fate of millions in his hand, has directed much of its art.

For the downtrodden people of the land, one art form was that called Lubok, prints of popular books and folk tales. They provide a glimpse into the vast unrecorded lives of Russian history. They are full of mischief and wicked humour. Amidst defecating devils and bare-breasted sirens are images of merriment and subversion. Carnivalesque mice are shown burying a cat. Laughter in the dark is helped by bottles of vodka.

Mice burying the cat. (1760). This was supposed to be a satire on Czar Peter, after his burial, of course.

Scuffle with Baba Yaga riding a pig.

Adam and Eve, by Vasily Koren. (17th century).

[From Andrew Graham-Dixon’s The Art of Russia, BBC.]

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