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- 4.7 Soviet Lelia and the archetype of prosperity’s goddess
- 4.8 Woman with a gun - a woman – hero
4.6 Kiting – grad – the Sacred Russia and a dreamland
In continuation in Russian culture appear an image and a philosophical notion of
Kiting-grad which symbolically represents a holly land, a heaven paradise, which
Russian souls yearn and long for; Kitiaj-grad becomes a final dream-destination of a
stranger who searches a spiritual paradise at the earth.
The Kitiag legend represents a cycle of fairy stories about the city which submerged
in the lake Svetloiar and thus escaped devastation of Tatars.
Смирнов, И.П. Генезис. Философские очерки по социокультурной начинательности. СПб.:
Алетейя, 2006. Бердяев, H.A. Душа России. Л.: Сказ, 1990, C.31., Лосский, Н.О. Условия
абсолютного добра: Основы этики: Характер русского народа. М.: Политиздат, 1991, C.320-340.
Nelson, James M. Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality. Valparaiso: Springer science+ Business
media, 2009, p.417.
Pazos, Antón M. Redefining Pilgrimage: New Perspectives on Historical and Contemporary
Pilgrimages. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2014, p.44.
K. Gorbatov, Drowned city, 1933, oil on canvas.
52 х 70,5, sketch of a drop-
curtain for N. Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Legend of the invisible grad-Kitiag and lady Fevronia for Diagelev seasons in
The name Kitiag originates from town Kideksh (a village 4 km. away from town
Souzdal) which was destroyed by Tatars in 1237. By legend in a calm weather one
may hear a bell’s ringing and in the depth of the lake see the buildings of the
drowned city. Basing on the city’s legend and on the antique Russian narrative Peter
and Fevronia, Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov created opera the Legend of the
invisible grad-Kitiag and lady Fevronia in 1907
Комарович, В.Л. Китежская легенда. (Опыт изучения местных легенд). М.: Наука, 1936, C.34-50.
The significance and meaning of the concept Grad-Kitiag faced changes during
centuries in Russian philosophy, literature and art but never has it acquired so much
importance as in XX century, due to its historical and cultural changes. Writer S.
Durilin who dedicated a book to the idea of Kitiag –grad - Church of the invisible city
in 1914 proclaimed it “the highest symbol of Russian national religious and
B. Smirnov-Rusetsky, Not sinking Grad (Kitiag), 1977, tempera on canvas.
Russian philosopher N. Berdiaev perfectly defined the spiritual meaning and aspect
of the Kitiaj-grad for Russian people: “Russian soul is never quite, it is not a philistine,
bourgeois soul, not a local soul. In Russia, in Russian people there is a kind of never-
ending search – a search of invisible town Kitiag, an unseen home. Russian soul
discovers an endless expanse and there is no delineated horizon in front of its
spiritual gaze. Russian soul burns in a fervent search of truth, absolute, divine truth
and salvation of the whole world and the overall resurrection towards a new life. It
always sorrows for the grief and sufferings of people and of the whole world, and its
harassment does not have any mitigation. This soul is overwhelmed with a search of
final damned questions on life sense. There is a stillness, insubordination and
dissatisfaction of nothing temporal, conditional and relational in Russian soul. It has
Дурылин, С.Н. Русь прикровенная. М.: Паломник, 2000, C.21.
to get forward and forward to the end, to the limit, to the exit of this world, of this
land, of all local, bourgeois or affixed”
circle’s members M. Voloshin Kitiag in 1919 the image of underwater city appears as
an eternal dream of Russian people, while a real Russian history during all its
existence represents evil. The sacred Russia’s spirit is disembodied, disincarnated and
does not have any contact points and contiguity with earth’s existence:
“The sacred Russia is covered with a sinful Russia,
And there is no way to that city,
Where calls invocatory and mysterious
Underwater ringing of church bells”
In the final tragic poem of Kliuev The song on a Great Mother of 1930-31 Kitiag-grad
is shown as a mysterious centre of Russia
creation and the urge of Russians of Kitag-grad is regarded as people’s soul’s
tendency of deepening and sanctifying its everyday life, to accept and interpret life
in religious terms. While Ilyin sees Kitag as a symbol of spiritual tradition, which inspires
for the creation: “In dense soul’s thicket we found a mysterious spiritual lake. Grace
to it we find our wisdom; from it we started gathering of our strength and our
struggle. And only occasionally Russian nation lost its way to Kitiag, entangled in nets
of fervours, betraying its service”
. But the philosopher believes in a forthcoming
resurrection of Russia: “For with us is God of our Kitiag”
. The poet-symbol of XX
century Anna Ahmatova grace to the autobiographical allusions approximates the
epoch of mysterious city Kitiag to the life epoch of the writer, and Kitag itself
becomes close and is compared to the demolished by the Revolution and by
repressions Russia, as the poet feels herself an heiress of that Old Russia. Kitag
appears there as a Christian synonym of paradise (heaven’s world to which belong
saved souls; in Achmatova’s poem context souls of those who died as martyrs). It is
described in Achmatova’s poem I laid my curly son of 1940. The lyric heroine hears a
bell ring under the water of the native Kitiag churches; they reprove her in severe
Бердяев, Н.А. Судьба России . М.: ООО «Издательство АСТ», 2004, C.27.
