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Aleksandr Ivanov and Nikolai Gogol : The Image and the Word in the Russian Tradition of Art as Prophecy
The pervasive Russian image of the artist as a prophet is generally regarded as a verbal construct, rooted in – and developed through – literary tradition. The purpose of this paper is not to dispute this view, but to enrich it by considering a hitherto neglected but significant contributing factor: the role of the visual arts in building up the view of the artist as a prophet. A crucial turning-point in the formation of the tradition was played by the relationship between the painter Aleksandr Ivanov (1806-1858) and Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) from the time of their first meetings in Rome in the late 1830s until Gogol’s death in 1852. Throughout this period Ivanov was settled in Rome, working on his magnum opus ‘The Appearance of the Messiah to the People’ (1833-1857), while Gogol was toiling away on Dead Souls (1835-1852, first part published in 1842), revising his short story ‘The Portrait’ (second version published in 1842), and penning Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (1845-1846, published in 1847). The notion of the prophetic message of art is crucial to all four of these works in different ways. It is particularly rewarding to analyse the way that Ivanov’s visual treatment of this theme interacted with and influenced Gogol’s literary development of the image of the artist as prophet.
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