Since the 19th century, in every area of art – painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music – Russia was in the forefront, bringing to the world dramatically new concepts of beauty. The names of Russian thinkers, writers, artists, architects, and musicians are known all over the world as the symbols of everything that is daring, beautiful and free. In the 20th century, the tremendous creative surge of experimentation continued. Through discussions, extracts from films and documentaries, and visual material, this course will explore the priceless legacy of a culture of beauty, generosity, grace and exuberance which continues to make the world dream.
‘East and West’: The Hermitage and the Russian Museum
Catherine the Great bought entire collections for herself – fifteen Van Dykes from Sir Robert Walpole’s collection, and works by Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens. In time, her priceless personal collection included four thousand masterpieces of European art. It is this collection that forms the nucleus of the superb art collection that can be seen today in the Hermitage Museum. A hundred years later, Alexander III founded the Russian Museum to further the development of national art. Russia’s sense of identity is embodied in these two different collections: not only in the great works of art and architecture, but also in the concepts and beliefs of the keepers, benefactors and patrons.
‘The Graceful Echo of a Great Past’: Imperial Palaces
The Imperial palaces in Moscow and St Petersburg were a kind of Parnassus, a gathering place for the noted men of the day, generals and statesmen, writers and musicians. A remarkable part of the story of the palaces, from Pavlovsk to Strelna, has taken place in our day. The palaces were largely destroyed during the Second World War. Under the direction of dedicated curators, the palaces have been perfectly restored by Russian craftsmen. Yet some of the treasures, like the Amber Room, are lost forever.
Inside and Outside the Walls of the Kremlin
Throughout the centuries, life behind the walls of the Kremlin, with all its intrigues and drama, was a world apart from the spiritual and artistic traditions, customs, habits and beliefs of the people.
‘The Beauty of the Spiritual World’: Russian Churches and Monasteries throughout the Centuries
Church building in Russia had a twofold meaning: it embodied the significance of the resurrection and was also part of the natural world, blending harmoniously into the landscape. From the churches and cathedrals of Moscow and St Petersburg to the beauty of wooden architecture of Kizhi, from the Solovetsky Monastery near the White Sea to the Holy Trinity Monastery near Moscow, the churches and monasteries were to play an important part in Russian history and culture.
The Treatykov Gallery and Moscow 'Treasure Houses'
The Moscow collector Tretyakov was to create a new concept of a ‘national gallery’. He was strongly supported by the greatest Russian thinkers and writers of his time. His efforts were enthusiastically endorsed by other Russian industrialists who followed his example and founded galleries of European and Russian art in Moscow and other cities.
Country Houses: Homes of Russia’s Writers
Of all the country houses of Russia, the most famous is Yasnaya Polyana, the home of Count Lev Tolstoy. We will explore the museums of the famous Russian writers, from Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky to Chekhov, Bulgakov and others.
Through lectures, group discussions, extracts from films and documentaries, and other visual material, this course explores the unique legacy of Russian art and culture throughout the centuries in the broad social and political context.
Figes, Orlando, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia, New York, Picador c2002 (or any edition)
Extracts from selected texts will be made available during the course.