Волошин, М.А. Средоточье всех путей. Стихотворения и поэмы. Проза. Критика. Дневники. М:
Моск. рабочий, 1989, C.91.
Клюев, Н.А. Сердце Единорога. Стихотворения и поэмы. СПб: РХГИ, 1999, C.168.
Ильин, И.А. Собр. соч. В 10 т., Т.6, Кн. II, М: Русская книга, 1996, C. 23, 25, 26.
voice as she escaped a bitter doom of other Kitiag citizens and they feel pity for her,
waiting for her at God’s throne”
Meanwhile Orthodox archbishop and theologian Ioan of Saint Francisco saw Kitiag
as a hidden archetype of A. Solgentisin’s creative work: “In our days it’s Alexander
Solgenitsin who has a privilege to touch the mystery of Svetloiar. He sees the place
where the highest truth is evanished, which remains hidden of a loud and vain
The very name Kitiag Solgenitssin seems to use just once in his late work Bell tower
(Kolokolnia) in description of violently submerged ancient town Kaliazin.
I see the same motive of pilgrimage and a road in the Peasant’s sculptural figure of
Nina Slobodinskaya and I may suggest that our sculptural heroine turned to a search
obvious from the first glance. In context of a total social control the author could not
permit herself to give a direct visual reference of her beliefs and philosophical views.
However, we know for sure that Nina Slobodinskaya belonged to the cultural
intelligentsia cycle which shared beliefs of the high spiritual meaning of Kitiaj-grad,
so it would be logic to suggest that the author expressed her vision in sculptural
forms, as she used to do during all creative life. Knowingly Berdiaev’s description
(previously mentioned) of the best of Russian intelligentsia may be applied to the
sculptor’s social cycle:” The grandeur of Russian nation is concentrated at the type
of stranger. A Russian type of stranger is expressed not only in life of Russian
peasantry but also in its cultural life, in life of the best part of intelligentsia. And here,
we know strangers with a free spirit, never attached to anything, eternal wayfarers,
searching for an unseen city”
This sculpture has various layers, sheets or levels of content’s meaning which we dare
to develop and explain on the base of author’s spiritual vision. Formally sculptor
follows and obeys strict artistic rules of her time. The chosen theme is actual – a
female peasant – new heroine of Soviet epoch. Her peasant’s appearance is shown
very clearly: by the type of figure and the dressing. The peasant carries a hard
weight, which indicates her implication in to the labour – the basic attribute and
Ахматова, А.А. Стихотворения. Поэмы. Проза. Томск: Томское кн. изд-во, 1989, C.369.
Архиепископ Сан-Францисский, Иоанн. Дно Светлояра. Петрозаводск: “Святой остров”, 1992,
Бердяев, Н.А. Судьба России . М.: ООО «Издательство АСТ», 2004, C.27.
social request of depiction for any peasant’s image. The woman steps out – what
permits to suggest that she is on her way to work – to the field (to gather a harvest)-
even more emphasizes the theme of labour. And the only thing may prick up
attentive viewer’s eyes – the face expression of a peasant. Precisely her face make
us first questioning and then gives us a hint and a possible response of what exactly
the artist. And the knowledge of her life views, religious convictions and
philosophical beliefs permits us to give a deeper interpretation and to reveal a
spiritual richness and multifaceted content of senses in this sculptural image. By
means of sculpture’s face expression, this main detail, the master permits herself to
express a deeper meaning and to fulfil the entire statue with a rich symbolic context.
