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  • The Litsevoi Svod as Graphic NovelNarrativity in Iconographic Style
  • Nancy S. Kollmann (bio)

In Orhan Pamuk’s brilliant novel about seeing and beauty, My Name Is Red, miniaturists at the Sultan’s court exemplify historical tensions in 16th-century Ottoman artistic culture. They deplore the “Frankish” style of painting as a “temptation of Satan”: portraiture was “a sin of desire, like growing arrogant before God, like considering oneself of utmost importance, like situating oneself at the center of the world”; true perspective “removes the painting from God’s perspective and lowers it to the level of a street dog.” In their view, “painting is the act of seeking out Allah’s memories and seeing the world as He sees the world.” Murders ensue among miniaturists corrupted by the Western desire to develop their own “style.”1

At much the same time, artists in the Kremlin were facing similar stresses, as revealed by the complaints of Ivan Viskovatyi, an educated, worldly-wise bureaucrat (d´iak) in the Foreign Affairs Chancery. In 1553, he denounced the artists of the new frescoes and icons in the Kremlin, declaring their work to be painted “according to their own minds, not according to Holy Scripture.” He declared these works’ subjects and symbols without precedent in Orthodox theology and iconography and condemned them as heretical Latin imports. Viskovatyi defended the otherworldly iconographic style of art and insisted that sacred art should represent only God’s grace incarnated—that is, only living people (Jesus, Mary, the saints) in their earthly existence, not allegorical representations of theological concepts or depictions of God the Father. In countering Viskovatyi at the Moscow Church Council of 1554, Metropolitan Makarii and church hierarchs identified Orthodox precedents for most of the symbolic and allegorical ways of painting that Viskovatyi had condemned, thereby approving in the guise of tradition a new approach to sacred painting. [End Page 53] In this the 1554 Council sharply contrasted to the 1551 Stoglav Church Council that had taken a position similar to Viskovatyi’s: namely, that icon painters should reproduce old models, “changing nothing.”2 The controversy reflects the swirling currents of artistic change at Ivan IV’s court.

From the 1550s through the 1590s, the church hierarchy, tsarist court, and wealthy monasteries commissioned immense projects of painting and illustration—frescoes, icons, illuminated hagiographies, and chronicles. Many of these tasks asked artists to depict subjects lacking iconographical precedents and to work on a scale they had never experienced before. In response, Kremlin artists embodied all sides of Viskovatyi’s complaint: they maintained iconographic style and dabbled in realism; they borrowed from European printed books and experimented with theological symbolism; they hewed to old genres and created new ones. In one spectacular project produced in Kremlin workshops in the 1560s–70s, the Illustrated Chronicle Compilation or Litsevoi letopisnyi svod (hereafter LLS), artists trained in iconographic style evolved a new genre of book illumination, a breathtaking advance in visual narrativity.3

The LLS is a vast compendium of over 10,000 manuscript pages in folio size tracing the history of the Rus´ lands from Creation and biblical times to the mid-16th century. Scholars have remarked on the unusual multi-episodic composition of many of its images and the overall narrative flow of the LLS. They have struggled to identify the sources of its unprecedented style, postulating evolution from previous Slavonic illustrated chronicles, the training and “life experience” of the artists, and their exposure to new artistic influences.4 This essay extends these arguments, arguing that the LLS did not [End Page 54] organically evolve from previous Slavonic chronicles and exploring the styles of narrative art that were available to the artists of the LLS. It explores the LLS as a new genre of Russian book illumination, like unto a graphic novel. This was, after all, a time when genres were being remade at the Kremlin court: frescoes and icons, despite Viskovatyi’s critique, were introducing new themes and new allegorical and symbolic modes of representation;5 another dynastic history, the Stepennaia kniga, was organized in chapters according to rulers. Although it kept annalistic listing of events within chapters and thus was not a breakthrough into narrative historia in...


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pp. 53-82
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