Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Russians Are Coming

   With all this talk about Russia the past few days, I'm thinking of stirring myself up and returning to James Billington's The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretative History of Russian Culture. I've been interested in Russian history and culture since taking a course in pre-Soviet and another in Soviet history with Prof. Cynthia Whittaker at Baruch back in the eighties (just as perestroika was announced).
   Kiev, followed by Novogorod, then Moscow, carved a nation out of wilderness that despite all the setbacks of the past twenty years, remains the largest country in the world. In the face of a daunting climate, devastation and subjugation by the Mongols, religious schisms, civil wars, and autocracy, the Russians have perservered, and even thrived. They also have a nice, dark sense of humor about their trials and tribulations.
   In more recent years, Russian Orthodoxy and its icons, saints, and hermits have intrigued me. Raised in a very Protestant tradition, and which I still hold to, there's something about the deep unworldliness of Russian Orthodox, at least in the abstract, that is striking and I'd like to get a better understanding of.
   So, to "celebrate", here's a host of cool Russian art depicting heroes, cities, and legends.

Rurik, Varangian founder of Kievan Rus - Statue commemorating his arrival in Novgorod

Kiev's great hero, Ilya Muromets
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Heroes Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets, and Alyosha Popovich

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Novgorod Market by Apollinari Vasnetsov

Ancient Moscow by Apollinari Vasnetsov
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Ivan the Terrible Under the Walls of Kazan (1552) by Pyotr Korovin

Defense of the Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra against the Poles in 1610 by Sergey Miloradovich