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Moscow and St.Petersburg in Russia's Silver Age

1900 - 1920

John E. Bowlt

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'Excellent … an A-Z of tsarism's last, magnificent flowering of the arts' Independent on Sunday


This book focuses on the visual and material culture of St Petersburg and Moscow at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The twilight of Imperial Russia witnessed a sudden renaissance that left a profound imprint on the visual, literary and performing arts: here was a Silver Age as luminous perhaps as the Golden Age of Russian literature many decades before. Much of this new efflorescence was indebted to the movement or set of ideas known as Symbolism, which fell on fertile soil in the boundless expanse of Mother Russia. Seeking to transcend the conventional barriers of bourgeois civility, the Russian Symbolists lived and created on the edge, which often earned them the soubriquet of Decadent or Degenerate. Yet, as Sergei Diaghilev declared, theirs was not a moral or artistic decline, but a voyage of inner discovery and a refurbishing of a national culture.

Advancing in roughly chronological sequence, Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia's Silver Age highlights the essential social and political developments of this turbulent era, which painting, poetry, music and dance both refracted and affected.

A dazzling array of artists, writers, composers, actors, singers, dancers and designers are presented here in context, including Tolstoy, Pasternak, Gorky, Akhmatova, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Nijinsky, Scriabin, Karsavina, Meyerhold, Chaliapin, Stanislavsky, Diaghilev, Roerich, Repin, Serov, Somov, Vrubel, Bakst, Kandinsky, Malevich, Mayakovsky and many more.

The book carries a rich repertoire of artistic images and vintage documentary photographs, many of which have not been published before. With a clear narrative and comprehensive bibliography, this volume will appeal both to the specialist and to the general student of Russian history and culture.

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'Sumptuous, unforgettable and revelatory'
Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times

'A superbly chosen and reproduced selection of poignant, evocative archive photographs of long-disappeared people, places, events, streetscapes and interiors, and a dazzling array of drawings, designs and paintings'
Irish Times

'Cogent and well-paced … the array of eye-catching illustrations intertwined with the text articulate Bowlt’s vast, brilliantly illuminated canvas and give the reader a thread to follow'
Slavonic and East European Review

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.7 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 396 pp

Illustrations: 650

Publication date: 13 October 2008

ISBN: 9780500514337

Contents List

Note to the Reader • Preamble • 1. A Double-Headed Eagle • 2. Celestial Heavens, Sapphire Depths • 3. The Shock of the New • 4. The Style Moderne • 5. The World of Art • 6. Flowers, Flowers to Cover the Tomb! • 7. Body Art • 8. Aesthetes and Barbarians • 9. The Year 1913 • 10. Apocalypse Now • Epilogue

About the Author

John E. Bowlt is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California, and Director of its Institute of Modern Russian Culture.