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  • Visualizing the Literary Image of Muscovite Royal WivesGrand Princess Evdokiia in the Skazanie vmale in the Chronicles of Ivan IV’s Reign
  • Isolde Thyrêt (bio)

The Muscovite chroniclers at the court of Russia’s first tsar, Ivan the Terrible, displayed a vivid interest in the wives and mothers of the tsar’s ancestors. Desiring to elevate the new tsar’s prestige by conceiving the power of the Muscovite sovereign in spiritual terms, the compilers of chronicles during this period also reinterpreted the role of the wives and the mother of their ruler by valuing them no longer merely for their kinship ties but by portraying them as vehicles of the divine grace with which God endowed the future ruler during his conception.1 The focus on the positive impact of the spiritual potential of royal women on the Russian realm culminated in the creation of the vita of the Kievan grand princess Ol´ga at the end of the 1550s, which was included in the Stepennaia kniga (Book of Degrees, hereafter SK), an unillustrated chronicle that was composed in Moscow around 1560.2 The renewed interest [End Page 83] in St. Ol´ga, who was considered responsible for the conversion of the Kievan realm to Eastern Orthodoxy, seems to have been closely connected with the contemporary preoccupation with the religious definition of the first Russian tsar’s power, as I. V. Kurukin points out.3 This Russian royal woman saint was also held up as a symbol of a strong Russian Orthodox state and as a model for the Russian tsars’ wives.4

Whereas the literary efforts of the bookmen at Ivan IV’s court to define the role of Muscovite royal women are fairly well known, the influence of contemporary artists on the articulation of this role has not yet been explored. While few depictions of St. Ol´ga survive from the reign of Ivan IV, another female ancestor of the first Muscovite tsar, Evdokiia, daughter of the Suzdal´ prince Dmitrii Konstantinovich (d. 1383) and wife of the Muscovite grand prince Dmitrii Ivanovich Donskoi (1350–89), commands a rich literary and visual source base that was created during this period.5 A tale about this grand princess, the so-called Brief Tale about the Blessed Grand Princess Evdokiia (the Nun Evfrosiniia), Wife of the Praiseworthy Grand Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich Donskoi, commonly referred to as Skazanie vmale, is found for the first time in the SK. An abbreviated version of this tale was later included in the Litsevoi letopisnyi svod (Illustrated Chronicle Compilation, hereafter LLS), which was composed sometime between 1568 and 1576.6 [End Page 84] A study of Evdokiia’s literary image in the tale found in the SK and her subsequent literary and visual portrayal in the LLS’s version suggests that in the 1560s and 1570s, the chroniclers at Ivan IV’s court consciously elevated Evdokiia to the status of a royal woman saint who followed in St. Ol´ga’s footsteps. The literary image of this Muscovite grand princess in the SK’s version focused on her role as a pious and divinely blessed royal widow, who visibly intervened in the affairs of her realm. In contrast, the text of the later LLS’s version significantly toned down the public aspects of Evdokiia’s religious activities during her widowhood and instead stressed her personal and private spiritual qualities that justified her elevation to sainthood. The designers of the illustrations accompanying the LLS’s version of the Skazanie vmale, however, retained the public aspects of Evdokiia’s pious activities. As a result of their visual interpretation of the Skazanie vmale, by the later 16th century Grand Princess Evdokiia acquired the reputation of a powerful royal woman saint, who excelled both through her personal holiness and her commitment to assuring the continuing well-being of her realm. While the conceptualization of the role of the rulers’ wives in the Muscovite state had been ongoing since the early 16th century, the artists involved in the illustrations of the LLS seem to have played a vital role in the development of the image of Muscovite royal women in the later part of Ivan IV’s reign.



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pp. 83-114
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