Six visuals that illustrate Russia’s history

Outstanding pictures illustrate the key points of Russia’s civilization

Origins

Trade in the land of East Slavs by Sergey Ivanov
Picture: “Trade in the land of East Slavs”, by Sergey Ivanov. 1909. The era’s main commodity, slaves, is given the center stage.

Empire

  • During the XVIII century, Russia became transformed into the largest continuous land empire through a massive infusion of Western technologies and German administrative talent. In the painting below, Russia’s coming imperial destiny is represented by the kid in European clothes to the right, the Prussia-style troops in the background and jesters challenging the natives with their Western-style entertainment. Old Slav and Turkic aristocracy to the right, along with Ivan V in the center, are not amused, while Peter the Great in his practical Russian kaftan is boisterous and excited. Peter’s German entourage are skeptically contemplating the scene.
Arrival of the Tzars Peter I and Ivan V for entertainment in Semenovo by Ilya Repin
Picture: Arrival of the Tzars Peter I and Ivan V for entertainment in Semenovo”, by Ilya Repin.

Power as a national idea

  • The supreme national idea of Russia is power, embodied in the great Russian state (derzháva). Everything in our history is pinned on it. As a Russian subject, your worth is determined by how much you contribute to the wealth, might, and glory of our state, because it is the sole organizing force on the frozen, wind-blown, endless expanses of Eurasian plains. In the picture below, the clothing is Mediterranean, but the story is essentially Russian, archetypal for our civilization, where countless bright talents have been weighed and measured by servants of our Empire—and found wanting, or worse.
Picture: What is the truth? Christ and Pilate”, by Nikolai Ge.

Revolutions and wars

  • The Black Square”, by Kazimir Malevich. The year is 1913, but the painter already senses how the Great War is going soon to crack open in Russia a fathomless wellspring of human evil, that would reverberate through the rest of the century by unimaginable atrocities across half the world.
The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich.
The Black Square”, by Kazimir Malevich.

Commoners

  • Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan”, by Alexander Deineka. Rugged workers of mixed Soviet ethnicities walk through something reminding of the Pearly Gates. Their steps are weightless, faces overwhelmed, their path floodlit by a heavenly brilliance and blessed by the pagan goddess of victory. Millions of souls were spent in the XX century for the sake of the greatest project of social re-engineering, the Communist revolution.
Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan by Alexander Deineka
Painting: Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan”, by Alexander Deineka.

War

  • The victory over Nazi Germany was the pinnacle of Russian history, an epic saga of self-sacrifice and human suffering. Like much else in our history, the fruits of the victory were appropriated by people who neither suffered or sacrificed anything.
Soviet infantryman on the march WWII
Picture: Soviet infantryman on the march, WWII.”

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