In artistic terms the plaster cast model is shaped schematically, with a rough
energetic surface, but the volumes, the skeleton and the muscles are clearly
determined and carefully underlined. The face lineaments are well worked on. It
becomes obvious that the author possesses the sculptor’s craftsmanship, however
Slobodinskaya does not stop there – she enriches the sculpture with the spirit of
movement is probably Bourdelle’s influence, after all the French sculptor was her
guru. Certainly it may seem subjective, but I dare to insist on this point of view basing
on the knowledge of Slobodinskaya’s spiritual world vision.
Generally speaking, a young sculptor - beginner who makes the very first
independent steps in his carrier with a monumental sculpture, may be seen as a
brave artist. Even if in future Slobodinskays gives preference to sculpture of a small
format and other genre, her early experience with monumental sculpture proves
that she already possesses a necessary technique of a mature artist and, what is
even more important, she is capable to transmit a symbolical depth and fullness of
her images – qualities which reveals the artist as a deeply feeling, wise and complex
personality. Together with the new State’s regime and the officially defined direction
towards art at service to politic aims, a new imagery system gradually appeared.
Regarding a female image in art, the principle one becomes an image of a
peasant, a worker, a female character which belongs to the working class. There
was no art form or genre which would not touch this subject – new ideal of a Soviet
woman. Nina Slobodinskaya responded to the social requests of her time, especially
following the example of her main teacher in sculpture – Vera Ignatievna Muchina.
In order to understand a significance of a new female role in a social construction of
the Soviet paradise it’s important to analyse its transformation.In 1920s a female
image of a peasant is a synonym of a pack-horse – physically strong, naive, and
obedient, completely resigned to her social duty. The image of a peasant woman
with sickle in her hand, heavily-built figure – sign of fertility is not so common in the
new Bolshevik’s art. More often we encounter a woman –worker – as an ideal of
Soviet epoch. Such an image of a woman - peasant existed till the collectivization.
Then a visual propaganda faced important changes. A new type of woman which
represents a Russian village appears, – a kind of an ideal villager – Kolhoznitsa. A
modernized peasant looks differently and disposes of new attributes: a wheeled
tractor instead of sickle. Her figure also faces changes: she is more often depicted
on her own, not in a middle of a crowd. It signified that in Soviet politic iconography
an important change took place: the State had to achieve and conquer a good
will and affection of its female peasantry population as precisely those women
opposed the process of social reconstruction.
Another monumental sculptural work that apparently belongs to the same period of
Slobodinskaya’s creative work is a life–size female figure which fairly may be called
The Soviet Lelia – mythological, the Slave pagan goddess of prosperity. Its
approximate dating is between1934-1940ss according to Slobodinskaya’s son
Andrey Gnezdilov. It continues the artist’s series of female imagery.
N. Slobodinskaya, Soviet Lelia, 1930s, plasticine.
Unfortunately, once again we are able to analyse this sculptural image basing only
on the preserved photo as its main proof of existence. A viewer sees a woman
carrying on her right shoulder a molly – a basket full of ripe fruits. Her figure seems
heavy but proportional. Her legs resemble tree-trunks as they look so incredibly
huge. The muscles of her hands are very well pronounced. The hands are enormous
in comparison with her thin head and more remind hands of a strong man than of
any woman. Her straight back and silhouette of her dress underlines the
proportionality of her figure. Even having monumental forms her image is full of
refinement, dignity, confidence and calmness. The female figure seems to step out
of an earth-paradise – the Eden full of harvest and ripe fruits. Her kerchief elongates
her head, and the basket on her shoulders equalizes the balance with her enormous
feet and the round pedestal.
In terms of Soviet iconography the sculptural image signifies prosperity and richness
that brings labour in frames of communist’s regime. In a wider meaning’s
perspective it may be regarded as an archetype image of a pagan goddess
responsible for fertility and prosperity – the image that Slavs used to depict in
wooden sculpture, installing them in midst of wild woods. Besides it’s a one of the
most portrayed characters in the worldwide mythology and visual iconography. As
we see the artist’s interpretation of the image should not be just limited to Soviet
attributes and communist’s propaganda message. It is obvious that any Soviet artist
had frames of his artistic liberty. However, more often those frames were
conventional. A sincere artist tried to overcome the conventionality of those
demands. To find out whether they succeeded in it or not we may achieve by the
means of individual analysis of every particular case and art piece.
Regarding the Soviet Lelia and the Peasant of Slobodinskaya, the external
realistic style of portrayal and also in a subject matter. The typical hypercritical Soviet
journalist or any art critic formally cannot accuse the artist of sculpture’s
appearance’s discordance with the official artistic requests. However they neither
can blame the author for imbuing the sculptural figure with other sense or other
meaning’s dimension, in particular with the meaning which is deeper or richer than
the Soviet demands obliged.
Hence, what I dare to suggest is that any artist who had their creative individuality,
who listened to himself and was able to find his proper plastic and imagery
language “would not repeat the existing forms but discover his artistic personality”
master, was able to overcome the limitations (which the Soviet government
imposed to all creative workers) and creatively express himself.
Creatively rich personality, the mature artist with a fully formed world vision always
found ways to express her-self. When a subject was an object of limitation than
Slobodinskaya fulfilled an image with a deeper meaning and sense by means of her
artistic skills and as we see in our case - the simple peasant woman turns into a
Деготь, Е.Ю. История русского искусства. Русское искусствоXX в. М.: Трилистник, 2002, C.224.
spiritual pilgrim which is correlated to Russian philosophical searches and turns in to
an archetype personage which constantly appears in Russian fairy-tale folklore.
Looking ahead, when the sculptor had to portray only Soviet heroes or significant
personalities of a new communist era – nobody stopped the artist of creating deeply
psychological intimate images, which aimed to explore a person’s soul and
discovered his spiritual essence, - thus the artist was able to bridge over the
conventionality of the imposed art frames. We may suggest that artists in all fields of
fine arts faced similar conditions, options and possibilities. It could be our response to
a crucial challenge and the polemic question which many contemporary
philosophers, artists and researchers make: how artists of the Soviet epoch used to
deal with an issue of a personal artistic freedom of expression, - whether artists were
able to overcome the imposed limitations, and in case if they succeeded, in what
way did they overpass the restrictions which the Soviet iconography intended to
4.8 Woman with a gun - a woman – hero
N. Slobodinskaya, Woman with a gun, 1935-1940, plaster cast.
N. Slobodinskaya, Woman with a gun, 1935-1940, plaster cast.
Another monumental work of the artist which characterizes the early period is the
Woman with a gun.
It’s a white plaster cast model of a supposedly life-size figure. The exact date of its
creation is unknown but it varies between1935-1940ss. The sculpture was destroyed
during the Second World War. We see the portrayal of a woman with large massive
forms and disproportionally huge feet which reminds the volumes of Vera’s
Muchina’s Peasant’s legs. The female personage certainly belongs to a peasant or a
working class. A typical dress, a head and hair with a kerchief on – she has all the
attributes of a Soviet woman - hero. All her pose expresses obstinacy,
aggressiveness, physical strength and spirit’s firmness. She holds a gun in her hands
with an absolute confidence. The patrons surround her breast and recall the viewer
that she is not a simple week woman, instead, she is a warrior first of all. We can be
sure – meeting an enemy this woman will not doubt before shutting him. The incline
of her right knee emphasizes this stubborn strength which she embodies.
No doubt, the Soviet enemy would be threatened by finding such a personage at
the open air battle. Her straight gaze, protruding chin, all indicates a strong will and
even a possessiveness to complete her debt to the native land no matter where: at
a field, gathering harvest, at factory – holding tools, or at a field of a battle.
Accordingly the coded message appears to be following: no matter what the
native land asks you to do – you have to obey and even be ready to sacrifice your
interest, your life if it would be necessary. The Soviet State wanted a Russian nation
to assimilate this idea. Consequently these propaganda message artists had to
visualize monumentally. An image of a woman – hero – is widely displayed in all the
fine arts fields especially in 1930s. In terms of the Soviet political thought Russian
population had to be ready to meet enemies and to defend their happy light future
– the utopian dream imposed to the population. Moreover, in context of Soviet
ideology enemies could appear not only from foreign countries but they could be
uncovered at the proper Russian territory. A Soviet citizen always had to be attentive
and suspicious –that’s what proclaim thousands of Soviet posters and that’s the
manner and a trick in which Communist totalitarian government introduces and
imposes the idea of spying to the nation. Such are the visually effective means
which communist leaders adapt in order to justify the idea of spying: your
environment – neighbours, colleagues, even your proper family are under suspicion.
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