New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the most visited museums of the world because it contains so much of the world. It is an encyclopedic museum where you can see the civilizations from your textbooks come to life. But can you fit everything in one building?
Although hard to find, the Met has a few beautiful pieces of Russian art, worth any visitor’s attention:
The Christ Child with Saints Boris and Gleb
The square icon depicts Christ at the center with two saints on either side of him: Boris and Gelb. The names of all three are inscribed in gold lettering above the figures. Boris and Gleb were Russian princes, allegedly killed by their older brother, Svyatopolk, after the death of their father, Kiev Grand Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich, in 1015. Boris and Gleb were canonized as Russia’s firsts saints, and remembered as martyrs, passion-bearers, and patrons of the Russian land.
Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia
The small, but stark work of painted glass depicts Russian Empress Catherine the great. Even though the portrait does not capture the facial characteristics, it conveys the Emperess’ strength. She is depicted as wearing the star of the Order of Saint Vladimir, which she instituted and named in honor of Prince Vladimir, who led the Baptism of Kievan Rus. The artist is establishing the Empress in a line of important Russian rulers. And indeed, reigning from 1762 through 1796 (the country’s longest ruling female leader) Catherine II left a legacy of working to strengthen and revitalize the country.
Imperial Napolianic Egg by House of Carl Fabergé
Faberge eggs are named so after the jeweler whose unique skill and beautiful designs can hardly by matched to this day—jeweler and craftsman Carl Faberge. Faberge eggs were produced starting the late nineteenth through early twentieth century for the Russian Imperial family and select private buyers. 71 Faberge eggs are known to exists today, 54 of which are Imperial.
Red Sunset on the Dnieper by Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi
Kuindzhi, a Russian landscape artist, often used bold contrast and bright colors in his work. In that regard, the Met’s Red Sunset on the Dneiper finished only two years prior to the artist’s death in 1910, is a beaming example of Kuindzhi’s work. The sky is the focal point and takes up the majority of the canvas. The sun, overpowering the weak attempts of the clouds to stand in the way, meets the viewer head on, leaving one with a jarring, yet meditative painting.
The Lovers by Marc Chagall
Blurry but delineated, fantastical yet realistic, romantic yet oddly domestic Russian-born artist March Chagall represents himself with his fiancée, Bella Rosenfeld, in his painting The Lovers. The somewhat eerie painting invites viewers into an intimate familial scene.
Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin (1855-1888) by Illia Efimovich Repin
Perhaps the most well know piece of Russian art at the Met is the portrait of writer Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin by the Russian realist painter Illia Efimovich Repin. Located among Salon Paintings and Rounour’s dancers, the heavy, contemplative, and earnest gaze of Vsevolod Mikhailovich feels almost out of place. All in dim tones, Repin depicts his subject as looking away from his books and paper and almost at the viewer. But at least in this moment, Garshin thoughts take precedent over direct engagement.
Even with the museums three locations, there are many more works stored in the Met’s archives. Here are some highlights of Russian art from the collection, not currently on display: